With graduation just a week away, we are busy preparing for a Bike-to-School Ceremony: tabulating teacher attendance and bonuses, coordinating our last food distribution for students in the area, and doing our final eco-club evaluation of the year at eight schools.
Though we feel that we know our failures and successes here pretty well, as our team is on the ground in Chanleas Dai, its still reassuring to see some hard numbers to reinforce what we see in qualitative interviews and discussions with community members and students.
During the course of our eco-club evaluations I went to four close-by primary schools similar to Chanleas Dai, all of which go from Grade 1-6. Though our evaluations focused on the eco clubs, I asked each principal how many 6th grade students they started the year with, how many were graduating, and what the reasons for drop out were. At each school, the numbers were appalling, with between 1/3 and 1/2 of incoming 6th graders dropping out this year. The vast majority left only a few months ago in April and May after Khmer New Year. Most of the students across the commune dropped out to work illegally in Thailand, even though the children might be as young as 12 years old. Even at Prasat Knar, a school with engaging teachers and a principal that had shown the most commitment of any school official I have seen in Chanleas Dai thus far, only 37 of the 64 incoming students would graduate. The 27 drop-outs mostly went to Thailand to work, or are working in the fields with their parents.
At The PEPY Ride School in Chanleas Dai village, only 14 students out of 97 have dropped out this year. Even with rising numbers of illegal migration, the high cost of rice, and increasing pressure on livelihoods, we’re doing substantially better than the norm. Although I can’t say the exact reasons why the numbers are lower where we are, I’m pretty sure that it’s mostly a result of our Bike-to-School, English, Computer, and Environmental Programs. My eyes and ears tell me that our impacts are much greater than numbers, and to take this with a grain of salt. Still, doesn’t hurt to hear some encouraging quantitative stats.
That said, numbers certainly aren’t everything, and there are plenty of small moments that weave their way into the day and make me proud of the baby steps we keep accomplishing. One of my golden moments was today at Prasat Knar, a school that impressed me with its cleanliness, the initiative of the teachers and principal, the new ideas, transparency, and overall attitude of the children. As we were chatting, the principal went over his school plan for the year, noting where he would be using government funding, where he would hope to use PEPY eco-club money, etc.
When he stopped at the end, he looked me in the eye and told me that all he wanted was for his students to have the resources that we had helped create at Chanleas Dai. All he wanted was the atmosphere that he saw at The PEPY Ride School, the sense of opportunity.
We regularly have requests for an expansion of PEPY programs in different schools, and we often get compliments on our work from those in the community. But this struck me in a more powerful way… maybe because it was coming from someone who had my respect, maybe because of the honesty and appreciation in his voice, maybe it was just the particular day or moment. Regardless, his genuine belief that we had created something special, and something that he wanted to spread to his own school gave me my warm fuzzy for the day. To all of you who have supported us in the past, I just wanted to share it.