The power of a determined community

Today we visited Phnom Penh Primary School in Preah Vihear, which is in the Kouleaen district of north-east Cambodia, one hour from the Thai border.
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This is a remote province with 50% ethnic diversity due to the close proximity of the Thai and Laos borders. The province suffered severely from a long period of violent civil war, which actually only ended 15 years ago, in 1998. This was 19 years after the official Cambodian civil war end date.

The conflict left a region where 95% of people are living below the poverty line, surviving on only $1.28 per day. 95% of this population are illiterate. The purpose of today’s visit was to see firsthand how the IKEA Foundation, Save the Children and the local government have worked together with the community to improve children’s educational standards. It is important to understand that, after the civil war, people lived in hopelessness and had no access to education due to extreme poverty.

Today we heard a number of stories which showed a significantly improved attitude and behaviour towards access and engagement at school. For example, at the start of the project only 45% of children were enrolled at school; now 97% are enrolled. The project workers can now focus on improving the quality of education. Another key achievement of the project is the large decrease in domestic violence and a changing attitude towards parents supporting their children after school with homework and activities.

We spoke to a mother called Som Yoeun (aged 47), mother of eight children. She had dropped out of school when she was five, but she now realises how important education is. She said, “I work hard to help my children learn at home in the evenings, and I have created a clear schedule so they do their homework.”

Another mother, Sokun Samlot, said, “I used to punish my children. Now I see my children learn at home, and all four of my children are at school. They enjoy going to school and learning.”

The school headmaster, Lay Yamatrite, said “I work with the community to try and ensure 100% enrollment at school and to support a change in their mindset.”

Everyone said that the community was a happier place to be; they enjoy themselves and have a very strong solidarity.

When you consider the history of their region, these opinions are a testament to the communities’ determination to ensure a better future for their children.
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As we travelled around the region, we still saw children working in the fields and fishing in the rivers. This shows that it really does take a determined effort to keep children in education, as many of the children do have to work in order to support their families and communities.

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Our second school visit of the day was equally inspiring. We went to Dambouk Kpours primary school, a much more established school in the area. A large number of children were excitedly waiting for us as we arrived. A great example of the children’s desire to learn was that even children in the community who were too young to enrol still took part in activities at the school. The village has a 90% enrolment rate, a fantastic achievement that shows the power of education and of the projects supported by the IKEA Foundation. They can transform a determined community.

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