We could write about the children from extremely poor families, for whom EAC Cambodia is the only chance during the day for a little bit of calm, food and education. We could spend hours describing their dirty clothes, the crumbs collected from the ground and eaten, or about sleeping on a dusty floor as they are not used to sleeping on any kind of mattress. But this was never meant to be the aim of the GoodNewsLetter. That’s why we rather write about the amazing team of Education in Action (EAC), which day by day gives to those kids not only food and schooling but, above all, attention and love.
Firstly I worked in another NGO – says Sokhan, EAC Cambodia founder – I worked with poor community people for more than 10 years. But when I was working there, I worked only with one specific community. I got my salary, I went home and that’s it. I didn’t really change the situation of those poor people. I decided that I needed to try and solve that issue myself. There are way too many problems happening to the kids in Cambodia, especially the poor kids. In Cambodia we have more than 2000 NGOs, but there is still so much to do, especially in education. Cambodia is a poor, developing country. I need to use my heart, my skills and experience in order to improve Cambodia’s situation. I believe that if in the country there are more people with higher education, the country will develop better. That’s why I’m focusing on educating the next generation. I use my skills, my heart, I want to spread education to many people around Cambodia through my organization Education in Action. That’s my commitment. We have two different groups of children coming. The first is our target group: vulnerable kids, migrant, poor, street children; we accept these kids without tuition. We provide books, pencils, and daily food free of charge. The second are the kids whose parents can pay us at least a little bit.
When we started a few years ago we had only 5 kids, they were selected from the local community among the vulnerable or orphans. Now we are growing, we have 47 kids in need, not including those who can pay. Considering also the English classes for youth in the evening we serve more than 150 students per day.
A big value is the fact that the children from the mentioned groups can learn and play together. Thus, beside English, they learn tolerance, sharing, acceptance, and appreciating diversity.
From year to year we never promote our organization outside, but new students are still coming. I suggested to my staff to ask parents why they came to us and how they get the information. They say it’s because of the good quality of education. In many other schools they pay a lot but there is no quality. Parents are happy that we teach English, but also morality, values. There are more and more rich people sending their kids here. At the beginning there was nobody, but now some of them can pay us even 10-15$ per month without problems. Some parents have modern cars. It never happened before that a modern car stopped in front of our place. That makes me believe that we are going in the right direction.
A good quality of education is the result of the commitment of both Sokhan and his volunteers, which work from early morning till late evening in order to give children the chance for a better future.
At the beginning I recruited my volunteers from the university, but now I stop. They could work only for short periods, 1-2 weeks and they left. I changed the strategy so to work closely with my older students. I suggest older EAC students to work with me. They understand EAC situation, I share much of my experience with them, so they feel confident and trusted and decide to help me. I need to talk to them, monitor their activities and support them. I consult with them and train them from day to day. And they are truly involved in work as they have seen themselves how important it is.
Here there is always a big need of volunteers both from Cambodian and from abroad. Considering the big number of students there are always a lot of things to do. Help is desirable directly in the school, but it can also be offered from far. For example Patrick leads online classes sitting at his desk in Australia. Another method to support EAC is donation. Even 5-10$ can make a big difference over here.
We need money to provide food for kids who are already here. Before we were able to serve them breakfast. Now we have to stop that. We gave a meal and only to a few of them; we asked many parents to take the kids home for lunch as we really don’t have enough resources to feed them. Those who stay will not receive anything at home anyway.
There is a lot of work within the community as well. I try to help the families with finding a job, I speak with them about their kids, I collaborate with other NGOs working with domestic violence and other issues. It’s a very hard topic. For now I have to do it myself, but in fact we need a full time employee focused on that. I can train him, supervise, but I’m not able to do all the necessary jobs alone.
Although Sokhan spends a lot of time trying to find more donors which allow the organization to operate month after month, his long term vision is directed toward sustainability. He wants EAC to be independent from outside funds.
I need to find the solution, work closely with the kids and my staff to find a method for sustainability. I need to improve the English training quality even more so we can have more students who can pay. We need 3-4 students who can pay to support one kid who can’t. Although this part for now is challenging. Sometimes rich people in Cambodia are so difficult. Even if they have a lot of money they try to pay as little as possible. In the future I want to work only with Cambodian people’s money. I want to make a project in which we work with rich people to open their minds, so they can understand why it’s important to support initiatives like ours. In the future foreign donors may stop providing funds to developing countries. Cambodia is in progress. Maybe then they will focus on other countries. And what happened? Most NGOs will close because of that. That’s why I try to work step by step, change the strategy, education system, methodology of teaching, because I need to reach quality. If I can provide a very high quality education I can charge rich people with more money. Education quality is the way to EAC sustainability. Now we are in process so that’s why we need to ask donors: please help us right now, not for long. In the future we want to change the situation with Cambodian people. This is my plan. If I succeed in Phnom Penh I will expand this system to rural areas. I want to have activities also for rich people in other provinces so we can support people there.
Looking at the number of people connected with EAC and their engagement everything seems to be possible. EAC was the only organization among the many we contacted that was open for a short term collaboration and without any additional cost. During our stay, EAC people share everything with us, although they don’t have much for themselves. Food, bicycles, information, enormous friendliness and flexibility, which work together with the commitment to their kids and the daily work. The day in EAC starts around 6.30 when the first kids appear. First classes officially start at 8.00 and last till 11.00. At that hour most parents pick up their children. Only a dozen 2-3 years old kids stay. They eat lunch, take shower and about 12.00 go for a nap. This is when volunteers cook and eat lunch as well as prepare rooms for early afternoon classes, which run from 14.00 to 17.00. These classes serve young kids, from 2 to 6 years old. Since 17.30 there are courses for teenagers led by a team of foreign and local volunteers. During the whole day the volunteers are in constant action. We especially admire Sreyleak Mao and Sreymom Meoun - girls who work with the youngest kids. This group counts more than 40 children. Everybody who at least once try to work with kids of that age knows how much energy it costs. Yet the girls are always smiling, ready to hug, say a good word, share everything they have. They know the needs of each kid, the problems, and family situation. In fact, together with Sokhan, they often visit the kids in their own houses.
Before accepting a child to our school we check his/her real condition. Clothes, how they speak, and means of transport are the first evaluation. When the parents say “Sorry, I’m poor, help me!” I say “Yes, no problem”. I suggest they give us information, address. We go and check. Before we meet them we speak with their community, neighbors, to get a full grasp on the situation. Some parents are wealthy but they have no commitment to pay us. Some others are really very poor. This is hard. Another thing to check is parents’ motivation. Some parents say they want their kid to study but in their heart they’d rather keep them to work in the family business. Some kids come only in the afternoon because in the morning they work, for example as rubbish collectors. But then in the afternoon they come smiling.
In EAC you can’t help smiling. This is one of the many reasons for which this place is so much needed. Each and every smile makes it worth being here, to help, to act and to support in any possible way.
Sokhan Yung – leader and founder of Education in Action Cambodia (EAC), which supports children from poor families by providing them education.