Koh Ker Update

The challenges at Koh Ker School have not lessened, but the rewards are starting to increase, so we are uplifted and encouraged.

On September 24, Ponheary and Lori took a rainy season expedition up to Koh Ker (getting stuck only once!) to meet the new teachers the Ministry of Education sent. This is big news as previously we only had two teachers and a principal at Koh Ker. The principal has a high school education and two years of Pedagogy. The two previous teachers have 11th grade educations and no teaching certificates. So, having these two new teachers with proper certifications is a big move in the right direction.

The teachers came from Kulen, about an hour’s drive by motorbike when the roads are open. They came because we are subsidizing salaries. Period. They are sleeping in a grass hut built by Heritage Watch, who has land adjacent to the school.

After final enrollments, we have 161 children at the school now. We’ve opened a kindergarten, as a kind tourist built us a building for it and we’ve received funds to pay the salary of the kindergarten teacher. Many of the children in have to bring their younger siblings to school with them, as they are in charge of looking after them while parents work in the fields. If the siblings can’t come along, then they can’t come either. it’s been a big obstacle to enrollment.

The kindergarten will get these little ones out from under foot, and also prepare them for school. We have 35 children in this kindergarten, but now the older students are able to concentrate on their studies.In addition, there are 44 first graders. There are also 40 second graders, 12 in grade 3, 15 in grade 4, 9 in grade 5 and 6 in 6th grade. You may recall that with final exams were given at the end of the school year in June, no children passed. After 3 months of working with the teachers, getting everyone healthy, feeding them, improving attendance, etc. some of the children have passed the exam, which we gave again 2 weeks ago to benchmark progress.

In June we had no 5th and 6th grader, and now out of the woodwork have appeared a few children, returning to complete primary school. They are all older teens, but bless them for seeing the opportunity to finish and coming back to school!

The Ministry hasn’t given us any textbooks for these 5th and 6th grade classes, so we went today and bought them locally. Can’t wait; the kids are here ready to learn…There are 4 subjects for 5th and 6th grade, Science, Social Science, Math and Khmer. We will bring these books when we deliver supplies on September 30th.

The breakfast program is a huge success. We have applied to the World Food Program for assistance and they sent a representative to Koh Ker with Ponheary to assess the situation. The drawbacks to assistance are the bad roads and the fact that it’s not worth their time to send a truck all the way up there for only 150 children. The upside for them is knowing we are there to monitor the program, so we’re still waiting to hear from them, and we remain hopeful.

The increase in children, while very good news, also means we will have a higher food and medical expense this year, so we really need their help.Dr Kim went over the school rules regarding discipline, attendance, etc with the parents when children were enrolled in school. enrollment formThe parents “sign” with their thumbprints, as none of them can sign their names. We felt it necessary for the parents to understand what we are offering to the children and what the parents can do to help make it a success. Dr. Kim has also been helping to train the teachers. Medically the rainy season is a challenging time for children who live in the elements. There a have been a lot of colds and an increase in malaria cases, but Dr. Kim is staying on top of it and everyone is well, attendance is good at the school every day. The dengue is way down, due largely to improved immune systems, because of better nutrition and vitamins.

We’re happy with the progress being made in a short time at Koh Ker. The children are engaged in school in a way they were not before and seem happy and well.

We see two challenges for this school year (besides funding!) and they are:

  1. The water coming out of the new well has a lot of sediment. This is causing some urinary tract problems in some of the children. We need a big tank with filters to purify the well water. We are looking into costs and/or some other NGO specializing in clean water initiatives to help us with this.
  2. The increase in enrollment means there is not enough classroom space. The school was built by Cmac (the land mine clearing team) during a time when there weren’t yet many people repatriated from the refugee camps. Certainly then funds were limited and they did the best they could building 3 classrooms. Currently grades 3 and 4 are sharing a class. 2 teachers in the classroom, teaching two different subjects, sharing a chalkboard. That situation needs a remedy. Currently we are thinking we can build an open air, thatch-roofed classroom outside for maybe $800. Any takers? We need to get this done ASAP. Always dreamed of having a school building with your name on it, out in the middle of a land mine field? It’s possible!

On September 30th, we will return to Koh Ker with supplies and uniforms for the children, supplies and uniforms for the teachers, food, music and a special lunch to make pening day at Koh Ker truly special. More to follow….

Our heartfelt thanks goes to the special group of people who have kept the children at Koh Ker close to their hearts. We appreciate your donations and the way you email us from time to time to inquire as to their progress and ask what else you can do to help. The children at this particular school are unforgettable little spirits, struggling against all there is to struggle against, and this they do with gleeful hearts and minds ready to learn. It’s a privilege to serve them on your behalf.