PLF has a Girls dorm and a Boys Dorm in Siem Reap. They are meant to be College Prep Dorms and house students from the outer reaches of the north who want to go to College. But there have been obstacles.
Cambodia has a Boy Problem.
The Girl’s Dormitory can house 24 girls. It stays comfortably full. The Boys Dormitory has an average of about 8 boys in residence at any given moment. Not because we can’t get the same big house for the boys that the girls live in, but because we just don’t have the same number of boys motivated toward University. We never have.
Currently, 68% of our University students are young women. A few years ago that percentage was even higher.
What’s up with that?
There is a global effort to educate girls and rightly so. There is plenty of compelling data that supports the return on investment when supporting the education of young women, everywhere. We’re a women-led organization. We are 100% on board with educating women.
Supporting the goals of our female scholars would never preclude us from doing the same for males and we have never chosen girls over boys ever, for anything, even though there is plenty of push to do so. (Read: loads of grant money for girls-only initiatives) Historically, rural boys just don’t seek to further their education in the same numbers that rural girls do. This is true all over rural Cambodia. There are myriad reasons why that is and over the years we’ve done tweaks in program development starting in primary school and talked with an ocean of boys and their parents/teachers to try and understand what the obstacles are. Recently, rural boys have started having some success with just the right combination of several small-ish but important influences; they have awakened and are making clear steps forward.
It’s important to get out in front of this forward movement. Once something unsticks, it absolutely rolls. The boys are coming.
Very soon, they will catch up to the girls. We have been waiting for this for some years and we will be ready for them. We are expanding the capacity of the Boy’s Dormitory. As in, right now.
In April we started construction, three weeks after the government closed every school in the country. All our boys went back to the village to try and study online. That’s another story.
We have always housed the boys in this typical Khmer home; it began its life as a typical wooden house on stilts. Then the stilts were replaced with a concrete ground floor and it became the typical family home found everywhere in Cambodia. We decided to remain on this property and built a new adjoining single story building right where this vegetable patch was, where 24 boys can comfortably dorm, utilizing the old house as storage and quarters for the House Leader. There is a massive covered common area between the buildings where the outdoor kitchen is also located.
COVID19 has thrown us many obstacles regarding school closures, and the latest word we have is that when school resumes it will be 3 days physically in class and 3 days studying online. The new building at the Boys Dorm has two large dorm rooms, each with a comfortable capacity of 12 residents.
You might want to pause right here to glean an understanding of just how messed up the government’s e-learning system is.
We now feel the need to dedicate one of the bedrooms to a classroom for however long this 3 on/3 off scenario stays in place so that we can broadcast classes and provide classroom support. As a result, this year, we are capping the number of boys at a maximum of 12. We will suggest to a number of boys who are serious but don’t have the academic requirement to repeat the trainwreck that was grade 11 and present themselves again in 2021.
It will cost us about $30,000 to build the facility. We owe much gratitude to donors at PLF Canada who got behind our vision for the boys and put down the cash to rebuild the facility. We’ll be ready when school begins again to not only welcome back the boys who have retreated to their village during school closures but also new 11th grade recruits from our schools up north as well as a couple of great candidates from Knar and even further afield.
Why is there such little access to school in the north?
After the atrocities during the civil war, the Khmer Rouge fighters were sequestered in the northern provinces at the Thai border. In these remote jungles, there are few roads, medical clinics, banks, schools or any of the normal constructs of society. Most people who dwell there live in grinding poverty and because most of the adults never had access to school, there is a collective amnesia about why education is important and how it correlates to the homeostasis it brings. The PLF mission is to provide educational access to children in the remote areas of Northern Cambodia.
In Siem Reap, our existing boys and girls dormitories will be transformed into college prep dorms, which will provide more options for our students in the northern rural areas. Some students can now stay at home all the way through high school and finish at Srayang. Some of them will go on to vocational training, some will go immediately to work, some won’t finish high school at all.
Regardless of the option chosen, each student will have reached their full potential.
The cream of the crop will have the option to come to Siem Reap in grade 11 and spend their last two years of high school getting themselves prepared for College and life in the big city of Phnom Penh.
Starting in November, instead of trying to choose which students can come to the Dorm at Srayang from those villages, 100% of the graduates from these four primary schools will have the opportunity to come to the District Seat at Srayang to complete Secondary School. It has taken us a decade to reach this point.
Achieving all of this requires implementing a “School Bus” system to transport students to and from home to school daily.
Solving the massive transportation issue means that the pathway we’ve spent a decade carving out is finally wide enough to hold a bus (well, a truck!) and finally giving all our students access to a high school diploma–something only 7% of the population in the north has the opportunity to accomplish.
It’s one of the boldest moves forward we’ve ever made during the most uncertain time we’ve ever lived in. But we’re not at all phased. We’ve been planning this forever.
Everything has been made awkward in 2020 and we know you know what we mean.
Uncertain times can threaten to paralyze us all, make us afraid to make even the tiniest move outside of our recently-enhanced extreme comfort zone. We have struggled since March with those feelings, but we quickly dug down a bit deeper and found our resolve, our solidarity, our bravery; our confidence that we know what our students are doing and that we know how to stay in front of them as they move forward.
The PLF team continues to move all together during these extraordinary circumstances with what we know are our most correct steps forward. Not only at the Boy’s House but all the way upstream. At every location we are pushing everything forward, widening every path for our rural students.
Our boys are ready and we are ready for them.
COVID or no COVID.