Early childhood education rarely reaches the rural areas in the poorest provinces of Cambodia. In particular, preschool age children in the small village of Traipang Tres, Ratanakiri have been profoundly underserved. They have a high mortality rate, are undernourished and stunted and, those that could benefit from the gift of early childhood education, rarely do. Recent statistics from a 2011 UNICEF report show that Ratanakiri has one of the highest primary school dropout rates.
In response to this dire need, the Caramanico Foundation Cambodia established an early childhood education program for 70-100 preschoolers. The challenges are many but the successes to date are noteworthy. The Caramanico Preschool and Kindergarten (CPSK) children now have a newly constructed preschool building with toilets and a hand washing station, two MoEYS trained teachers, a daily nutritional breakfast, age appropriate books (in English, as there are few books for young children in Khmer) and an ongoing supply of engaging educational materials (donated on a yearly basis).
There remains much to do. We need a way to sustain what we have and to build upon it. Our four goals for the next two years are to train our teachers in current early childhood education methodology and practices tailored to the culture and needs of our population of children; to increase the number of teachers and volunteers: to begin a parent education program and: to construct an outdoor playground.
Preschool Teacher Pay Supplementation
Since the implementation of the early childhood program in 2008, Christ Church Day School, New York has supplemented the low teacher salaries at $50/month. These teachers are not well trained and will need ongoing education in order to implement a high quality program.
Preschool Breakfast and Snack
Malnutrition is related to growth stunting and has a serious impact on cognitive development in this area of Cambodia. Christ Church Day School supports a feeding program for 70 students. The existence of this program is crucial to attendance and the children’s ability to pay attention in our early childhood program.
Gender Awareness Training and Leadership Training
Several times per year students in the lower secondary school attend a Gender Awareness Program that includes both girls and boys. Its purpose is to bring to light the cultural assumption of gender roles. Additionally the girls attend a leadership training class that encourages them to engage in the classroom.
Clean Drinking Water
Developed by Villanova University’s College of Engineering faculty and students, a simple and cost effective chlorination system for drinking water was developed. Well water is collected in clean containers, chlorinated, and used in each classroom and the dormitories for drinking water.
English and Computer Program
The Caramanico Foundation directly hires two teachers to teach English, one for the primary school and the second for the lower secondary school. For the lower secondary school, a bank of a dozen computers is maintained to teach basic computer literacy skills.
Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) Program
In January 2015, the entire 9th Grade Lower Secondary School was engaged in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) training and concepts, conducted by students and faculty from the College of Engineering at Villanova University. Projects included design of rockets, structures, boat hulls, and cars.
In March of 2015, the Caramanico Foundation sent 20 teachers and students from the Lower Secondary School to the first Cambodia Science and Engineering Festival for young students held at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. Our students were the only ones from a rural school among thousands of attendees. The Science and Engineering Festival promotes access to scientific and technical knowledge to empower and inspire these youth with the motivation and tools to make themselves STEM pioneers.
On-going facility and grounds maintenance
The Foundation assists in the maintenance of the infrastructure we have built. We have also replaced a disintegrating primary school roof constructed about 15 years ago. Refuse collection and removal is a continuous issue we work on to keep the grounds sanitary and attractive. A recent project included emergency replacement of the crumbling, leaking and dangerous roof of the primary school.