The new government school year has started here in Cambodia. We have made sure all our students are equipped to attend their new classes and we are helping them get back in the swing of things. To make it a bit easier we have been doing a lot of outdoor activities and learning, to reduce the time the children are sat behind a desk. Gardening, playground story times and science, along with normal games and sport are a regular part of our days now. Learning this was also helps those who find conventional “study” a struggle and allows them to feel more confident in their abilities. It’s also a lot more fun!
After a swift lockdown following a community outbreak of Covid 19, schools have been allowed to reopen again this week (with safety measures in place). Our students were quick to turn back up, eager to learn and play. As they have missed so much schooling this year (along with children all around the world) the extra help we give them here will be all the more important going forward. It is amazing to have them back again and the center full of the chatter and cheer that they bring. That said, some of their classroom etiquette has gone slightly awry after so long away from the school structure, so we will be doing lots of activities to work out frustrations and allow the children to remember how to express themselves again!
All of us here at the center would like to wish you a very Merry Christmas!
Sadly the center has been forced to temporarily close again (from last week) due to a new outbreak of Covid here in Cambodia. The government have been swift to shut things down and seem to have it under control. We are hoping we should be up and running again soon but will have to delay the annual Christmas party for a while (we hope everyone will still enjoy carols and Christmas dances later in the year as they are well rehearsed!).
This year has been a difficult one for everyone we look toward 2021 and trust that it will bring more luck and happiness to us all!
While our staff are already fantastic, it is always important to learn new skills and techniques. Something that has always been close to our hearts at Goodwill is the belief in running a center that caters for the students emotions, as well as their education.
Many of our students come from difficult backgrounds. Neglect is especially common, but often is a result of parents/families need to be away from home for long hours to try and find income for the family to live, rather than a lack of care. The stress that is brought on from living on the poverty line also often results in an increase of domestic violence and alcohol abuse. Understanding that our students often have problems resulting from these issues and finding ways to help them cope is a very important part of our work.
With this in mind last week we joined Bright Minds Asia for some training in Child Psychology and Behaviour Therapy. They discussed different types of abuse and trauma that children can suffer, how this can affect a child, key signs and behaviours to look out for and methods to help children feel safe and supported. We also looked at some key behavioural issues and therapy techniques to help children be in control of their emotions, understand their relevance and how to express them.
The following day we got to have a nice time exploring Phnom Penh and treating ourselves with a bit of a team building after a few very stressful months. After all, a teachers mental and emotional health is very important too!
We are finally getting back on our feet after the Covid shutdown, with children through our doors again. We started slowly with just a few students per day, following the Ministry of Health safety measures carefully, conducting temperature checks, hand sanitizing, disinfecting surfaces and social distancing with limited numbers of students per class.
Working with the Ministry of Social Affairs we have now been given permission to open fully (still following strict safety measures), meaning our centre is once again full of smiles (and lots of noise).
Many new families have moved into are area in the meantime, so we have been introducing them to our services and look forward to seeing them at the center more often from now on.
Cambodia continues to do well in the battle against Corona, keeping its infection rates very low. Schools are slowly being granted permission to open but with many restrictions in place which are unfeasible for our center due to space and resources. However we have been working with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Welfare who have now granted us permission to open with 40 children in attendance. These students will come from our most at risk families and will start back at the center following the Pchum Ben holidays. In the mean time we have been having a few students in at the center each day for check ups and some support and continuing to supply food drops to families in the area.
It has been lovely seeing some of our students faces again and having a catch up. While Sihanoukville is a transient town meaning we have a constant flow of changing students, there are also many families that have been in our area for years and using our services since the beginning. We recently had a look back through our photos so they could see how they have grown.
While schools remain closed the centers staff still have many things to do. Our main priory has been remaining present as a point of contact for any families in need. We have cemented this with extra food drops in the area, along with the provision of soaps, hand sanitisers, masks and most importantly advice.
Many families are already feeling the economic strain of this Covid crisis with livelihoods badly damaged in the tourism industry (beach sellers, moto drivers), the manufacturing industry (shipping/transport of goods) and the construction industry (building sites closed) along with many others. Sadly, it also seems likely that on the economic side, this crisis will still get worse before it gets better and many that were struggling before will find themselves in increasingly desperate situations We are talking closely to our families that have been affected and trying to find practical solutions to help them at this time.
We have also done lots of group (online) training, covering topics including online safety, project based learning, creative thinking, classroom management, child rights and youth empowerment. The staff have been brilliant and thought of lots of ways they can put what they have learned into their teachings. We are desperate for schools to open so we can try them out!
Aside from this we have spent the time doing some much needed maintenance and deep cleaning of the center, along with making a few new plant and vegetable patches, ready to be used in an environmental project with the students when they return.
Whether you are celebrating Khmer New Year here or Easter in other areas this week, it’s likely very different to the ones we are accustomed to.
In an effort to avoid further spread of the virus the PM has postponed the Khmer New Year holiday in Cambodia, and banned the movement of people between provinces. KNY is traditionally a time when families all gather together in their home states, often in more rural areas, and with a higher population of older people. The annual migration of people at this time had the potential to be catastrophic for the spread of the virus (especially into more vulnerable groups), so the prohibition of it seems a very good idea. Whether it is strictly adhered to will remain to be seen.
In Cambodia in general the recorded number of cases remains relatively low, but it is hard to estimate its true extent due to various factors, such as lack of testing and lack of access to medical facilities. Most tourist businesses, hotels, bars, restaurants are either closed or running at low capacity. Masks are worn by the majority of people and hand sanitizer and temperature checks are common on entering public buildings. Schools are closed and people are advised to stay home where possible but we have not yet seen a full lock down.
At this time the biggest challenges will be faced by the poorer communities, such as the one we serve. The concept of social distancing is near impossible when you share a one room shack with your entire family and barely a foot away are your neighbors. The practice of good hygiene is hindered by no access to running water in your own home and advice to try to stay home is impossible to follow when the alternative of not working is to not feed your family! We must hope the measures in place prove strong enough to prevent the catastrophic damage being seen in other countries at this time. We will continue to work with the community, providing food drops and advice where needed.
While access to the wider world is not possible at the moment I thought I would include a few pictures from some of our group outings from this year to brighten the spirits. As always are thoughts and wishes are with all of you!
As the Corona-virus pandemic worsens the Cambodian government have decided to close schools and organisations in an effort to limit transitions. Before closing we talked all our students through the situation, explaining about the virus; its symptoms, how it is transmitted, the importance of regular hand washing and actions to take if they or a family member becomes ill. We made sure not to impose unnecessary worry while ensuring they understood the need to be conscious of the spread and possible severity of the virus, sending them all home with soaps to use.
The center will remain a port of contact for any families in need of help or assistance and continue to carry out food drops. These will be even more important now that many businesses and jobs are closing or disappearing due to Covid-19 protocols, meaning many families will find themselves in desperate situations. We send our love to everyone and hope for a speedy end to these difficult times.
With limited water in most of our students homes, maintaining hygiene can be difficult. One of the biggest recurring problems is head-lice, which are especially difficult to get rid of in families here as they often share very limited sleeping spaces, meaning the lice can easily spread. We try to do regular checks and medicated shampoos to help control them. Head-lice are so common in Cambodia they are not considered something to be shy about, so everyone gets involved in the hunt for them. We also teach about the importance of hand washing, teeth brushing, and personal hygiene during these sessions, and make sure the students have access to washing facilities whenever needed.
We would like to wish all of our friends and supporters around the world a very Merry Christmas!
We have had our traditional Christmas party with all the trimmings; dances, plays,games, awards and presents. This year we were also joined by a few of our older ex-pupils, now all in full time and very bright carriers, one working for another charity as a computer technician, one as a teacher and one working for an architecture firm . They came along to talk to the students and their families about the benefits of continuing to study and work hard. We are very proud of their achievements and hope that their visit has helped to inspire some of our current students to aim high. The staff worked extremely hard to make sure everyone enjoyed themselves and went home with big smiles on their faces.
We enter the New Year with hope and wishes for the success and happiness of all those who use and support the center!
We have been gifted new school bags for all our students. Horsewear, an international company with a factory here in Sihaoukville, runs a wonderful scheme whereby they supply M’op Tapang’s (an NGO) home based sowing teams with waste material. These teams in turn make it into school bags, which Horsewear buy back from them (giving them a valuable income). They then distribute these bags for free (through local charities) to children in need. It is a great way to involve the whole community in their social corporate responsibility.
The bags came just in time for the beginning of the new state school year and our students absolutely loved them! For a bonus they have a reflective strip for added safety. It is fantastic to provide the children with new things and knowing that they will be put to such good use. Some of them seem not to have taken them off since they were given them!
The rains have arrived in Sihanoukville and as predicted by most, but ignored by those who could have averted it, they have brought mass flooding to the area on scales never seen in the past. This is because flood plains and other natural drainage areas have been carelessly filled in to be built upon, before alternative watercourses have been made.
After a few days of heavy rain, vast areas of the city were thigh deep in water, including the main center of the largest NGO, M’lop Tapang. This is dangerous and costly in itself. but combined with the fact this water is contaminated by the rubbish and sewage now covering the streets and canals of the city, it is downright scary! People will become sick.
While we are lucky our center is built on stilts and on a hillside, our playground still gets its fair share of water, as do many of our families houses, as previous watercourses down the hills have been blocked. We are working closely with families to help them best protect their homes.
The rains will pass but the underlying issues facing the city will remain. It is impossible to deny the fact that the city is being sold off and built over at rates that are unsupportable for the infrastructure in place. Waste management, electricity supply, road and traffic conditions and (somewhat ironically) water supply are woefully inadequate for the needs of the growing city. Combine this with the fact that families are being pushed from their homes as land is sold off, or because rents are sky rocketing, that food and amenity prices are increasing and jobs in the poorest sector (small shops, beach sellers, moto dops) are disappearing, makes for a pretty bleak picture for many Cambodian families living here.
Sadly, as is so often the case, it is the poorest of people who will feel these effects the worse. Many families are faced with a difficult choice; either move out of the city back to home provinces, but moves can be costly and opportunities in the countryside are fewer, both in terms of employment and education, or, stay in the city with circumstances becoming more difficult on an almost daily basis.
There is however a glimmer of hope in Sihanoukville’s new governor, Kuoch Chamroeun. Tasked with the cleaning up of the city, he has so far closed building sites operating without permits, started the task of widening canals for drainage, and fined the company in charge of rubbish collection for their failures. We must now wait and see whether these changes can make any real difference or whether it is already a case of too little too late.
Our School Olympic days remain a firm favourite amongst our students and staff. Sokheang especially, comes up with increasingly fun/silly activities in which to compete and adds brilliant commentary throughout proceedings to keep the children laughing. The tasks are always varied and require different skills to complete, so it is not always the “athletes” coming out on top. This means all the children get a chance to feel good about themselves.
With town changing we are getting more limited with our winners trips out, but we are still managing to find places! Most recently we went for ice-cream followed by playground games and our next trip is planned for an indoor swimming pool. Good to keep the fun coming
The work we carry out within the community is as important as ever at the moment. We have been increasing the number of food drops we carry out in order to help combat the hardships currently being faced. It also gives us a great chance to talk to new families in the area. Many are moving in, to live on building sites (as labourers), and, while only here temporarily, it is important to make them welcome and ensure any children with them are still able to access some form of education.
As well as this, M’lop Tapang (the largest NGO in town) have still been coming to our center every few weeks to talk to our students about a variety of topics from home safety to alcohol and drug abuse. Being able to talk openly about such things is very important in a place where many issues go unnoticed or are hidden away due to stigma. It makes children aware they are able to ask for help when needed, a valuable lesson for life.
Some of our students have very turbulent home lives and often (for many varying reasons, often outside of their families control) do not get enough attention at home. One of our favourite things about the centre is the closeness of the staff to their students (something that has been the case since the beginning). All the members of our team have been working here for many years, and over that time have developed strong relationships between each other and the children. While remaining completely professional the staff have ensured the students know they are in a safe place and have people in which they can confide. This closeness helps to provide much needed emotional support for our students, building their confidence and providing them with a sense of security.
We try to spend a lot of time doing craft activities at the center. It gives the children a chance to use their imaginations and creativity, as well as improving their fine motor skills. They always love it! Supplies in Cambodia (beyond the basics) are harder to find so we often rely on the generosity of others who bring/send things for us to use from home. We have been very lucky this year and had some wonderful art and craft extras gifted to us, so we have had lots of fun!
After finally managing to clear our playground we held our annual Christmas party. We played lots of games and the children put on 3 different dances, all of which were fantastic. Kolab, with the help of the children, had once again created some incredible decorations so the center looked great! We were kindly donated two bikes which we decided to give away in the raffle, resulting in lots of very excited children! As always our students were fantastic, well behaved and helpful and all left with big grins on their faces.
The staff were given a few (well deserved) days off between Christmas and New Year to recharge their batteries. We went on a day trip together down the coast as a bonus for all their hard work. It was lovely to have some time together! We are back into the swing of it now and over the coming few weeks we hope to extend our garden areas and finish painting the playground. Bring on 2019!
All the current development in Sihanoukville has brought a lot of dust and dirt to the roads. This is heightened in our area as we are based opposite (and downhill of) a quarry and building site. This positioning has meant that every time there is heavy rainfall the centre is flooded with sand and dirt (luckily only the playground as rooms are elevated). With what we believed to be the end of rainy season behind us, we began a good spring clean. All the children helped and it was lovely making the center nice and bright again.
Sadly, and uncharacteristically for this time of year, there has been huge rainfall in the last two days, bringing in lots more mud, so our playground is back to square one! We are hoping this will dry out quickly so we can remove it in time for our Christmas party! We are lucky to have so many helping hands around that we are sure to get something sorted! We will not be defeated!
The beginning of the state school term has just begun (properly after consecutive holidays). This always leads to our quietest period at the center for a few reasons. Firstly, some of our students have progressed to grade 7 so will be attending state school both morning and afternoon (we will have new younger students joining our classes), and they will only now come to us for evening classes. Secondly children have to get used to studying for a full day again after 2 months of only doing half-days. Thirdly family members, who are used to the children being at home part of the time to help clean and cook, have to adjust to their absence again. This means we spend a lot of time out in the community talking to families and explaining the benefits of returning to classes along with offering extra school trips and food drops (as incentives) to the children coming in regularly again.
We also get the opportunity to do some staff training/refreshing and introduce some new elements to our structure, such as extended circle time with our youngest students and more emphasis on group work and presentations with our older ones. We hope we will have a full and productive year to come!