Classrooms full of voices, with hands waving in the air asking to be seen by the teacher, eager to learn. Courtyards with children playing and laughing. The aroma of fresh food coming from the kitchen. Smiles everywhere we look. For what seemed an eternity, the long-awaited day for re-opening our school finally arrived.
The past eighteen months have produced global challenges like no other
During this year and a half, we were driven to the painful and forced requirement of closing the doors to our school, putting on hold or adapting our free aid programs, and facing an uncertain future. Sadly, we knew that with the country shutting its borders, the mandated Government lock-downs and quarantine orders, the lives of our children and their families would be drastically affected.
Our empty school grounds.
One of the biggest concerns was knowing that many of our children’s families would be immediately out of work. This meant losing the little income they normally obtained, and knowing in desperation that all family members, children included, would be required to seek any work possible in order to survive.
This was a huge setback… but we were not about to stand idly by.
Our minds focused on new solutions and sought immediate actions. Instantly we launched emergency projects linked to our three core offerings – Education, Nutrition and Healthcare, in ways that could operate and be managed online and remotely as required. Those of you who have been following our journey will know about our online learning platform, the bi-weekly homework deliveries, and our emergency food relief efforts.
If this is new for you, please click here to learn more about the strategies we’ve implemented during the pandemic.
Suddenly, on the 23rd of October, a new Government statement declared the green light to open the borders and authorised the reopening of schools across the country.
Overwhelmed with excitement, our entire team sprang into action!
Alongside continuing to provide online education solutions, we immediately commenced planning for our student’s return.
Having experienced one false start earlier in the year, our team decided to implement a measured and strategic approach which first focused on reintegrating our REACH students back into their public-school classes.
Before we were to re-open our gates, our team set the follow goals:
- Host a student orientation week
- Hand out public-School uniform & supplies to all students
- Host a guardian orientation week
- Provide 1 Week of Intensive Teacher Training & Review
Following the roll-out of the above tasks, we had the date set; on the 13th of December, the doors to REACH were to open once more… this is how it went.
Student Orientation Week
The first big step was carried out in the beginning of November, during our “Student Orientation week.”
With social distancing in mind, small groups of students were called in to come to REACH and take placement tests, allowing our education department to evaluate their oral and written English skills and place them in the correct classroom in accordance to their abilities. Written tests scored simple alphabet translations, numbers, colours, and CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) from Khmer to English. This was followed by an oral evaluation where students proved their recognition of letters, numbers, shapes, and pictures, concluding with simple conversations with the teachers. This classroom division at REACH is focused on each child’s language proficiency rather than their age or public-school year.
Kids lining up at orientation week.
For the vast majority of our kids, this will be their first-time learning English at an NGO, so they will be all commencing in Level 1 based on the scores of their placement tests.
A teenage student undertaking their placement test.
Next was the task to measure the students height and weight. Our team, along with the help of our helpful Role Models, began calculating each student’s BMI. From ages 6 years old up to 17, children were measured and weighed (having this annual information is crucial for our Health & Nutrition program). This process helps us to identify malnourished children and allows us to formulate a plan to support them and their families. Sadly, this year’s data showed that approximately 60% of our students are severely underweight with BMI scores of 16.5 and lower, and a further 20% were classed as underweight. With such alarming numbers, we concluded that the holistic family support through our monthly emergency food relief efforts must continue along with daily nutritious snacks, vitamins, and clean drinking water during school hours.
Public School Uniform & Supplies Distribution
Nevertheless, not everything is doleful news. Thanks to this same data, we were able to learn how the children have grown in height this past year! Thanks to an individual fundraiser, we were able to purchase a brand-new school uniform and back to school kit for every student.
Every single child was so excited and happy when they received their new attire, along with a school pack containing the necessary supplies for an exciting fresh start. By simply owning new uniforms and being equipped with the tools to return to school, you could clearly see the growth of self-confidence, motivation and dignity on the children’s faces.
Concluding the week and a half of student orientation, every team member could sense a feeling of change and excitement.
Guardian Orientation Week
Following the uniform distribution, it was then the guardians’ turn to fill our classrooms
To ensure our students guardians fully understood our program goals, each department prepared a presentation explaining the 9 programs operating at REACH.
A caring REACH grandma listens at our family orientation day.
The importance of education was a constant and emphasised topic, along with how essential motivation and enthusiasm of attending school needs to be shared in the child’s family environment. Social workers joined in, explaining the educational community workshops and health aid in which REACH also supports family members.
These sessions were incredibly heart-warming. Many of the parents and grandparents did not know about how many services and programs were operating at REACH, and as a result, they had countless questions for our local team. They learned about our planned bi-annual parent teacher interviews, how their youths can apply for additional high school support, and how to reach out to our social workers when facing serious challenges.
The goal of this day was for the guardians to walk away understanding that that our teams sole purpose is to help their families. They learned that REACH is much more than an English school and that by collaborating with us and engaging with each of our programs, their children will have the best chance at a brighter future.
REACH guardians had no shortage of questions.
Our Head Teacher Sokun told us that she was very proud to be presenting to the guardians and sharing our mission – she mentioned that there is no such thing as ‘Orientation Week’ at the schools in Cambodia and that she felt it was a very powerful way to have REACH families feel included in our cause.
One Week of Intensive Teacher Training & Review
Finally, the last big step in reaching our opening goal happened at the end of the month, with “Teacher training”!
Throughout 2020, the education department has been busy developing the REACH Educational Framework, changing it from a conventional study structure to a much more interactive format.
Teacher Pisal stands proudly with her flashcards (she has laminated thousands!)
From now on, classes will focus more on identifying our children’s different areas of need. Linguistics and logical-mathematics are the most common types in the standard educational system, but what about those individuals with potential in other niches?
The best way to teach is to learn. At the end of November, laughter filled the classrooms.
Teachers jumping over flashcards, running on the playground while spelling new words, “spelling bee” contests, and cheerful songs were part of the interactive training. Our teachers want learning to be FUN for our students which will increase their attention in class and produce better results.
A student goes fishing for knowledge.
Introducing new ways of studying and boosting pro-learning values gives children from disadvantaged homes a leg up, teaching them and their parents, the excitement of play-based learning.
Teacher training was the final step in the action plan, and upon completion of this, our teachers had the joy of calling parents of all students aged 10+ to invite them back into REACH’s free supplementary classes.
December 13th, 2021 – we officially re-open!
In the short term, it is impossible to wipe out poverty, but creating a place where disadvantaged children feel safe, heard, and excited about learning is possible. We are grateful to all our families, friends and partners who stood by us and supported our continued emergency relief efforts, outreach support and program development until the day our gates reopened.
Finally, there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel, and with big smiles, full hearts, and lots of pride, we opened our doors and welcomed all our students back to the classrooms!
An exciting chapter at REACH has commenced… will you help our kids receive the education that they deserve?
For a one-off donation of $150AUD you can ‘Save A Seat’ for a student in our Education program for an entire year.
By doing this, you will enable children at REACH to receive:
- Free English, Math & Morality Lessons Monday to Friday.
- Free Physical Education and Art Classes 3 times per week.
- Access to free daily nutritious school meals Monday to Friday.
- Access to counseling, outreach support, first-aid & clean drinking water.
- Guidance from their REACH teachers, and a mentor to look up to.
- Government certified accreditations upon completion of their English courses.
- Ongoing monitoring of their public-school attendance and progress.
- Access to our Rice Rewards program and family support.
- A pathway to employment and ongoing support from our team.
… and above all, a safe place for them to thrive, develop and REACH their dreams.
Valued supporters who Save A Seat will:
- Receive a personalized thank you from our kids.
- Get to write a message to the kids on our classroom sponsors board.
- Feel good knowing they have enabled a disadvantaged child to REACH their full potential.
Click here to Save A Seat today!
Cambodian children’s charity