By Lori Carlson
The process for building a computer lab out in the countryside has a lot of moving parts and is filled with so many steps, that at many points we wonder if we’ll ever meet success. This has been especially true at Knar School, the last of PLF schools to get their computer lab.
The first problem was the space. Fortuitously, PLAN came to build a new library building, which, once it was properly secured, gave us the place to install it. The second big hurdle was what I will call “a stewardship issue”. We found Knar school to be a particularly difficult place to put any materials and expect them to stay there.
We began with crayons and legos. We’d bring some out there, talk to the kids about how they need to stay in the library and then one week later they’d all be gone. Over and over, we’d gather the students in the yard, show them a big pile of toys that would be put in the lab as soon as they could control what they already had. But the following week, we’d have to start all over again. This went on for a very long time.
I can’t blame the kids for this. They don’t have ANYTHING. The allure of taking a few crayons and a few legos home is just too great a temptation and frankly, they don’t have a lot of role modeling in this community for respecting the property of another. There is no support at home where a mother might say “Hey where did you get those crayons? From school? Well, you’d better take those back! ” No, there is none of that.
It took a couple of years before they came to understand the value in leaving their toys and games in the library for the use of everyone. It was challenging for me personally to stand in front of them and issue ultimatums. One time I said “If you don’t stop taking these crayons I am going to stop bringing them. Do you understand?” All heads nodded in agreement. “Do you believe me?” They all smiled and wagged their heads “No”. Yes, they had my number…..that sort of infuriated me at the moment, but looking back I’m glad they knew I would not give up on them.
But the truth remained that we knew we could not put high value items such as computers and solar in an environment where simple crayons and legos can’t be controlled. So, we kept at it, the librarian kept at it. Soon the older kids started policing the younger ones and eventually they got there, on their own.
Today the library is full of games and toys that the kids might want to take home, but they don’t. They police each other, they make sure everything is put away and cared for. They eventually learned about stewardship and this is perhaps a greater lesson than whatever they will learn at the computers.
We have been pleased with how much this skill has helped our urban graduates gain employment in Siem Reap and hope those students from Knar who imagine themselves coming to work in Siem Reap will be able to do so with some skills that will give them more opportunity than driving a tuktuk or pouring beer on pub street.
Our teacher at the lab is Sal Chamroeun. He himself is a graduate of Knar School and was in the PLF program all the way through high school. For the last two years he has been teaching at the lab at Tchey and he studies IT at University in Siem Reap. He also is the “House Daddy” at the Siem Reap Boys Dorm, run by PLF. He is thrilled to be able to bring this technology to his home village and we are fortunate to be able to introduce such a strong role model for the children there.
As classes get underway, we are all left with a huge sense of satisfaction. Not just for the lab, but for everything it took for this school and this community to rise up to meet the challenges the installation represented to them.
I send many thanks to the supporters who funded this project. It was a very slow go and a lot of time passed between the day when the decision was made to move forward and the day that it was finally executed. We are lucky to have supporters who understand that the goal is not to “get it built”. We are not in the “ribbon cutting business”. The goal is always to wait until the community is ready for the project and can own it with all the stewardship necessary to make it work. Thanks for being patient while we inched toward that goal.
Today I’m feeling especially proud of Knar School. It was a long road to this moment and there were many times (like when we couldn’t keep crayons for more than a week) I was afraid it would never work. The place where the library sits used to have a grass covered shelter with a dirt floor where students studied. When I walk into the library today and see the computers there, I am reminded how far the school has come in a very short time indeed.
Thank you to all who made it be so.