From showing us how people in the rural areas live, to the circumstances schools outside the cities face, Nak did not fail to give us an insight into his hometown. Join in on some thoughts about the educational system of the hinterlands and what I learned through conversations with Nak.
Visiting the rural areas
With having written my Maturaarbeit about an acquaintance who had fled the civil war a bit more than 40 years ago, I wanted to see what the country is like today. Therefore, a couple of weeks before my flight to Cambodia I was set up with Rathanak Chea, known as Nak. He is a big advocate for education and has been working on multiple projects to better the educational system in his hometown, Siem Reap. From what I had heard about Nak I knew that he would be the perfect guy to show us impressions of his country.
Nak’s response to whether or not he could show us parts of Siem Reaps‘ rural areas was yes immediately. Our day started at 9 am when Nak and his friend picked us up from our hostel. He had brought some baked goods and water to provide for us for our almost two-hour drive. I was able to tell how excited the two of them were to show us their passion. While driving, we saw many fields, dried out because of the dry season, cows, sparse trees, and farmers. Motorcyclists and men driving tractors on the uneven roads was not a rare sight. At times we went a few couples of kilometers without seeing any housing. Though the fauna does not have a lot of diversity, it is absolutely lovely.
In Ampovdeab, we meet a friend of Nak’s who works as a teacher at the nearby school. She was a kind, quiet soul. What was impressive to me was to see how she lives. As one of the few families in her town, she owns a well. Therefore, she is able to provide her family with fresh drinking water. Adding to that, she grows her own fruit and vegetable. It was nice to see how sustainable her way of living was. After giving us a tour of the property, we had some mangoes and coconut water. A pleasant refreshment, before leaving to Sleng Spean.
Located in a village that does not even show up on the map, I was able to see a school with roughly 120 students. Special about this school was, that it was and actual conrete building with air conditioning and a protecting roof. It is unusual for schools in rural areas not to be made of bamboo or wood, have air conditioning and comparatively good teachers. Thanks to a generous donation made a few years prior, the educational center we visited is one of the few exceptions in the area.
The kids in Sleng Spean have lessons in Khmer, math, farming, and English. School starts at 8:30, ends in the afternoon and allows the students to play football in their two hours lunch break. Football is something all of the kids look forward to playing every day.
First of all, the most dominant problem is the country’s lack of good resources to give aspiring teachers proper education. Hence the students do not receive good teaching, making this a vicious cycle. Nak drew attention to this problem and explained that volunteers who come to teach in Cambodia are very highly respected. I had the luck of meeting some volunteers from Germany that work as assistant teachers in Siem Reap. It is inspiring to see people my age that want to make a difference in the lives of these children. Children are the future, the leaders of tomorrow. Thus I think that the educational system is mandatory to better their opportunities.
Secondly, immense poverty controls everyday life in rural areas. For example, not all students can get to school by bike or scooter. That is due to the fact, that most families can not bear those additional costs. As a result, most children have to allow an extra hour or two to get to school every day. That is not where the poverty ends though. The school uniforms consisting of a pair of blue pants, a white shirt, and a little patterned scarf costs 14$. Sadly, not all the children can afford them, making them misfits in class. The schools themselves are limited when it comes to sponsoring students.
Third of all, Nak had a very nice way of seeing independance and self sustainability. He mentioned a quote saying „Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.“ That is very noticeable when hearing outside countries claim they know best how to help a suffering country. Most of the time the government and its inhabitants know what they need, they just lack the recourses and money. What Nak told me was to raise awareness about the circumstances, keep on having conversations with locals about solutions and never forget to see the big picture.
While I had a very humbling and eye-opening experience visiting these schools, it was also a very emotional day. For most of my education I received, I heard my classmates and myself complain. Either about the amount of homework we had to do or the pressure our teachers put on us. Very seldomly did I think about my privilege of being able to go to school in the first place. Adding to that, I never had to worry about not having a pencil to write or walking multiple kilometers a day in the unbearable heat to get to school. Now, more than ever, I see how good and easy life in Switzerland is compared to other countries. I was always supported and the options of what to do in life just through being born here are endless for me. Now that I am standing in front of thirty clueless and tired students, I feel this profound urge to help. Help in any form that is needed and that I can provide. And that is what I will do.
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