Lee Kimhong,, a 13 year old Angkearhdei School in Cambodia, remembers when his school had no walls, broken toilets and the only water for drinking and sanitation had to be hand carried from far away. Lee can remember that the wind used to blow clouds of dust through the classroom and water buffalo wandered through the schoolyard near the wooden desks sitting on raw dirt floors. “It was hard to think about what the teacher was saying, “ he reminisces. Kean Thea an energetic young girl chimes in, “We used to come to school each morning and haul buckets of water from way over there, ” pointing to a place the length of a football field away, “now the water is closer and flows faster so we’re never late to class.”
These upgrades might seem primitive to North Americans who are used to walls and piped in water. But the lack of safe, accessible toilets and adequate sanitation can be a significant barrier to education, especially effecting girls who will often choose to be absent or leave for home early just to be able to relieve themselves without being embarrassed. Now with the help of Global Family there are toilets, walls and a more accessible well at the school. Each toilet has a 40-gallon container that needs to be filled by students carrying buckets from the well each morning. There is no automatic flush. (You) dip from the container with a pail to flush when you are done. “Now we have a well right here and it’s so much easier. We can fill our buckets and walk just 30 meters to fill the toilets, water the plants and get drinking water.”
Lee Kimhong lives with his mother and describes his day like this. “In the morning I get up at 5 AM. My chore before school is to carry water to our crops . When that is done I walk to school, which is easy because it’s right in our village. The first thing we do at school is prime the well and take turns pumping water. Some kids pump and other take turns hauling it to fill the latrine tanks, then the drinking water containers and then to water the plants. Once school starts I like math the best because it is easy. My new classroom walls keep out the wind and feel warmer on cold mornings. After school I do homework. Then I love to go fishing,” he says with a broad grin. He explains how he catches fish with his two hands, trapping them in the shallow water to take home for dinner. “When I get home I water the crops again, do more homework and then go to bed.” As in most rural families in Cambodia each child is expected to work in getting food for their subsistence.
Miles of farmland surround the Angkearhdei Primary School and village. Like much of Cambodia it is in the flood plain of the Mekong River. The only road to it is a bumpy, dusty dike road that is hard to pass during the dry season. During the rest of the year the road disappears and the village around Angkearhdei is only accessible by boat. The principle Sot Mern is from this village and came back after university with a strong calling to educate the children in his village.
Neglected as too remote by other NGOs, Global family has been a partner here for 3 years and enabled significant changes in infrastructure. The new walls, a well, latrines and a whole shelf of books to start a library were made possible by Global Family contributions. “Now students drop in after school and check out books to read,” says a teacher with an enthusiastic smile.
Reflecting on the last several years the Sot Mern says: “When the World Food Program was feeding all the other schools in this district we were considered too remote even by them. Global Family enabled a food program for one year that increased school attendance dramatically.” After a year of showing that a food program could effect significant gains in attendance and punctuality, the food program was stopped in hopes that WFP would pick up the coverage. It is still not sure whether this will happen or not.
“We want to thank you so much for what Global Family has done for our school. The walls, the well, the latrines and library books have made a big difference to the teachers, the village and most importantly to our children’s education.” This year MCC Global Family will be putting in floors.