Most small NGOs try to hide the reality that we’re all learning to fly while midair. Our Get Real series shows that we won’t ever hide those bumps and bruises. Most NGOs, like PLF, are understaffed and overworked with to-do lists that seem only ever to grow and all staff are expected to wear multiple hats. At PLF our commitment is to our mission at all levels which also means prioritizing hiring staff who are either former PLF students or from similar backgrounds. For most of our staff, PLF is their first-ever job and they often start that job while also pursuing their college degree. They learn on the job – and it can be messy and it takes time.
Our programs start because of the desperate need of our students and communities so the academic ideal of long cycles of project planning and framework writing isn’t feasible in the realities that our students need food now or they need access to books or remedial Khmer or … So we do our best and fix our mistakes as we go and fill the needs stronger and stronger with each hiccup and revision. But it takes time and programs stay in a certain level of unfinished for longer than we’d like because with so many balls in the air we don’t have anywhere to set the bunch down and focus on just one.
All those in-depth projects and tasks and training are meant for “when things slow down”…. Well, things very rarely ever do. Except for now. Covid school closures have allowed us the time to dig deep, both into our programs and into our staff, often simultaneously. We’ve gone back to existing programs, found our holes and flaws and restructured. We’ve spent time working on future technology goals, building them, and piloting them with our dorm students. We’ve re-envisioned the approach of several programs given Covid-forced realities and are coming out with new efficient and effective strategies. Because of this time spent in the weeds, our team will emerge with new skills, better able to see and address our students’ needs, recognizing faster when we hit a glitch and knowing how to come together to solve it quicker than ever. Here’s just a bit of what we’ve accomplished during our Covid “vacation”:
With schools closed and the creation of e-learning content apps, PLF rapidly mobilized ekits for every location so that our students could gather in safe environments to study. The model of these peer-led groups will be piloted next year as a replacement for some extra class scholarships so that more students can benefit.
Long-time PLF Volunteer Pat Jensen helped us pilot a google classroom research and online literacy project for our Grade 12 dorm students. It’s since been fleshed out and is now running with the use of Koompi laptops for all our dorm students.
Inventiveness in the face of school closures also resulted in another programmatic shift. Vannak began hosting our dorm’s guest speakers over zoom and we won’t be going back; recording the sessions and posting them on our youtube channel means all of our students – past, present, and future – can benefit.
In creating and implementing English placement exams, we’ve been able to root out and address when students were being passed along because our classes were structured by grade and not ability. Our schedules have been completely revamped and our teachers are eager for classes to begin again.
Khmer placement exam:
We used that same model to create remedial Khmer placement exams (we now offer two levels), knowing that our KVLC students’ biggest struggle from school closures will be falling even further behind in basic literacy.
We’ve begun regular teacher exchanges which have proved so beneficial that we are committed to continuing them even when school resumes. Teachers from all PLF schools work together on lesson plans, share tips, and brainstorm solutions to challenges they are facing.
After researching to develop her workshop curriculum, Vannak trained our Field Directors on some soft skills she learned more about to help them improve their leadership and communication skills.
Staff are learning to be involved in all components of project development and management. In the past two years we’ve made some big changes at our dorms (particularly Boys Dorm), so the staff learned how to analyze student survey data from before those changes and are preparing to run a comparison survey to examine if our changes effectively addressed the problems we meant to solve.
This time of extended school closures has unquestionably been hard on our students and their families and the repercussions will be felt for a generation. If ever there were the faintest silver lining, it’s that we are more prepared than ever to open our classrooms and serve our students.
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