04 August, 2012

Summer time summer time sum sum summer time

YIKES!! Summer is here!!

Here was how we spent the first few days of summer vacation!

And then…I got more organized.  You see, school was called off 2 weeks before it was supposed to finish.  There was an outbreak of a twisted form of Hoof and Mouth disease in the capital city of Phnom Penh and 60 children died in a short time (all at the same hospital).  It turns out that the rare form of this virus was fatal when the normal steroids were given to the child.  We ponder whether this was what killed our little Lan Krome because he was a patient at that children’s hospital before he was sent home because the doctors didn’t know what was wrong with him.

The result of the deaths caused the Cambodian government to close down all primary schools countrywide.  The kids came home one day and said that school was finished and luckily Wayne had heard the reason or else we would not have believed them. 
As the kids all ran around and proudly showed me their school books (that they were allowed to finally take home) I was as excited as them…but then I thought, wow, now what do I do with 30+ primary schoolers home all day!

The rural local school the kids attend is kind of like a school in theory; a school in the sense that the kids go everyday and sit in a classroom with (or many times without) a teacher.  The school day is only about 3.5 hours long; from 7am – 10:30ish am with 1 or 2 breaks within that time frame as well.  That’s it, the kids do not go back in the afternoon.

At Wat Opot our kids get extra training by Sita our super sweet full-time teacher.  Sita has a good repor with the teachers and takes over the otherwise non-existent ‘parent-teacher’ relationship.  She finds out how the kids are doing, if they are attending the school (and not skipping as sometimes a few do).  She also double checks on things such as when 3 of our kids came home and said that they had to bring the teacher 5,000 reil each (about $1.25) because of a stolen book.  Sita right away said to not give the kids the money because she wanted to find out if the teacher did indeed loose a book and if so, are the other children being fined as well, or just the Wat Opot kids.  Turns out she didn’t have to go to the teacher because the next day the schools were closed.  (In all likely hood, the teacher knew the school would close early and was trying to get a last ditch payment out of the kids.)

Anyway, regardless of what the kids learn, or in most cases, don’t learn at the local school, they are learning at Wat Opot.  Sita holds Khmer preschool in the mornings after my English preschool class.  She then teaches the 1st – 5th graders each afternoon in separate classes.  With Wayne and I totally focused on education now, we want to get our kids up to par with what a private school student their age would know.  The last thing the Cambodian Government wants is the rural ‘farm’ kids’ coming into the city and getting an education and taking the ‘wealthy city kids’ jobs.  Anyone who knows about Wayne, realizes that going with the flow and following predetermined (especially governmental) standards is not really part of his vocabulary.  Maybe that’s why I fit in so well here, hmmm…

Anyway, we are determined to have our kids educated and given every possible chance to academically succeed, which is why I have started a math class everyday.  

With workbooks bought in Phnom Penh, and the help of volunteer Laura, the children were tested to find out their level of knowledge and then given the appropriate book.

Starting with the preschoolers (soon to be 1st graders!) they dove right in.  Because we want the kids to work at their own pace instead of a typical ‘classroom environment’ which can go to slow for some and to fast for others, I needed help and recruited some of the older kids to become ‘teachers’ and many jumped at the chance.

Sometimes I have more ‘teachers’ in the room than students.

When a child finishes their workbook they are rewarded by picking 2 prizes from a large assortment of formerly donated items; items that were never given out because unless there is 60 of something, there is no possible way to distribute without someone’s feelings getting hurt or someone left out. 

It’s only been a week and 7 of them have finished their books already.  Grant it, some of the books the 7th graders are doing are at a 3rd grade level, but better to have them whiz through a book and boost their self-confidence in the process, then to have them frustrated right away.  What we have found out also is that some of the older kids (6 – 9th grade) are only at a 3rd grade level and across the board almost all do not know their multiplication tables. 

This is changing though, as they struggle through simple division and multiplication, they struggle less and less each day and the younger kids can see that learning them now provides an acute advantage.

Perhaps our greatest achievement (or at least the greatest I have witnessed here) is Mr. Ya.  A couple of months ago it was brought to our attention that he was almost illiterate.  Not unlike many lower income schools in the US, children move up in the system regardless of what their academic level is.  Just like the millions of children who “are indeed left behind”, Ya is not stupid, nor is he unable to learn, he just never learned the basics and since he went to school everyday we assumed he was learning –there is no type of formal interaction between the teachers and the parents in the rural schools.

We had one of our older boys work with him to learn the basics of his language.  He proved to be an enthusiastic and eager learner and as his skills grew, so did his demeanor.  He started to smile and laugh much more often and he started trusting people as he felt he could no longer be taken advantage of.  He dove into the math class like no other!  His newfound love of education came about also because he kept having trouble with his eyes and after a trip to the eye doctor was told that he should no longer help out with the manual labor he chose to do every afternoon, working alongside our 2 handymen.  The dust and dirt was exasperating the problem and if he kept it up, he may go blind.

I joked with him that all of a sudden his is working his brain muscle instead of his body muscles.  He also started thriving in the jewelry making department.  When his attitude changed, so did his hygienic standards!  Ya is a typical young teen boy and for quite a while didn’t care what he looked or smelled like.  Now he can be seen with a button down shirt freshly washed and his hair combed.  Now that he is a “teacher” he acts like a teacher; and has more patience than I do.

Here is Ya in action as both a teacher (sometimes in the room with me 4 hours!) and as a lone student (arriving in the classroom 15 minutes before class started).