CCF has 6 "campuses" or small satellite schools. Schools are simple concrete structures, open but with covered roofs. Because there are no doors and classes are immediately next to each other its very noisy. Each class has a white board, a table for the teacher and desks for the students. Walls are decorated with whatever the teacher chooses at that time. It's basic, folks. Its basic.
The picture attached is just outside one of the schools. Other schools have a less dismal initial entrance.
Classes are determined by ability level so you may have students ranging in age from 6 - 14 in the same class with about 25 students in each class. If the students are older it means that they are in the early stages of their education. The age range does present a challenge for teachers.
All of them have a difficult jobs especially if they have classes with the new students. Some are quite good, others could use a lot of teacher training. All appear dedicated.
Many of the teachers come from impoverished backgrounds themselves and have pulled themselves up by their boot straps. One teacher told us of leaving a much easier job in a private school because he wanted to help kids like himself. He was a former CCF student who had graduated and received a university eucation, the only person in his family to be educated. All of the teachers come from humble beginnings and have great respect for education.
All of the teachers universally agree that is essential for the students to learn English and computers. The system here promotes both. With those skills they can get good jobs.
Education is a privilege so most students are happy to be here. Kids are kids so there are the same issues here as there are in the US. Some are focused and learn quickly, others not so much.
Behaviorally there is a clear distinction between those just off the streets and newly enrolled and those who have been here awhile. Many of these kids have very sad home lives. Alcohol is the big problem followed by drugs. Of course crushing poverty is ever present. Domestic violence and abuse are common.
There are more girls than boys enrolled. We're told that parents keep the boys out of school to help make the family's living--picking up trash to be recycled in hopes of making a little bit of money each day. The long term implications of this will make it very hard for educated women to find a husband and certainly there is no future for the boys who have no education.
There is a day care program in some of the schools and the little ones love to escape and meander into the older kid's classes. They're adorable! They're little cling-ons and they attach themselves to us like velcro. They love to be picked up and held.
Some of the little ones are boarders and live here all of the time. Others go home in the evening. In the middle of the day these tykes are given a bath and clean clothes. Laundry is done in a very unique way. Clothes are put in a large tub with soap and water then a woman gets into the tub and walks up and down to form the washer cycle of the process. After clothes are rinsed they're hung on a fence or line to dry and the cycle continues the next day.
Oh yes, simple meals are provided. Malnutrition is common and one of the founding principles of CCF is that tummies are to be filled if brains are to develop and learning is to occur.
Our Work Day
We get picked up each morning about 7:20 AM and return home about 6 PM. We have a class each morning, a break, then another class in the afternoon. Both of us work with different teachers in each class. (We don't work together.) Our role varies depending on the teacher. Some of them involve us actively, others occasionally. We're handicapped by not knowing Khmer so we're learning when and how to help. We really like these kids and they instinctively respond to that. At this point I'm certain we're getting much more from them than they're getting from us.
We're taking language instruction twice a week but it's hopeless, folks. It's hopeless. Teaching an old dog new tricks can only go so far. I have a total new appreciation for immigrants and refugees coming to the US in their efforts to learn English.
It hasn't helped that we're both struggling to get our stomachs working normally. It can be said that this is a sure fire weight loss program! Maybe next week it'll be settled.
And finally: it is definitively determined that we are the oldest volunteers CCF has ever had. I'm not absolutely sure but I'm pretty sure we're the oldest people in Phnom Penh!!!!! Yesterday several of the teachers asked me how old we were and they were astonished. Their response was, "You're very strong. People your age here use a cane."
The population here is very young, some 2/3 under 35 years of age. Pol Pot did a number on his own people. We have't been to the countryside yet but we're told that there are old people there. We're going there next week-end and we'll let you know.