Empowering Change in This Life

Deborah Chew, Director & Co-founder of Project Happy Feet and Terence Quek, Director of Communications and Outreach made a short trip up to Siem Reap recently to catch up with This Life Cambodia and the two communes under the Lower Secondary School Development Programme. Se Sen, Deputy Director of This Life Cambodia and Chea Borany, Programme Co-ordinator of the Lower Secondary School Development Programme accompanied them on the trip, and acted as translators as they spoke to the School Support Committee Members. Deborah shares her account of their meet-up with the members at the Chub Ta Trav commune.

The Chub Ta Trav commune is located some 40 km away from town in Siem Reap but the commute there took us almost two hours on a bumpy road to get to the school to meet up with the school support committee members. But as we entered the gates of the school, it felt like coming back to an old friend’s compound.

Mrs Chann Arng was particularly excited to see us. She told Borany and Se that she recognized us. We had made a trip to the same school last year when we brought volunteers of the Project Happy Feet Volunteer Leadership Experience Programme (PHFVLX) to further understand our beneficiaries and their needs.

Mrs Chann Arng
Mrs Chann Arng (right) with the school's Principal, Mr Reang Jake (left)

Mrs Chann Arng is no ordinary woman. At 66 years old, this farmer and grandmother of two showed no signs of slowing down. Besides volunteering as a School Support Committee member at both the Secondary School and Primary school, she also volunteers as a representative of the Commune Safety Council, working against theft, illegal drugs, prostitution, child trafficking, domestic violence, gangsters, illegal gambling and weapons in her community.

Walking long distances daily, she conducts parent meetings and discusses children’s education, consults with families and encourages them to bring their children back to school when they drop out. She is thankful that she has learnt useful communication skills from This Life Cambodia’s training programme under the Lower Secondary School Development Programme – a three-year programme that helps build the capacity of community members to identify their needs and envision realistic solutions to their education problem – to help her in her work.

“Now I can be the change in the community. The people are more understanding about education. I want to see more change, and I want to see all the students in his community be able to finish their studies.”

The year before had been a busy one for the School Support Committee in Chub Ta Trav. Having identified the problem of flooding at the front of the school that prevented students from going to school, the Committee rallied the community to raise funds to pay for the leveling of the land. They had also built a fence around the school compound to keep the children safe from farm animals that often roamed into the school compound.

“For those who don’t have money, we look for ways in which they can contribute. For example, by lending a hand in building and repairs for others, or selling something so that they can earn an income to contribute,” explained Ms Tim Nhev, another active member of the School Support Committee when asked how they raised their funds.

TLC_Teacher's Quarters
The newly built teacher's quarters that houses the school's Principal and teachers

“It was also hard for the teachers teaching here previously as they had to travel long distances daily to conduct classes. We now have a teachers’ quarters within the school which they can stay in so it’s more convenient for them,” said Mr Reang Jake, the school’s Principal who is only 25 year’s old.

Mr Reang Jake showed us his humble quarters. The concrete building looked new with its fresh coat of paint and shiny ceramic tiles, but the interiors were basic. He shared the room with two other teachers of the same gender. There was a similar room for the female teachers of the school.

“We’re raising funds to add in a wardrobe and some shelves in the quarters,” added Mr Reang Jake. “But for now, this is good.”

Mrs Chann Arng’s eyes lit up when we asked her what the Committee’s plans were for the coming year.

“We need to find a more sustainable way to fund the development of the school,” she identified the problem. Looking towards the plot of land behind the school, she added, “I’m thinking we can dig up the land here and rear fish to sell and use some to feed the children. We can then use the ground we’ve dug up to further level the land at the front of the school so the children can play there.”

It was heartening and inspiring to see this grandmother have such foresight. It was clear that behind her petite frame and weathered skin lies a strong woman who believes in the importance of education.

It was also heartening to see that the community had learnt to identify and find solutions to their problems.

TLC_Chub Ta Trov
Deborah Chew, Director of Project Happy Feet meeting up with School Support Committee Members with This Life Cambodia staff members to find out the latest updates and developments in the Chub Ta Trav commune.

This Life Cambodia would complete its three-year capacity building programme in the Chub Ta Trav commune in October 2013. While the committee members seem to be able to stand on their own feet, they wished that the organization will further assist them in capacity building as they too feel that they can learn more to be the change in their own community.

“Please ask This Life Cambodia to stay with us for one more year,” they all requested. “We are like a small seed that has grown into a small plant through This Life Cambodia’s nurturing.  To grow into a strong tree, we need to have further support so we can flourish.”

Terence shared with them the video clip of the Project Happy Feet Slipper Race when Ms Tim Nhev asked how we raised funds in Singapore. When the video ended, her eyes welled up in tears.

“It’s really inspiring to see how Singapore looks like, and we are thankful for the people in Singapore for supporting us. Please thank them for us. We hope to be like Singapore one day,” Ms Tim Nhev shared.

With their determination and enthusiasm, and with the support of This Life Cambodia, we are sure they can.


About the Lower Secondary School Programme

The Lower Secondary School Development Programme (LSSDP) is TLC’s solution to the widespread structural problem of low school enrolments in Siem Reap, Cambodia. This program is focused on community participation and community led solutions and is designed to be sustainable in the long term.

The program is consistent with government education policy, supports the principles of Child Friendly Schools, and reflects TLC’s core values. TLC uses the tools of organising and group decision-making to build the capacity of community members to identify their needs and envision realistic solutions to their educational problems. At the end of this program communities will be able to solve, or determine the needed solution of, any educational problem by themselves.

The main goal of the LSSDP is to improve access to and quality of lower secondary education. This program has been developed to increase communities’ involvement in their schools and in the education of their children. There are three objectives: There are three objectives of this program:

  1. Mobilise School Support Committees to identify the needs of the participating communities and schools.
  2. Assist School Support Committees in developing and implementing school development plans to address the educational needs of each village.
  3. Build the capacity of the School Support Committee to function effectively and independently in the long-term.

20% of the total funds raised at the Project Happy Feet Slipper Race 2012 went towards supporting the Lower Secondary School Programme administered by This Life Cambodia. For more pictures of the recent visit, please visit our Facebook page here.