Over the past year, most of our gappers and teams at Camp Cambodia have spent some time working with our close neighbours, Teul Lich Primary Beng Mealea, the school being just behind our camp on the outskirts of the commune. Need to support Beng Mealea Primary School.
In rural Cambodia the poverty and harsh farming seasons add extreme pressure on families to restrict education for their children so those children are available to supplement income through working on the family land or in other roles, yet there is still great enthusiasm for education from the younger generation. The high school at Beng Mealea caters for 600 children a day with 300 attending classes in the morning and a different 300 in the afternoon, but the facilities within the school are extremely poor and unable to cope with such large numbers, especially with a planned increase in students attending the school.
Currently food for the students is cooked by the teachers either in a small basic shack (shack being a generous term) behind the school or one of the classrooms and the students eat in the yard or in the classrooms if it’s raining.
There are only 2 working long drop toilets, which you can imagine with that many students isn’t nearly enough. Ironically (and annoyingly) a private company has built a toilet block opposite the school, only a matter of 50 yards away, with 40 (yes, fourty!) gleaming spotless western toilets to accomodate tourists that come through to see Beng Mealea Temple, however only a handful of tourists actually make the journey to see the temple from Siem Reap, so that many cubicles is complete overkill. However, despite them being generally unused the students at the school are still not permitted to use the toilets.
As with the rest of the area, the school is greatly affected by the seasons, with flooding during the rainy season and little clean water for cooking, drinking and washing during the dry season. Water management on the whole is fairly poor in the area with only traditional stone pots used to collect water, which may be OK for a family of 4 but is entirely inadequate for a large school. When we first arrived at the school we were heartened to see a large 20,000 litre concrete catchment tank attached to one of the roofs, but were not that surpised to learn it had long since cracked and leaked so badly it was no longer used and the NGO that has originally funded it had ceased to exist. So the only source of water for the school was a large deep muddy pond dug into the grounds behind the school which was full during the rainy season but soon became nothing but a muddy puddle during the dry season, though the students still dutifully filled buckets from it every morning.
With 2 of the 8 simple classrooms given over to stores and accommodation for the faculty who have to travel long distances to teach, the school can at times feel more like a refugee camp than a place of learning, especially as most of the classrooms have some large structural defects.
So alongside our work in the comunity, Camp Cambodia started a long term program of improvement at the school, which has kept our volunteers busy for the past 18 months, with plenty of work still to do. The most obvious improvement, thanks to our younger International School teams, has been the general look of the school, which, with a lick of paint, now resembles a school. Our groups joined in with the students from the village to produce gleaming white walls, nicely landscaped grounds and a volleyball pitch.
Our very first task at the school was to repair the unused water tank, which meant breaking a hole in the roof, cleaning the insides and repairing the the large leaks before the tank was resealed and re-attached to the roof guttering. However, this is only the start of the watercatchment system with plans to intsall a further 4 large tanks which should provide a significant amount of water to see the school through the dry season.
We are currently almost halfway through construction of a new kitchen repalcing the tumbledown shed currently used. It’s aimed that we will finish the kitchen with the help of our Summer UK Teams this summer. After the kitchen we will concentrate on creating a new ablutions block to increase the number of toilets and add sinks for hand washing and there are plans for a new accomodation block for teachers as well. So there is plenty keep us busy over the coming months and years, but on meeting the happy children at the school, who all just want the opportunity to learn, it becomes very obvious why this sort of work is necessary.