June 2011

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Ah…. the lazy days of summer. Well… I heard that’s what they are supposed to be anyway. I love the reports I’m getting from friends traveling to Mexico, Costa Rica, and Eastern Europe. Some are planning room additions and others sampling new restaurants. That’s what I like to hear. Excellent work! I commend you on the work being done to enjoy these summer days.

Over here we’re riding the pendulum, our 9th grade kids have swung through their final national tests, and are awaiting results as to whether they will be able to enter high school next year, and the 12th graders are about to swing into action; with three days of intense testing. Passing these national tests means they can receive there high school diplomas, not passing means they repeat 12th grade. Yes, there is a lot of stress! If you don’t mind a little history; after the devastation of the Khmer Rouge, and Pol Pot, in the late 70’s there were only a couple hundred people left in the country with an education beyond middle school. The rest had been killed. During Pol Pol anyone with glasses was killed simple because they were thought have money and received an education. So, when the Khmer Rouge finally fled, there were very few people, and almost no materials with which to rebuild an education system. Those that chose to help rebuild the school system had to do it from the memory of their classes and school days because nearly every book in the country had been burned. It was a daunting task.

Now, jump forward to today and schools are everywhere. Education is big business. The population of Cambodia is nearly fifteen million and roughly half are under the age of twenty-one, so there are a lot of customers out there. The challenge is that the public schools are over crowded, with class size averages of seventy to eight and the typical teacher only making thirty to fifty dollars a month. It takes a hundred and fifty dollars a month to even consider starting a family. Here is where it gets hard for orphans, and kids from poverty stricken families; teachers offen collect money on the side by selling test answers, or looking the other way allowing those who have paid to sneak a peek at a cheat sheet.Thus the rich kids skate and poor fall, putting more youth at risk, especially if your education stops at fourteen years old, 9th grade, and there are no job options available. Okay, so those with out means just have to study harder. That’s a common story! However, when your classes are standing room only, you are tested on material beyond what you be been taught, and there is the reality of your education being cut off all together; it gets really tough, but you try your best. That is the reality of the situation. The government is working to change the system, prohibiting teachers from accepting money, but it still exists. It’s a work in progress. To give you an example, our ninth graders; Srey Mom and Rotanak had police at their school to insure the students weren’t carrying cheat sheets and the teachers weren’t accepting money. However, Channy and Socheat each paid $7, and Saran paid $5, at their school. So, it is still inconsistent and for parents whose average income is only $1.20 per day, five to seven dollars isn’t easy, and knowing that your son or daughter’s education may rely on it adds additional stress. The kids’ education and road to the future has a few bumps and major pot holes, but there is some growing oversight and a road crew out there continuing to work on it.

University at last!: Thany, Sophoan, Ra and our other youth who made it over all the potholes and through all the tests have now found some interesting bumps, and ruts as they study business, interior design, and IT at the university level. Everything is in English, or French! Thany’s statistics, marketing, and management books are all copied texts from the US. With nearly every book destroyed during the war, and with no time to translate everything, universities have rebuilt on western textbooks. Teachers may lecture in Cambodian, but homework reading assignments, class discussions, and test are based on material in English. Here’s a quick example: ‘Discuss with your classmates the reasons for the failure of many company diversification efforts.’ How’s that for a challenge? So, I can see a few droopy or sleepy eyes from all the reading, but they are plowing through and wearing smiles.

Alright, what do you do when you’ve finished your last final? Yes, that’s right! Sing and Dance!

At least that’s what the 9th graders at the Center have been doing. Of course trying to keep the noise down for their 12th grade brothers and sisters. I’ve included some fun pictures from their recent school festival. These guys are amazing! Amongst all the new moves and tunes, the kids have been busy painting and polishing, cutting and grooming every side and corner of the Center. And our kids in the countryside are having their usual fun; caring for their pigs and chickens, tending gardens, setting fish traps and working with the foreign teams who come to help care for the homes. So, there is definitely some swing in the action going on over here. Hope you continue to enjoy these summer days. And please pray for our 12th graders who are going into their final exams on July 25th.

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