Deep in the forest is a small school decorated with a large Cambodian flag on its outer wall. Upon approaching the mural, newcomers are always surprised to realize that it is made entirely of plastic waste. The school’s director wanted to show the children how valuable trash can be if used creatively.
The Coconut Kirirom School is a community school supported by donations. Located at the top of Kirirom Mountain in Kompong Speu, there are a total of 85 students learning English and farming. “My dream is to see students obtain higher education because I feel regret for not having the same opportunity myself,” notes Mr. Sok Sakha, a teacher at the school. “That is why I am committing to support this school as a teacher.” According to him, the Coconut Kirirom School was established by locals in order to support children who lack accessibility to education. It provides an alternative to the current options in the community: a single public primary school and no secondary or higher education.
The Coconut Kirirom School’s role is even more important as almost all of the children drop out of the primary school. One of the reasons is that, due to the remote location and a lack of motivation, teachers only report to school once a week. Another reason is that many parents are uneducated and do not see the value and benefits of education, instead encouraging their children to work rather than go to school to help support the family. The Coconut Kirirom School is supporting those underprivileged children by providing supplemental education, but it lacks study materials.
A lack of education causes a chain of poverty, a struggle for most of the people living in the community. Most of them make a living by selling flowers, vegetables, fruits or souvenirs to tourists. In addition, their accessibility to water and electricity is subject to change depending on the weather. Due to poverty and distance, they also lack accessibility to health care, with home remedies sometimes resulting in death.
Ms. Lim Chankesor, a student at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, noticed the sad reality that children in rural areas often lack study materials, whereas people in urban areas have an abundant and even unnecessary amount of books. She came up with an idea to collect these unwanted books in Phnom Penh and donate them to schools in remote areas. Through supporting access to education, she wanted to make the children more capable of addressing the community’s problems as they get older. She decided to take action.
She applied to the Community Action Challenge (CAC), an initiative launched by the Cambodia Volunteering Network (VolCam) aiming to encourage young people in Cambodia to identify a problem in their community, design a solution and take action to solve the issue. In 2017, VolCam provided financial support and capacity-building training to seven selected youth teams – including one led by Ms. Chankesor – so that they could sustainably run their projects.
With VolCam’s support, Ms. Chankesor’s team achieved great success in their project. They collected as many as 100 books in only one month. Using online channels, the team announced two ways to donate books: by depositing them in a Book Box that they placed in public spaces or by contacting the team directly for an in-person donation. After collecting the used books, the team organized them into different categories: textbooks, notebooks, general educational books, novels, fairy tales and others.
They not only donated books but also went to the Coconut Kirirom School to work with the children. At the school, they read a short story to inspire the children to develop a reading habit. A total of 38 children joined their activity and learned how to prevent mosquito bites through the storytelling. Most importantly, the team members successfully engaged the children in their activity and generated much interaction between all participants. Some children sang songs to express their gratitude for the team. After the activity, the team called the school to check whether or not the children were reading the books. The school answered that the donated books were being read by students before classes and during breaks.
The team is planning to sustain and expand the project. Next time, they will organize a trip for donors to provide them with the opportunity to visit the school together and donate books directly to the children. Through such trips, the team also hopes to earn additional donor funding to sustain their project.
“I believe that education should be equal regardless of location or economic circumstance,” declares Ms. Chankesor. Her team’s action might be small, but it is a first step for sustainable community development, inspiring children to become literate and be better equipped to break the chain of poverty.