Monday, December 01, 2008

Cambodia Trip '08 – Day 02: School Visit at Chreng Chomres, Phnom Penh

Our first destination of the day was to a privately funded school located about 10 kilometers away from Phnom Penh city. The school was setup thanks to funds provided by the Saudi government to help the surrounding Muslim population in the area. The school provided additional instruction in Islamic studies for the youth of the surrounding Champa community. Some of the students attend normal daily government public schools on top of the classes here but for some who are less fortunate than them, these classes are the only form of education that they can afford to attend.

(L: School building at Chreng Chomres, R: Snack shop operating outside of the classrooms for the children)

The school has students ranging from the very young to some of the older students. They are taught by volunteer teachers who come from the community. These teachers, normally around the ages of early 30’s, had received their Islamic teaching training from schools in Malaysia and Indonesia. Some had even furthered their studies to Egypt and Saudi Arabia before coming back to teach the children in their community. Thanks to their prior overseas exposure, a lot of these teachers were conversant in many languages including Bahasa Malaysia.

(Classroom scene with the younger students)

We were greeted warmly by the teachers when we arrived after the half hour trip from Phnom Penh. The first thing we noticed was the sad condition of the playing field in front of the school building. Thanks to the recent rains, the field was muddy and hardly in a condition to be used by the children. After a quick introduction with the teachers, we proceeded to one of the classes used by the youngest group of the student body. We were soon introduced to about 30 children between the ages of 5 to 7 years old who were as excited to see us.

(Some of the children I manage to get up close to)

The class teacher talked to us about his class and the things that they were studying here. I took the opportuinity to look around the class and observe the children. They were very excited especially when the group brought in the school supplies and care packages that we brought from Malaysia for them. We didn’t really brought that much but it was apparent in their faces that our small gesture was very much appreciated. The children could hardly wait to open their care packages to see what we brought them and show them to each other. Their smiles really light up my day knowing than in a little way, I was party to an effort to bring cheer to these young children.

(Students queuing up to get their care packages)

After saying good bye to these children, we proceeded to tour the school and visited the other classes. I decided to hang back a bit from the group and to talk to one of the teachers who was able to talk to me in Bahasa Melayu. From him, I learned about how these students lived in the area and more about the challenges that the teachers faced in this school. I was told that most of the parents who sent their children here pay a small fee for each children to help support the teachers. Some parents even give food items like rice as payment since they could not afford to pay cash. Most of the time, the teachers would have to pay for teaching expenses out of their own pockets.

Even with the hardship that they faced, the teachers were determined to make sure that the children received the best education possible in this school. The current batch of teachers were the lucky ones who escaped the persecution under the Khmer Rouge regime by being able to leave the country as refugees before the purges started. Taking the education that they received outside of the country, they have come back to help the current 3rd generation of Cambodian after the Pol Pot era to get back on their feet by giving them a solid education base. It was expected that children who go through this school would be able to build a better future for themselves and their families.

(Immediately after the distribution of packages, the class was a buzz with excitement as students checked out what they got)

The most important thing that the teachers needed help in was an education syllabus that they could use. They are currently using a hodgepodge collection of books donated from various organization from all over the world including Malaysia. As a result their lesson plans were combination of what was available to them and was not exactly systematic. I wished that I was in the position to help them but the best that I could recommend was for them to get in touch with the their counterparts who teach the religious schools in Malaysia and see if they could adopt their lesson plans to their school in Phnom Penh.

After spending almost 1 ½ hours at the school, it was time for us to leave and get back on the road again to our next destination. A few of the students who had finished their lessons for the day came out to see us off. The teachers also wished us a safe journey and thanked us for our visit. What we brought with us to distribute to the school that day may seemed just a small drop in the bucket but for them every little bit of assistance would help and highly appreciated. In our small way, we were helping these children equip themselves better through knowledge to help better their community. With very little that these people have, a solid education for the children was one of the most prized goal they want to achieve.

(Kids sending us off to continue our journey)

Looking into the eyes of these children, I do hope that they would be able to achieve just that.

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