Where the change starts…Improving access to education

Our first day in Cambodia started pretty early – at 8.30 at the hotel reception all five of us full of energy, hungry for knowledge and ready for life-changing experience waited for our first meeting with Save the Children.

Welcome to the Save the Children Office, Agata & Khim Samborothana - by Tomasz Biernacki
Welcome to the Save the Children Office, Agata & Khim Samborothana – by Tomasz Biernacki

Soon three cars picked us up and transferred to the Save the Children Cambodian Office where after a short but warm introduction to each other, we were given a nutshell briefing on Cambodian latest history and the scope of Save the Children operations.

In front of the Save the Children office, Phnom Penh - by Tomasz Biernacki
In front of the Save the Children office, Phnom Penh – by Tomasz Biernacki

One of its goal is to help rebuild the education system destroyed under the Khmer Rouge regime and provide educational opportunities through a series of programmes including those supported by IKEA Foundation.

Out Sarang presenting Save the Children actvities in Cambodia
Out Sarang presenting Save the Children actvities in Cambodia

Access and retention in primary education turned out to be our main focus during this first day, not only due to the IKEA Foundation involvement in this aspect, but also thanks to what we could see with our own eyes a few hours after we left Phnom Penh.

Making education accessible is a real challenge as it means in first place; building a school somewhere on a remote location, completely off the beaten track and providing basic school and sanitation facilities for young pupils.

But this is not all – those who live far away often need a bike to reach a school which can be an obstacle for the many who cannot afford it. However, cooperation between Save the Children and partners such as IKEA Foundation results in meeting this need, too.

Little classroom, Kandol Primary School - by Tomasz Biernacki
Little classroom, Kandol Primary School – by Tomasz Biernacki

Accessibility could be also an issue from the teachers perspective. Leaving a home town, moving to a new school location, and dedicate fully to help provide a better start for the youngest ones can be quite demanding. But for those ones who we met on our way to Koh Kong city teaching is a real life mission and accommodation provided by Save the Children is a key prerequisite to make it possible.

On our way to Koh Kong city - by Tomasz Biernacji
On our way to Koh Kong city – by Tomasz Biernacji

At Kandol Primary School in Koh Kong province we talked to But Nhop and Pal Choeun, two fantastic teachers who are making their own contribution to improve access to education.

Kandol Primamry School - by Tomasz Biernacki
Kandol Primary School – by Tomasz Biernacki
Preparing lessons, Kandol Primary School - by Tomasz Biernacki
Preparing lessons, Kandol Primary School – by Tomasz Biernacki

But Nhop joined this school community 4 years ago. She teaches a class of thirty-four 6th grade pupils. All of them dream to continue their education to become either teachers or doctors. Nhop is proud not only of her pupils but also of a new accommodation building mostly occupied by three large wooden beds which she shares with other female teachers as well as new sanitation facilities (toilets) for children – both constructed thanks to funds raised by IKEA Foundation during the Soft Toys campaign.

Teachers from Kandol Primary School - by Tomasz Biernacki
Teachers from Kandol Primary School – by Tomasz Biernacki

Pal Choeun moved here 5 years ago and he teaches the youngest ones – from 1st to 3rd grade.

al Choeun, teacher from Kandol Primary School - by Tomasz Biernacki
Pal Choeun, teacher from Kandol Primary School – by Tomasz Biernacki

He lives in a little house on the stilts which is also used as a classroom. When we met him he was busy with preparing the materials for his next class. His warm smile and extreme positive attitude will stay with us for long.

IWitness & Save the Children teams - on the way to Koh Kong city - by Tomasz Biernacki
IWitness & Save the Children teams – on the way to Koh Kong city – by Khim Samborothana