|Hi Everybody -
This morning, while getting dressed for the day, I saw a commerical on the television that really caught my attention. Its visual was that of an blind runner being the first to cross the finish line of a long race. Beside him, showing him the way, was his sighted non-runner friend. After being declared the winner of the race, the image went black; then the words "Partnerships Ensure Success" appeared on the screen. It was a very touching commerical.
The commerical was for a local bank here in Cambodia, but it just as easily could have about CASF. From the beginning, we have known that it is important to work cooperatively with other groups to create lasting, sustainable change. One good example of this is the Roof School. The Roof School was built in 2002 by CASF after the foundation was approached by a member of a Muslim Cham village in Kampong Chhnang Province. While slightly outside the scope of our mission to educate poor and at-risk girls, working with this Muslim Cham village was an opportunity to provide education in an area that had never had a school and in a village where more than half of the future 130 students would, in fact, be girls. This particular village had never had a school because of its very remote location. In addition, because they are non-Khmer indigenous people (one of the reasons the Cham were so severely persecuted by the Pol Pot regime), the government does not pay much attention to them and their needs.
Working with the village elders to determine what would be most appropriate in their village, two bamboo structure were built with no walls (hence the name: "Roof School"). Kristen and I spent a week in the village and worked with the two villagers who were chosen to be teachers. For the first time in their lives, they were designing curriculum for children in grades 1 and 2 so we spent a lot of time talking with them about pedagogy, learning styles, discipline and educational theory. Needless to say, it was an almost magical experience.
Today I visited the roof school again. Arriving after a nearly 40 minute moto ride through the beautiful (and wet) wilderness of Cambodia, I was greated by two rows of children, clapping and singing as I arrived. But the roof school was gone! In its place, stood a real concrete school built by Alan Lightman and the Harpswell Foundation (www.harpswellfoundation.org). Alan visited the village with Fred several years ago and, learning of the village's desire for a "real Cambodian school" worked in partnership with CASF and the villagers to create this beautiful, modern schoolhouse. In just under two years, the small roof school was able to be replaced by the new concrete school making this tiny village in Cambodia home to one of the country's newest primary schools! The school now contains a library, water well, guest accomondation and, most importantly, is staffed by not only the two original village teachers, but three state-trained teachers who teach 145 students in grades 1 to 4. Grade 5 will begin this September and I wish the students well.
While there, I spent a long time talking with the Village Chief, other elders and the teachers about the impact of having a school in their village - and there are many. Before the Roof School, the village felt very quiet, isolated and lonely. Today, there is an energy and sense of wonder about the world around them that just did not exist before. Children no longer fight as much as they used to and the number of times they get sick has been reduced (hygeine is one of the classes taught in school). Young people are learning how to read and do math and even parents are showing an interest in education.
Thinking back to the commerical I watched this morning, I'm not sure who, in the Roof School story, is blind and who can see. There are neither experts nor novices. But the children in this small village have, after a 60 year long span, won the race. THAT is a magnificent accomplishment.
I am reminded of a quote by Paul Farmer, a doctor-anthropologist who divides his time between Harvard and Haiti running a hospital and treating the sick, who, when asked how he is able to accomplish so much, said (and I paraphrase), "Ï, alone, cannot. But working with others, I know that when I am down, someone else will be up, and when they become tired, I will have energy to continue. In this way, we can accomplish great things." And we did.
Awcun Cham villagers. Awcun Harpswell Foundation. Awcun CASF.