Phew~! Opening day went without a hitch this year, thanks mostly to the enlistment of a group of Cambodian and international volunteers who came to load, unload, cook, serve, distribute, play, dance, clean up and organize.
Ponheary and Lori would like to extend many thanks to:
Sharon Miro, Kristina Johnson, Lynn McKee, Mark Limacher, Nora Burkey, Jessica Whitney, Lyn Lee, Cheryl Richmond, Jane and Richard Dinnison, Ariny, Dara , Srei , Marina, Rethy , Chamnan, Sovann, Den, Denny, Deth, Lita, Sara, Mr. Hong and Mr Chuon!
On October 1, we started the day by joining a parade of hundreds of students from Wat Bo as they marched around Siem Reap, announcing to the city that today is the first day of school! Flags flew, the band played and everyone got in the mood for a festive day. Wat Bo is a public school in Siem Reap proper with 4900 students in grades K-6. The PLF sponsors approximately 650 students at Wat Bo Primary, many of whom are homeless, some live in pagodas, many are orphans or children of rural families who have relocated to Siem Reap in search of work. We are especially proud of our secondary school students from Wat Bo, 93 strong!
On October 2, we met our students at Tchey School for opening day. Among the 900 students enrolled at Tchey School in grades K-6, there are 500 students sponsored by the PLF. These 500 students were given their supplies, uniforms and shoes by the teaching staff at Tchey. We were very happy to see so many parents in attendance this year as well as representatives from the Ministry of Education, who came to see the newly expanded computer lab and congratulate Rethy Ly, who was honored with an award for “Most Awesome Volunteer” in recognition of his tireless service to the children of Cambodia. Rethy was Ponheary’s driver and assistant for many years in their efforts to educate children, long before there was a PLF. After unloading 62 bikes for the graduating 6th graders, prizes were given to the first and second in class while lunch was prepared for over 1000 people by PLF volunteers. This year we were given shoes by Tom’s Shoes and distributed them to the students at Tchey.
PLF volunteers had a much deserved rest on Sunday, then on October 4th, we loaded up trucks again and headed to Knar School in Banteay Srei District where we enjoyed a very festive albeit wet party with the children there. At Knar there are just under 400 students, all of them sponsored by PLF. We were very happy to see our growing legion of 67 secondary school students again and they helped Marina, Srei and Ariny prepare lunch for the whole school. 33 bicycles were awarded at Knar School and prizes given to the first and second in each class, with bikes going to the first and second in grades 4 and 5 as well. The day ended with the requisite all-too-loud music and dancing in the mud until late in the afternoon when everyone piled into trucks and headed home.
On October 5 the day began early as the cooking team headed for Koh Ker at 4:30am to get a head start on preparing lunch. The rest of the team loaded up right behind them and made the three hour journey with all the supplies, uniforms and shoes for our 200 students there. In addition, a stockpile of used clothing was distributed and some new books were brought for the library. We were very happy to see so many parents at Koh Ker as well as representatives from the Ministry who had come to express their support of our mission at Koh Ker. PLF volunteers made lunch for the community while we awarded 15 bicycles and prizes to the top academic achievers. The day was particularly poignant for visitors Kristina Johnson and Sharon Miro, whose initial support and commitment was what got Koh Ker School operational in the first place. For them, the dramatic shift in the students and in the energy at the school was immediately apparent and exceedingly gratifying.
After the festivities at Koh Ker, we drove to nearby Srayang to see the progress on the girls dorm which 13 girls have recently moved into. There is still lots to be done on the property to create the safe and supportive environment we are committed to providing for these pioneer girls, but they are already thrilled with their new home and are excited to be attending secondary school, the first in their village to do so since the village was founded in 1979. Look for more updates on the house in Srayang in the next couple of weeks as work there comes to fruition.