It is one of PEPY’s* fundamental understandings that sustainable change does not come from simply giving things away, but rather through empowering communities to make and maintain the change for themselves. Therefore, in 2009, we implemented a project called Sahakoom Apeewaht Sala (SAS) – meaning ‘Communities Developing Schools’.
The aim of this initiative was to equip communities with the necessary skills to address the specific educational needs of their own schools and village. We did this through working with the School Support Committees, which are similar to Parent Teacher Associations. However, in rural Cambodia, these committees are often just names on a piece of paper, which have little, or nothing, to do with their school. In order to improve this, PEPY worked closely with three schools to develop their School Support Committees; we provided trainings and resources to enable the design and implementation of School Development Plans, which fell in line with government education policy. Schools were expected to source the money to support these projects through fundraising, with PEPY matching part of the funds.
In 2013, PEPY transitioned out of SAS for a number of reasons:
- The program life cycled had ended; we agreed to run the program for three years, which we did from 2010-2013.
- The community was now equipped with the necessary ability to support their schools and improve education within their community as a whole.
- SCCs were very active, as were the teachers, meaning that PEPY was able to hand the ownership of this project to local leaders.
- Chanleas Dai Primary School community funded and constructed two huts on school grounds, giving students a place to study during their free time.
- Teachers led their school in Chanleas Dai in making effective learning resources using minimal materials, which fundraised over half of the budget for its resource-making workshop.
- Community members taught each other how to grow mushrooms, an initiative to teach students about agriculture and entrepreneurship.
- Runn School re-developed the grounds and garden of the school to provide a safer, more child-friendly area.
- In 2012 PEPY SAS leader, Heat Kdat, held a two week literacy and math camp which was attended by over 472 students from all over the community.
- 1068 students benefited from the project, along with 11 teachers and 38 School Support Committee members.
- A total of $1997.48 was fundraised by schools.
- Teachers benefited from training in literacy and math teaching and learning, and first aid training.
- Committees discovered about proposal writing, educational law and Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) training.
Challenges / Lessons learned
- Some of the schools were unable to raise enough money to meet the deadlines outlined in the development plan. Therefore, PEPY loaned these schools the money to complete activities, and they fundraised to reimburse this.
- Plans for SSCs were often too decentralized, with no one person taking ownership of a certain project. We worked to combat this by ensuring that individuals had responsibility for executing plans.
- Income generation projects to support school fundraising activities had low success rates. This was due to a large variety of external factors such as the necessity for electricity despite the communities not being on the electricity grid, and the need for ongoing technical support and expertise.
- It was difficult to orchestrate an observation and feedback schedule with schools due to demands on teachers’ time.
- One of the challenges of working in rural areas is that there is a high turnover rate for teachers; most tend to stay at a school for a maximum of two-three years and then move on, either back to their hometown, or to pursue a teaching job in the city for a higher salary. This presented the challenge of replacing teachers in time for the start of a new school term/year, which often wasn’t possible, and the replacement teachers were unfamiliar with the SAS program.
- Teachers at rural primary schools receive salaries which can be as little as $80 per month. As such, their priorities lie with earning extra income over improving their teaching through training. Moreover, the low salary feeds into a lack of commitment where teachers are often late to school, or do not show up for lessons. It is a systemic problem in Cambodia that teachers are not paid enough, and so schools find it difficult to attract committed staff. This was an issue PEPY found very difficult to address at a grass roots level.
For more detailed information about this program, find our SAS Final Report here.
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*Up until January 2015 PEPY Empowering Youth was known as PEPY, read more about our localization here.