By Vikram Nallakrishnan
CatlinSpeak (Portland, Oregon)
Over Winterim and Spring Break, a group of 14 Catlin Gabel Upper School including myself and other students and faculty, travelled to Cambodia. The trip, a part of the Global Education program, was the first trip to Cambodia in school history. While on the trip, we visited a series of schools all supported by the organization Caring for Cambodia.
Caring for Cambodia was established by Jamie Amelio, an American who visited Cambodia and was appalled by the education system. She started the organization to combat the poor education system in Cambodia. Her main inspiration was sparked by a young kid who was trying to sell her goods so that they could make money to go to school. Amelio asked to see the child’s school, and when she went, she immediately knew that change needed to occur.
According to the group’s website, their mission states, “Caring for Cambodia works hand in hand with local communities to change lives through education. Join our efforts to train teachers, fund classroom supplies, maintain and upgrade facilities, and provide nutritious meals, bicycles, uniforms, and basic healthcare to the children of Cambodia.”
The lack of teacher experience and instable infrastructure serves as two of the major problems for most schools in Cambodia. Many schools have only a few buildings and must resort to cramming copious amounts of students together in one room usually with a lone teacher. In addition, the teachers are disadvantaged as they are rarely given the adequate tools to create a successful learning environment. The poor student to teacher ratio is solved by Caring for Cambodia’s school system by building many classrooms to support large enrollment, and maintaining a clear focus on keeping class sizes small. Caring for Cambodia also creates a financial plans that will allow for additional teachers to be hired while also providing and requiring teacher development for all their staff.
“Parents send money with their children who pay off their teachers for the answers to national exams,” stated a Caring for Cambodia coordinator, who spoke to us about bribery at other public schools. Teachers choose to accept bribery as compensation since the funding provided by the government is inadequate, and are even sometimes discouraged from attending school on a daily basis. Caring for Cambodia is a non profit, therefore requiring donations to operate. The donations assist in paying appropriate teacher salaries, while also providing annual teaching bonuses.
In 2010, the UN released a report that stated, “Malnutrition in Children under 5 is 29%.” Hunger plagues children in Cambodia. So, Caring for Cambodia created an internal program titled “Food for Thought” to combat the issue. The program helps provide two meals to all enrolled students who go through the school day with inadequate nourishment. The “Food for Thought” coordinator in Siem Reap, said, ”The students really benefit academically due to the meals they receive.”
During Catlin Gabel’s visit to Cambodia, I was impacted by witnessing the struggle families go through on a daily basis, I have gained a greater appreciation of the opportunities presented to me. Previously, I have taken the gift of education for granted, and in some cases even dreaded coming to school each day. But it wasn’t until we visited the Caring for Cambodia schools and saw how happy every student was to be at school that I realized how fortunate I was to go to a spectacular school surrounded by an equally spectacular community.
To learn more about Caring for Cambodia, visit their website here.