Project #16187

Educating 120 street-working children in Cambodia

by Senhoa Foundation

It is refreshing when I feel like the work I do with the teachers is actually making a difference in how they assess and work with the young children of Lotus Kids' Club. And it’s heartwarming when the learning and knowledge the teachers now have has a positive and long-term impact on a child.

Anyone who works with young children knows that each child is unique. When   working with young children it is important to not only know a child’s age but also, and more importantly, their developmental stage. It’s all about ages and stages.

We have a young boy 5 years old in our Preschool/Kindergarten Program where the children are 4-6 years old. We split those children up by age or what stage we believe they are at when they begin the school year. One group who will have another year in our program—the “younger kids—meet for a brief “circle time” before free play. The other group, who has already spent a year in the program, spend more time with a teacher before free play. They will be exposed to more formal learning (letters, numbers, literacy work) in a fun way with songs, rhymes and books.

This 5-year-old boy ended up in the latter group although it was his first year with us. I feel the first success was that the teachers realized that he wasn’t very happy being at LKC. He didn’t interact very much with the other kids, and he seemed sullen and stressed. In the formal learning class he did not participate. There are expectations for that class to begin learning the basics of literacy and do homework, mostly practicing writing numbers and letters. He rarely completed the work. Unfortunately he was also beginning to be absent a lot and not wanting to come to LKC.

After the teachers and Social Worker spoke with the parents it was decided that he was not ready to be in the older kids’ group. He was placed in the younger kids’ group.

This was the second success. He adjusted quickly to the younger group and then began to thrive. He was interacting more with his playmates, he spoke more at the small group circle time even raising his hand to offer his thoughts. His whole demeanor changed to being more joyful and he rarely is absent now.

Our main goal in Lotus Kids’ Club’s Preschool/Kindergarten Program is to prepare the children for primary school. This means instilling in them a thirst for knowledge, to have them feel learning is pleasurable. We want them to feel confident in themselves and competent in their abilities. We want them to be able to communicate their feelings, thoughts and ideas. We want them to develop good self-control. In general we want them to strengthen their social skills and emotional characteristics. This takes practice, and that practice happens best through play and being in the appropriate setting.

For this young boy that setting was one less formal with little pressure to perform at a level he was not developmentally able to accomplish. Without the teachers’ caring, observation and assessment he may still be struggling to just keep up. Now this boy will have a much greater chance of developing and strengthening those necessary skills and characteristics to be successful in school and in fact life itself.

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's passion is to teach and inspire

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Organization Information

Senhoa Foundation

Location: Artesia, CA - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Lisa T.D. Nguyen
Executive Director
Huntington Beach, CA United States
$3,970 raised of $124,804 goal
71 donations
$120,834 to go
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Teenage Science Students
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