6 Month Reflection
“The possibilities are numerous when we decide to act, not react.”
- GEORGE BERNARD SHAW
From the moment our gates shut in March due to Covid restrictions, our immediate response was to put all of our energy into what we COULD do to help our families survive this devastating situation.
Being such a new NGO, our biggest fear was that our vulnerable youths and children would not return to school, and instead be subjected to exploitative work in order to help their families survive the economic drought. We made a promise that we would continue working tirelessly and communicate with our families to keep them engaged in our long-term goal and prevent this from happening.
Whilst our programs have not been active on site or within their original planned context, we reevaluated the most important issues at hand and adapted our programs to combat them.
Through this ever-changing climate, the REACH wheels have been turning constantly and our team has been working around the clock… it’s hard to believe it’s already been 6 months since the pandemic overturned our plans.
We’d like to take this time to reflect on all that our incredible team has achieved in the most testing of times…
Although our school was only open for 3 days, and this was the first time for most of our students to study English, we adapted the lessons as homework for the children to complete at home. We believe that by keeping the students engaged and maintaining a relationship between students and teachers, when we are given the green light to reopen, the students will feel part of the REACH community and be excited to return to their classrooms. We have been using this extra English homework to keep our students minds active and learning for the past 6 months.
To date, we have distributed 1,900 homework packs to 222 students.
Since there have been no children studying in the school, we have put a strong focus on training and upskilling our staff members through educational workshops. This has not just extended to our management team and teachers, but our cleaner, cook, tuk-tuk driver and security guard have also been encouraged to join all of the relevant training sessions. These workshops have included Child Protection, Teacher Training, Conflict Resolution, Preventing Online Sexual Exploitation, Online Safety and women and men’s reproductive health.
To date, we have hosted 5 training workshops for our team through the following trusted and respected organisations: KOOMPI, Cambodian Rural Students Trust, ConCERT Cambodia, Days for Girls, APLE, Angkor Tree and PenhJet Counselling Services.
Due to poverty, children at REACH experience exacerbated social issues and challenges to overcome in their daily life, sadly, they are at a higher risk of exploitation and abuse than most. Due to limited access to education, their guardians often lack understanding of important issues and are unaware of the common life-skills that we would take for granted. To combat this, our teachers have been working with the Outreach Department to develop important core community workshops. These workshops will cover a wide range of topics such as health & hygiene, valuing education, human trafficking prevention, financial literacy and family planning. Each workshop will run for 2 hours and will include questions and answer time, and we will provide each family with associated provisions to implement what they have learned. Parents will be required to attend one workshop every two months, and their children will be taught similar content in their Ethics class concurrently.
To date, our teachers have prepared and developed 3 core REACH workshops.
In March, we reallocated our school meals budget to Emergency Relief for the families. Instead of the daily meals our students would be receiving if school were open, in exchange for co-operating with regular homework tasks, the families have been receiving an assortment of rice, eggs, noodles, sauces, oils and fish cans to supplement their diet at home. This is for many of our families, preventing the real possibility of starvation.
To date, we have completed 9 Emergency Relief distributions to more than 130 families.
MINI-WORKSHOPS & DATA COLLECTION
Our distribution centre has been set up to adhere with social distancing guidelines, with guardians given an allocated time slot to prevent crowding and maintain a safe distance from each other. At each monthly Emergency provisions distribution, our team have delivered informative 45-minute mini-workshops on a variety of subjects including, disease prevention, health, hygiene and education. These sessions have been so important in allowing our team to continue building relationships with the guardians of our students and to monitor our families situations through regular data collection. Through ongoing surveys and analysis, we have been able to tailor our provisions and strategies around our families continuing immediate needs.
Workshops are also a way to impact the wider community, with our guardians having new knowledge to share. The mini workshops have been received very well by REACH guardians, most of whom had missed the chance at an education early on in life. Their receptiveness to learning and engagement in class gives our team great confidence in the future success of our planned life-skills workshops.
To date, we have held 8 Mini-workshops for parents and guardians.
DENTAL & MEDICAL
Thanks to a generous supporter, we have been able to begin basic dental treatments as part of our Outreach program. Since partnering with a local clinic, we have successfully identified the students that needed immediate dental attention and brought them for treatment to alleviate the daily pain they have been suffering. Upon the reopening of our school and subject to funding, we will be bringing 2-4 students every week for check-ups and basic treatment.
The regular interactions we have had with our families have enabled the team to monitor the health of our beneficiaries and also provide medical assistance to those in desperate need. This has helped to prevent the unnecessary deterioration of basic ailments due to lack of medical attention. We have also provided emergency post-natal care to a young mother in need and facilitated 2 women with their request for contraceptive implant bars, and family planning support through our partner Marie Stopes Cambodia.
To date, we have facilitated 12 dental visits and treatments and 11 medical visits and treatments.
REACH ROLE MODELS CLUB
At REACH we firmly believe in empowering our students by giving them responsibilities and a sense of accountability which is why we began the REACH Role Models Club. To receive benefits from our Youth Pathways programs, students must first showcase their dedication to self-development through this important community-based club.
When joining the club, students must complete volunteer hours at REACH in areas such as the garden, the kitchen and the Repairs Shop. The purpose of this club is for the older students to set a good example to the rest of the REACH kids, whilst simultaneously keeping them engaged and minimizing the risk of them dropping out of public school. Moving forward and subject to funding, the students who are able to achieve high attendance rates, good grades, and dedicate their time to volunteering will be eligible for public high school support and/or stipends.
High School support is financial aid directed at supporting their extra lessons and tuition fees at public school, whilst stipend support is directed at supporting their family’s immediate needs such as rent or food, counteracting the need for them to drop out and find employment. These stipends allow our youth to continue on their educational journey and still be children, free from labour and exploitation. There are strict guidelines and monitoring for access to the Youth Pathways stipend program.
To date, we have committed to providing 4 vulnerable youths with monthly stipends and high school support.
REACH REPAIRS SHOP
With the help of our inspiring REACH Role Models, we officially opened our REACH Repairs Shop to the community in May. The shop acts as a free of charge service whereby enrolled REACH parents and students drop off their bicycles to be fixed and maintained by our students so that children can attend school and parents can work.
(Read more about this initiative in our previous blog here and why it is so important to the livelihood of so many families.)
To date, we have repaired 33 bicycles and gifted 4 preloved bicycles.
REACH RIDERS CLUB
In line with our Youth Pathways program, in August we began inviting the Youths to participate in monthly countryside cycling excursions. These monthly activities have given our teenagers something really exciting to look forward to. We will be continuing these club rides, so our students stay fit and active whilst also remaining connected to REACH. The students that have been participating on these rides will also have the chance to participate in our upcoming “Side By Side” charity ride event in January 2021.
To date we have held 14 club rides and cycled 234.6 kms with our teenagers.
In addition to our commitment to our kids and their families, we also made a wholehearted commitment to our local Cambodian team. After the compulsory temporary closure of school, our whole team began working remotely from the safety of their homes. When we were advised that it was safe, and ensuring all Covid protocols were followed, we returned back to the site and have been working together tirelessly.
All staff members were guaranteed job security and have received full salaries whilst REACH’s classes have been suspended. With an entirely shifted plan, every single staff member has worked outside of their original job role and have done so with compassion, dedication and the utmost gratitude.
For many of our team, they have been forced into the role of becoming the sole providers for their immediate family as a direct result of the widespread job losses in Siem Reap. For this reason, we also provided our staff members with rice to bring home monthly for their families.
To date, we have provided all 14 Cambodian staff with job security through the school’s closure.
Partnerships & Training
We are constantly being inspired by the work of others around us and feel incredibly grateful to promote our partnerships with the below organisations.
To date we have partnered with 11 like-minded local and international organisations.
- First Move Digital
- Rotary International / Rotary Passport Club of Melbourne
- Lanterns Projects
- Jacobs Food Diaries
- Marie Stopes Cambodia
- Kingdom Fight Gym
- Eco Soap
- Sor Sokhour Dental Clinic
- Dr. Ly Sopheak Consulting Center & Clinic
- PenhJet Counselling Services
After a very uncertain 6 months, waiting on tenterhooks for any signs of news regarding the reopening timeline, the Ministry of Education have begun trialing the reopening of selected government schools under strict guidelines.
As an NGO, we have reviewed the extreme guidelines for us to be able to reopen, but at this moment in time, we feel it is not feasible for us to undertake such a high risk to open with all of our students. Instead, we are applying to the Ministry of Education with an MoU to open our school first for 75 of our teenagers (from the age of 12). We hope to soon be running our English lessons and daily meals in the open aired classrooms with no more than 9 teenagers per classroom, with varied start times and strict social distancing guidelines in place. Should our application be approved, we will also commence small classes of Computer Literacy in our Koompi Lab.
As with everything during this pandemic, these guidelines and the current situation can change at the drop of a hat. We hope desperately to open for our Youths by end of October, this is where we are at today, and the Education team is determined to achieve this goal…
In the meantime, the remainder of our resources are being focused on supporting our students to overcome the adversities to returning to their government school classes.
During this time, we have identified that many families are missing the necessary documents that they need to complete this process including birth certificates, family books etc. Some families have never had these documents, or lack the funds to apply for them, others have been destroyed due to inadequate housing and extreme weather conditions. Our social workers are working tirelessly to facilitate the renewal of these documents for those families without and will be focusing their time on this.
We are hopeful that our MoU will be approved and that the guidelines will be loosened within due time to reflect the current situation in Siem Reap, so that we can reopen our gates and welcome back every single one of our beautiful students. Much like everyone across the globe, the past 6 months have been filled with uncertainty, fear and sadness, but looking back, we are so proud of what we have been able to achieve for our Cambodia charity.
With the help of our supporters, REACH has braved this storm head on, and we are confident that we will come out the other end stronger. If you are reading this, we would like to thank you for sharing this challenging but rewarding journey with us.
As times continue to get tougher across the globe, we need your help.
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