By boat to the island: the bumpy journey to better education

The second day of our IWitness trip started even earlier than the first one. At 6:30 a.m. we were ready to set out to Chhroy Bros Primary School, situated about 40 km from Koh Kong city.
We took this trip by speedboat. It was fast and very bumpy because of speed, wind and waves, but at the same time it gave us a lot of smiles and fun.

Do you think that this was the highlight of the day? No, this was just the beginning. The most amazing things were to come.

Speeding in a boat - by Tomasz Biernacki
Speeding in a boat – by Tomasz Biernacki

We got to the island in an hour. The view of the bank with wooden boats and cottages was wonderful.

Island shore - by Agata Czachórska
Island shore – by Agata Czachórska

As we walked into the heart of the island, the air became more and more hot and humid, and vividly green trees and bushes were all around us. After a couple of minutes, we reached our destination, a little yellow building and grassy yard—Chhroy Bros Primary School.

Chhroy Bros Primamry School - by Tomasz Biernacki
Chhroy Bros Primamry School – by Tomasz Biernacki

There were some children in their white and dark blue school uniforms here and there looking at us with a bit of curiosity.

Kids in front of the Chhroy Bros Primary School - by Tomasz Biernacki
Kids in front of the Chhroy Bros Primary School – by Tomasz Biernacki

After having a quick look around the yard, we sat outside at the wooden table with the principal of the school, teachers, deputy head of School Support Committee and other key people in the school community to talk about the school and the needs of its students and how the IKEA Foundation helps meet them. During this talk we did not only see but literally felt their engagement and commitment to creating a better school and better opportunities for young islanders.

I was impressed by how much Mr Sok Pheath, a local monk, was passionate about children and their needs. He mobilises parents to send children to school. His temple provides two pupils with temporary accommodation, as they are from outside the island village. Thanks to that they can go to school. The temple also supported the instalment of the school playground, and monks keep the school garden in good shape.

The temple is always open for children. They can receive a meal there, and sometimes they can also be provided with clothes and uniforms. But this is not all—monks work also on parents’ awareness. During meetings they educate them about positive discipline towards children and the importance of education. It is indisputable that, in this village, monks and other community members have become great advocates for the quality of education and children’s needs.

Mr Sok Pheath, a local monk - by Tomasz Biernacki
Mr Sok Pheath, a local monk – by Tomasz Biernacki

After the meeting with the adults, we visited classes and met students.

Class in Chhroy Bros Primary School - by Tomasz Biernacki
Class in Chhroy Bros Primary School – by Tomasz Biernacki

In one of them we met little Isabela, who not only could welcome us with a simple hello in English but also perfectly answered “fine” to Asia’s question “How are you”. My reflection was that this school community and Save the Children do a fantastic job to bring positive change to this village.

Isabela with her class mates - by Tomasz Biernacki
Isabela with her class mates – by Tomasz Biernacki

We were shown a school library, too. Places like libraries and reading corners are really important in the Cambodian primary education system because they help improve kids’ reading skills. It is worth mentioning that the Khmer language is very complicated. When it comes to writing skills, children master them in 7th-8th grade.

Then we were invited to a children’s play on child labour, presented by Brossan, Srey, Brostouch, Rachchama, Sophy, Thida, Meas, Somnang, Sochan and Chakriya. It was breathtaking experience to watch it, especially having in mind that in Cambodia fighting child labour is still an issue to tackle. Because of low family incomes and poverty, kids often abandon school at the end or sometimes even before primary school graduation so as to work.

Students drama show -  by Agata Czachórska
Students drama show – by Agata Czachórska

We also had a chance to speak to the representatives of the Children Committee, consisting of 11 students. The Children’s Committee is the voice of students in the school and helps the principal and School Support Committee improve the school environment and respond to students’ needs. One can see how the young members of this committee are engaged in the school’s day-to-day life. Some of them help others in improving writing and reading skills or present children’s suggestions—such as building a playground or football and volleyball pitch—to the principal and School Support Committee.

Students also help school authorities in “school mapping”, which is a very simple tool to identify how many families and kids live in poverty in the village or where children with disabilities live. One of the goals of school mapping is to help provide basic support—such as learning materials, textbooks, pens, backpacks and uniforms—to those kids.

School mapping – by Tomasz Biernacki
School mapping – by Tomasz Biernacki

The last point of our visit in the island was meeting Chey, a student with disabilities, and his family.

Chey during classes – by Tomasz Biernacki
Chey during classes – by Tomasz Biernacki

It was thanks to the local community and the Chhroy Bros Primary School principal that Chey’s life has started to change for the better. Thanks to them he was found living in poverty and not going to school. And now, with the support from a joint project of the IKEA Foundation and Save the Children, he is able to go to school, learn and step out of marginalisation. His father, who Chey lives with, got training on dealing with disabilities and the importance of education. The school materials and uniform were given to Chey. But most important is Chey’s motivation to learn. Like all the young islanders, he really likes going to school.

During the visit in the village and Chhroy Bros Primary School, I had a feeling of being in the speedboat. This community is on a bumpy journey to create better opportunities and better future for the children. This undoubtedly the right direction and with the IKEA Foundation’s help they can only speed up.

What is more, it is not the island itself but the school community—engaged children, dedicated teachers, monks, members of different committees—that makes the real magic of this place.
I take a little bit of this inspirational magic with me…

All together, Chhroy Bros Primary School – by Khim Sambo Rothana
All together, Chhroy Bros Primary School – by Khim Sambo Rothana

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SOME FACTS
In the Chhroy Bros Primary School there are 167 students and 45 preschoolers. There are 66 teachers and only 3 of them come from the village, the rest needed to move to island to teach there.

School Support Committee works on improving and developing of the school structure and creating good environment for students. It also supports head master in decision making, managing the school budget, identifying children from the poorest families, distribution of school materials.

In the Chhroy Bros Primary School IKEA Foundation through Save the Children supports activities connected with access to school also for disabled children, inclusion of marginalized children – disabled and the poorest ones, positive discipline and quality education and a safe school. In 2014 this school received a grant from IKEA for infrastructure improvements – some facilities to avoid kids accidents (e.g. stairs fence).