Preah Lean Opening Ceremony

Posted on: May 5, 2009 Posted by: Manin Oem Comments: 0

Preah Lean Opening Ceremony

old preah lean full view

On May 4th, Preah Lean’s new primary school officially opened its doors. PEPY celebrated the opening of its first new school building in Chanleas Dai since 2005 with a performance by Preah Lean’s Child Club, speeches from the District Governor and District Officer of Education, blessings from local Buddhist monks, and an official ribbon cutting ceremony with PEPY staff and international volunteers representing the UAE-based organization which provided funding for the school construction. Managing Director Maryann Bylander reflects on the ceremony below:

It’s magical to see Preah Lean today.  What was 6 months ago a muddy pit across from a wooden dilapidated school building is now a welcoming, beautiful building.  The floors are tiled, there are cupboards for classroom libraries, shelves for student work, bulletin boards, and functioning toilets, not to mention a beautiful road leading to the school.  All of this was built with the sweat of over 40 volunteers from around the world, local volunteer laborers, countless hours from PEPY staff, and over $60,000 of funding from a partner organization in Dubai.

For the past few weeks, as the school has been moving closer and closer to completion, it seems I never went to the site without seeing anxious young faces peering through the windows and wandering around the school grounds.  The kids are ecstatic to begin attending school in this structure–a palace compared to what they are used to.  Only slightly modified from the traditional Khmer school, the new building is still significantly better than what students and teachers have been working in for the past 15 years–a falling apart building that leans significantly more than it should, where shingles fall off in the wind and rain falls straight onto the desks through the many holes above.  To the outsider our new building might seem like a pile of bricks, mortar, and paint… certainly nothing special.  However, sitting here in the quiet moments after our opening ceremony, I see possibility far greater.  I see a foundation, a beginning.

Certainly a building is only a building, and it takes much more than a beautiful structure to bring the changes needed to improve education in Chanleas Dai Commune.  In many ways, the challenge of building a school (as overwhelming as it has been) is easy compared to the challenge before this community now: to make learning happen at Preah Lean.  A building takes 6 months, a sum of money, and monitoring.  Yet creating a successful school on the inside has no clear recipe, and in Cambodia one must negotiate the barriers of deep-rooted poverty and challenges of infrastructure.  It requires motivation on the part of teachers, students and parents, commitment, initiative, time, and a little bit of fairy dust.  It takes teacher salaries and resources the government lacks, and training that has never been given.  It takes investment.

old preah lean full view

I am hopeful that these things are all possible at Preah Lean.  In the 8 months that we have been working on this project, we have seen an incredible level of motivation and investment in the community of Preah Lean, in the teachers, in the students, and in the parents.  Community members have come out every day to check the progress of the school and monitor the contractors’ work.  Teachers have taken the initiative to speak to us about the problems they face, and are enthusiastic about receiving further training.  Parents have sought us out to offer their help, and the District officials have supported us each step of the way.  It will take time for Preah Lean to become as effective on the inside as it is beautiful on the outside, but we know that it is possible.

We hope to remain involved at Preah Lean School in the future, working with teachers and community members to help them reach their goals for improving education within the new building.  This might mean connecting teachers to training opportunities, providing livelihood support to teachers, installing a small library, supporting a kindergarten teacher, or offering small literacy classes to struggling students.