This post is part of a series by Marisa Vickers, Krama Wheel's summer intern in Cambodia. Marisa is spending the summer in Siem Reap with our partner organization, Build Your Future Today Center, to learn more about the school uniform program that Krama Wheel supports. She will be sharing her experiences throughout the summer here on the blog.
- - -
I believe that being a teacher is a noble profession anywhere around the world, and the young men and women who have chosen to become teachers in the Cambodian villages that I’ve visited have earned a tremendous amount of my respect. After conducting several interviews, I have gained quite a bit of insight into the educational system and the challenges that each teacher must face on a daily basis.
The typical Cambodian teacher often grows up in the same village where they teach, received their certification through either a two-year university or with government training, earn a very low salary, and work in a school with a very limited staff. Sometimes, there are even two teachers to one classroom. Half the students sit in a group that faces one wall to learn from one teacher, while the other half of the classroom faces the other wall to learn from another teacher. In some cases, teachers must find ways to give lessons outdoors underneath makeshift huts because of limited space.
Teachers also often take on additional roles due to low funding and resources. They help cook breakfast and lunch for the kids, build structures that could improve the school grounds, search for additional donors and supplies, inquire about the problems in each student’s domestic lives, offer additional tutoring outside of normal hours, and even work a second job just to make a basic living. On top of that, some teachers must also be mothers while teaching. One teacher that I spoke to had no choice but to bring her baby to class due to the fact she was still breastfeeding and her husband was also a teaching at another school. Because both of them have limited income, neither could afford to pay for childcare nor have anyone else watch the baby while both were at work.
In the villages, it is common for children to be absent from school for days at a time due to factors such as flooding and distance. Many children also come from homes with farmland that requires as many hands as possible to assist with harvesting food for the family. This has posed challenges for teachers because not only does the lack of attendance prevent the school from receiving government assistance, but it also hinders the students’ ability to make academic progress. Consequently, students can start to fall behind. Other barriers include the lack of water due to the inaccessibility of a filtration system. Water is not only needed for the children, but also for the gardens that are planted at the school grounds. The gardens are just as essential because this can help feed the children and teach the students how to become more self-sufficient.
Although some of these villages are located just two hours outside of Siem Reap, the villages are so remote that the difference in the standard of living is vast. When asked what the teachers would like to have for the school, most responded with basic desires that we take for granted. Teachers want to be able to give more supplies and resources to students such as books, paper, pencils, a playground, water, and electricity. Many also dream of having internet access someday so that students can gain information and become more connected to the outside world.
There is clearly a substantial amount of additional responsibilities and burdens that are placed upon rural Cambodian teachers, yet these individuals chose this profession because they truly care about the future of their communities. In the villages, the entire community is embraced as family. While there is a deep bond that flows among everyone, the teachers hold one of the strongest connections to the youth: they are those who act as mentors and understand the past hardships that the previous generations had undergone since the Khmer Rouge and realize that the only outlet to make a direct impact upon future generations is to provide them with knowledge, hope, and opportunities. The teachers that I’ve met have earned my deepest respect and I believe that with their dedication, there will be positive change in Cambodia.