Education
 Cambodia
Project #16187

Educating 120 street-working children in Cambodia

by Senhoa Foundation

At Lotus Kids Club we feel we have been successful in keeping with our mission statement as well as achieving and keeping our focus on our goals and objectives. Yet we also understand we should not be complacent and that there is always room for improvement. We know it is important to have an outside objective evaluation of our programs if we want to provide quality service to the families we serve. In addition the LKC staff has opportunities to visit and observe programs similar to ours and have trainings from professionals that dovetail their in-house trainings.

We have had both formal and informal comprehensive observations and evaluations of the work LKC does. LKC tries its best to implement the recommendations generated from these evaluations when possible. For example, we’ve made changes to make our Parent Meetings to be more engaging by adding fun activities, we listened to the youth attending our Afternoon Community Program expanding our computer and English learning classes, and our recordkeeping has been upgraded—all as recommended. We at LKC are not afraid of change and know that in fact change is to be embraced if we want to continue to improve our service delivery.

When our teachers and support staff visit other pre-school programs in Siem Reap, they get a sense of what else is offered regarding early childhood education. This proved to be very interesting for the staff comparing and contrasting what they have learned and the work they do at LKC. They visited a government-run pre-school (allegedly one of the best), and they visited a similar program at a highly touted public primary school. They also visited a private, well-funded, Western-run private pre-school.

As our teachers now embrace LKC’s play-based curriculum and have seen the positive impact it has on the children’s learning and behavior they were a bit disheartened to see the government and public school programs’ focus on academics with little time for play. To be fair, government training and resources are limited in Cambodia for early childhood education. I believe visiting the well-run private pre-school program and speaking with the director and teachers validated their work at LKC as they, too, have a play-based curriculum.

We have had visitors with a strong knowledge of early childhood education and a long history of working with young children as well as youth in some cases. They share with the teachers their observations, often praising their work with the children and discussing with them best practice and offer suggestions. This reinforces their belief that we at LKC are providing quality care to the children. That is care and teaching which will help them be successful in their pursuit of education and give them a positive sense of self.  

LKC will continue to evaluate our work to ensure that we stay true to our mission and do our best to reach our goals and objectives.

Lotus Kids
Lotus Kids' Club Preschool Graduation

It is that time of year again at Lotus Kids Club: 28 of our 52 preschool students graduated! Our primary school students have ended their school year. And we close the school for recess in September. We use September to clean and organize our materials and space, conduct various staff trainings and to take time to relax and recharge. We are prepping for the return of our students and getting ready to welcome new families and participants in our many programs and activities.

Just before their annual summer break, our graduating preschool kids were measured for their primary school uniforms. Their school supplies have been purchased--backpacks, pencils, notebooks, as well as hygiene supplies. We provide these items throughout the year. We also provide for each graduating student a bicycle, helmet and lock. We do this as a graduation gift, but it is also a way to improve school attendance. A big cost for us but it is necessary.

September begins for the teachers with cleaning--deep cleaning. This means that all toys, games and materials get a thorough sanitization. Of course some of this happens throughout the school year but this assures that no item is missed including materials in stock. Deep cleaning also means walls, furniture and all surfaces get a thorough scrub-down. We find it is a good start for doing inventory and culling out what items are really not useful or are ready for the trash bin. Organizing materials is the next step followed by setting up the classrooms and assessing what will be needed for the school year. Again it will invariably be a time to spend money, perhaps replacing broken chairs, a new whiteboard or maybe new books. With 50+ preschool kids and a hundred or so older children using materials to have fun and learn for a year replacing items is inevitable.

After a week or two of the aforementioned purge, the training will begin. This year we have 2 new employees as we promoted a teacher to Assistant Program Manager and hired a nurse, since our beloved previous nurse went on to a new job to gain more experience. It gives us an opportunity to review with all staff our mission, goals and objectives and to see if we are adhering to them. We will also be discussing staff emotions in the workplace. Anger, sadness, frustration and other emotions will of course surface during our work with disadvantaged families. It’s important to know how to handle those emotions.

We will have trainings on child development and other aspects of working with children and youth. The Social Workers will be reviewing information on how to engage with families effectively and find ways to strengthen our record keeping and case management files. We will visit a government-ran preschool/kindergarten and a private preschool/kindergarten.   This should prove interesting and lead to important discussions about the differences and why we do what we do.

We will end with several days of rest and relaxation, some together and some solitary. We will all come back on the first day of school recharged and ready to teach, learn and have fun.

I am looking forward to the new school year with high expectations. We have long-term staff who have over the years gained more knowledge, improved their teaching skills, and have become more creative and innovative. They have overall raised their quality of work. Good luck to them and to the senior staff as well as the new families and participants of the Lotus Kids’ Club.

LKC preschool grads sing to thank their parents
LKC preschool grads sing to thank their parents
Our Senior Teacher, Chenda, with the children
Our Senior Teacher, Chenda, with the children

Special Child, Special Teachers

I would like to give praise to the teachers of the Pre-school Program at LKC 1. 

Two of the three teachers have been with us for almost four years and the third teacher was promoted from the cook/cleaner position.  The two longest-serving teachers do not have any university training in child development or early childhood education.  They have been learning from me over the years, as this is my area of expertise.   They have also attended workshops and trainings. 

To see how quickly the teachers have learned and implemented these foreign concepts of working with young children has been amazing.  We operate with a play-based curriculum and encourage child-directed play.  This philosophy of working with children is even questioned in the West, in the USA.  In Cambodia this approach to early childhood education is relatively new.  In some ways it goes against traditional Cambodian cultural practices and thoughts about children.  However, a wealth of research supports this as an effective way to help children in being ready to learn upon entering school. 

Albeit hesitantly, the teachers began using this method of working with the young children and after a few months they began to see positive behaviorial change in the children.  The children were more cooperative, had better self-control, and were gaining confidence in their abilities.   The teachers then began to fully embrace the methods.  They have since sourced their own materials and designed their own activities that support the children’s play and learning.   The teachers encourage whole heartedly the children to direct their own play.  The teachers have been able to discipline the children firmly but with compassion and understanding.  This is done in a way that doesn’t punish or shame the child but teaches so the children learn and practice appropriate behavior. 

All that is stated above is in itself amazing and commendable.  However the teachers deserve even more praise and admiration for their work in the last school year.  At the beginning of the school year we were approached by an NGO that works with children with various disabilities.  They wanted us to consider accepting a child with down-syndrome into our pre-school program.   I was reluctant to do so.  I myself had not much experience working with children with down-syndrome.  The children in the preschool program were living in dire poverty.  Some suffered from abuse or neglect, some lived in single-parent homes, and many lacked adequate food and shelter.   So the teachers already were dealing with many challenges.  I thought perhaps it was unfair and nonproductive to overwhelm them with a special needs child when they have not had experience working with any previously.

After some research regarding how to work with a child with d-s and several discussions weighing the pros and cons, we decided to accept the child into our program.  He is a lovely child who is a bit chronologically older than the other children and had never experienced a pre-school setting.  Of course he did prove to be challenging at first.  It took a lot of hard work and caring by the teachers, but after some time the child along with the other children was able to sit for circle time, sing songs and listen to story books being read.  He eventually participated in the arts and craft activities and made friends with his classmates.  The teachers never complained but would ask for information and guidance when they were challenged by his behavior. 

I get choked up while writing this because clearly this child won the hearts of the teachers.  The teachers stepped up to the challenge, quelled my fears and exceeded my expectations.  The parents were so happy to see their child having fun and making friends.  What a wonderful learning experience for him.  It was as well a great learning experience for the teachers, his classmates and indeed me. 

I can’t thank these special teachers enough.  They are truly amazing.

Rachana with LKC kids
Rachana with LKC kids

     My name is Rachana. I am 23 years old, and I will graduate from university with a Bachelor’s Degree in June. I come from a poor family from the Cambodian countryside. There are twelve children in my family. When I was growing up with my big family without a father who passed away, even when I was young, I have known how difficult it was for me. So I want to help other people in the community, especially kids, who come from a similar situation as mine.

     I decided if I want to help I would need to have an education.  I worked very hard to finish high school. I was persistent in convincing an NGO to take me into their center and help with my funding for university. When I entered university I moved to Siem Reap where I found out about Lotus Kids Club. I volunteered for a little while, and then I was hired full-time as a Teacher Assistant.  For almost a year I worked as a Teacher Assistant then I was promoted to be a Junior Teacher.  After two years working as a Junior Teacher I was promoted to be the Assistant Project Manager. I will graduate with an accounting degree, but I most enjoy working with children and families.  I feel competent doing this work and will hopefully gain a Masters degree related to this field of study.

     Lotus Kids Club is where Mr. Steve works as the Technical Advisor.  He is full of experience in working with children.  He trained all the teachers on how to work with young children, and I found it interesting and really wanted to know more about childhood development.  I have learned a lot from him.  I have been working very hard and try to do all my best from what I have learned from him.

     It is always very challenging at the beginning of the school year for us teachers in the Preschool Program. Some kids are crying, scared and don’t know the rules.  Also half of the kids are Vietnamese and don’t have a good command of the Cambodian language.  They can’t communicate with teachers, can’t brush their teeth, wash their hands or even how to sit in the chairs and listen. Everything was new for them.  So the teachers have to teach them everything, but it is the best time for children to learn.  A few weeks later they start to learn. They know about the rules, can wash their hands and brush their teeth by themself, play together with friends and teachers. No kids are crying and no kids want to go home. They are learning and having fun.

     For me I felt very happy when the kids learn, listen, communicate, cooperate, play and also feel a part of Lotus Kids Club. I think I am doing a good thing.  Just do what you want to do even small things can make people smile and make a difference.

Rachana
Rachana's passion is to teach and inspire
Photo by Sylvia Tran, Volunteer Extraordinaire
Photo by Sylvia Tran, Volunteer Extraordinaire

Lotus Kids’ Club has had some volunteers over the few years we have been in operation. We appreciate all of those volunteers who have graciously given their time and efforts towards helping LKC grow and improve. And we are incredibly lucky now to have a volunteer who has thrown herself completely into LKC mind, body and soul—Sylvia T.

My first contact with Sylvia was through email with her expressing interest in volunteering for us to complete her graduate studies for a Masters in Public Service. Sometimes I am reluctant to take on volunteers as it could be more work than it is worth. Especially if it is for a short time and initially she was scheduled to be with us for 3 months or so. It has taken some volunteers a month to adjust to the time, weather and cultural changes, and some never do. So we arranged a Skype call to sort out details and see if it was a good fit for the both of us.

My first impression was ‘Hmmm this is one bubbly, excited young woman on this video Skype call.’ I don’t usually do so well with bubbly. But she asked questions that showed she was bright, organized and motivated. We really needed someone to help us better organize our Afternoon Program, which is a drop-in program for kids 3 years and older. With that age range it has always been a challenge. Her task would be to help us in this area. We both decided it could work, and her excitement about her coming was contagious.

Sylvia came, she saw, she conquered the Lotus Kids Club. She was indeed a bit bubbly in person but not at all the annoying bubbly type. Maybe it’s better to describe Sylvia as upbeat with great energy, enthusiasm, a great sense of humor and a quick learner. She made sure she understood our needs, took her time in formulating a plan of action, communicated that clearly and jumped feet-first into the work. She quickly won over the entire LKC staff and readily embraced the language and culture of Cambodia, embarrassing me as she picked up the language at a much faster rate than I did after my 4+ years here. Not sure I’ve forgiven her for that yet.

She did indeed help us improve the delivery of our Afternoon Program services. But Sylvia came to love LKC and Siem Reap and was not finished with us yet. She signed up for another 4 months and then decided she wasn’t returning to the US till nearly her graduation, an additional 4 months away. She’ll be with us for close to a year. So for the almost seven months now that she has been with us she has taken on a wider workload, completing several tasks and working on others.

She has helped with staff professional development, streamlined and made efficient our micro-loan efforts, helped with the implementation of English and computer learning. Been influential in helping our families access vocational training and with job placements. She has helped our Social Workers better define their roles and been instrumental in teaching all staff about data collection.   She has built partnerships with other local NGOs and helped with fundraising. Sylvia has also contributed her own money to expanding our physical space which includes a new library space.

She has done more than what I’ve stated, and there are the intangibles that are difficult to articulate. I know she has freed me up to focus better on many of my tasks. On top of all that she takes great photos including the one for our Global Giving page of the child reading a book and one that was a finalist in the Global Giving Photo Contest of one of our kids brushing his teeth. Yes, we are very lucky this bubbly young woman called us to volunteer. I have a feeling we won’t be seeing the last of her when she returns to her home in the States. We’ll be even luckier if I’m right.

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Organization Information

Senhoa Foundation

Location: Artesia, CA - USA
Website: http:/​/​senhoa.org
Project Leader:
Lisa T.D. Nguyen
Executive Director
Huntington Beach, CA United States
$3,945 raised of $124,804 goal
 
70 donations
$120,859 to go
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