We’re opening in full for the Sun family & local community.

By Shiv Fray

“REACH Siem Reap is more than an English school….”

But what do we mean by this exactly?

Whilst receiving a good education is undeniably pivotal for a child living in poverty to break the cycle, offering English classes as a standalone program to those in the most need is unfortunately often, not enough. To arrive safely to school, children need transport such as a bicycle and intact shoes to protect their feet on the long walk. To concentrate in class, children need to have food in their stomach and access to clean drinking water to quench their dehydration in the 35-degree heat. To complete their homework, children need the basic tools of stationery and exercise books to keep on top of their work. To attend school, children must not be instead expected to work to help to keep their families alive. To stay in school, children need support from their family.

Sadly, what are considered basic needs to many, are considered a luxury to REACH families. How many parents would prioritise books and pencils over boiled rice to feed their children?

During the prolonged closure of the school, the team have been streamlining our programs to ensure maximum, sustainable effect. Since enrolling our families into REACH, we have spent over 2 years discussing with guardians the importance of education and explaining our offerings so that they understand our long-term goals. Having whole families engaged and on board is one of the defining factors between success and failure for REACH’s kids – and their success and happiness is exactly what we aim to achieve.

Discussing education with families
Our Education Manager Mardy discusses the importance of valuing education with our families at a distribution day with some neighbourhood cows eavesdropping.

An example of just one family who has highly benefited from REACH, who have remained engaged and active with our programs is the Sun family. This family is part of the Cambodian government’s “ID poor” card program. The Sun family consists of a father, a mother, and four young children. The mother is a housewife, and the father was previously a labourer, he was earning a total of $112 per month; less than $4 per day. Unfortunately, as is the case with so many during the pandemic, he lost his job and has been unable to find more work.

They are part of the “Level 1 Poor” group category based on their income, meaning they belong to the poorest population in Cambodia. With this card, the family currently receives a subsidy of $100 each month; this is a temporary offering as a result to COVID-19, prior to the pandemic, as far as we know, no regular financial relief or consistent monetary welfare has been given to the poor. We fear that this much needed relief will end soon.

The Sun Family during a lockdown emergency relief day
The Sun Family receiving emergency food relief to their dwelling during a harsh yellow-zone lock down in 2021.

Unfortunately, on top of their daily expenses, the guardians must pay a monthly loan they took during the pandemic to be able to survive. Their modest house is on Government land, meaning that they could lose all their belongings the moment authorities reclaim the property. The construction is made of recycled aluminium, wood and sailcloth, precariously built and at risk of flooding during the rainy season. Having even less money now that the father lost his employment, the easiest option for the family would be to send their children to work to alleviate some of their financial stress. Surviving only off the $100 allowance, this family of 6 hold the daily stress of not knowing what will happen when this support is inevitably retracted. 

Therefore REACH Siem Reap offers not one, but a number of integrated programs, providing rounded support in all aspects of our enrolled families lives.

The Sun family have been with us since the very beginning, we met them during our first ever home-visits in the community and their two oldest kids have been enrolled in our programs at REACH since March the 4th, 2020.

After two false starts and mandated closures, for the third time lucky, on December 13th 2021, we welcomed back all of our students over the age of 10 for our soft opening. On this day, more than half of our kids started their in-class learning at our campus and we were able to welcome back the Sun families oldest boy into Level 1 English in Yellow Room.

Sun's boy in yellow room
The Sun families oldest child commences learning Level 1 English in the Yellow Room for our soft-opening.

To guarantee we followed COVID-19 guidelines, our youngest learners continued to receive homework packs; through this strategy the Sun families 9 year old girl has been regularly engaged through fortnightly educational packs. To ensure all families were fed, so that their kids didn’t have to work, we continued to distribute amplified food relief on a monthly basis; these largest rations were made possible by last years ‘Double Your REACH Campaign’. Finally, to confirm education was being prioritised by our families’, in line with our Rice Rewards program this food relief was distributed in exchange for good attendance rates not only at REACH, but also at public school.

Since opening in December, our in-class learners have been receiving daily snacks, clean drinking water and multivitamins, while the younger kids who remain at home have been nourished from the food relief packs. Now that restrictions have eased, our Outreach team has been in full swing, facilitating medical visits, emergency support and a myriad of other offerings for our families, who sadly, remain in destitute situations. The Sun family are enrolled into our family planning project and will soon be receiving long term contraception support.

Despite the borders being open for tourism, only 3 flights a day are landing in Siem Reap, which is not nearly enough to provide employment opportunities to our families on the outskirts of the city.  Our families continue to express their humble gratitude at the monthly food drops and sadly, many remain unemployed. 
It is evident to our social workers, after many conversations with our beneficiaries, that without our holistic support and food relief during these 2 years, their kids would have had no choice but to leave their education to go and work.  

Through ongoing monitoring, and relief efforts, we have managed to retain 75% of our students amidst a pandemic. Those that have left our program, have migrated with their parents to other provinces for work or left to Phnom Penh to work in garment factories at a young age. The situation is devastating, but we are doing everything we can to keep kids in this community in school. 

We’re re-opening in full capacity! ????

On June 27th 2022, the day that we have been waiting for will finally be here, a day that will benefit the Sun family, and more families in the community, even further. For the first time since REACH was founded, we will be opening in full capacity with our programs running the way that they were intended. After the success of our soft opening, and social distancing/mask wearing rules now being dropped due to low numbers of COVID cases, we will be welcoming more than 200 children through the gates to have access to all of our programs… Our at home learning packs will be a thing of the past and the Sun families 7 year old boy will be joining our Kindergarten class!

For the last few months our social workers have been out in the community enlisting more children to fill our seats, to extend our support to several more families who are in critical need.

We are so happy to share with you the key 4 areas we will be focusing on, to further the development of our students and the support our families will have access to.

Schools meals will be back!

With all of our children coming back to the classrooms, we will be reinstating our nutritious daily school meals for our kids. The kitchen will finally be back in full use, and whilst our wonderful chef Sreymom has loved tending to the garden, she can’t wait to be back preparing her delicious food for more than 180 primary school aged children to enjoy in the morning and afternoon sessions! As our students will be attending a full day at school between REACH and their public school, ensuring that our students do not attend classes hungry is essential to help them learn effectively. In addition, our meals will be supplemented with the vegetables grown from our very own veggie garden.

Our computer lab’s doors will finally open!

Thanks to our supportive partners at First Move Digital who donated 25 computers, we will finally be beginning our computer literacy program for our students. The purpose of this program is to teach students, many of which have never used a computer before, the important skills of computer literacy. Our team have created a unique Level 1 introductory course which will give students background knowledge on computer basics and theory before they move forward into the practical use.

Excitingly, we have once again collaborated with Ponheary Ly Foundation (PLF), an organisation wanting to maximise impact, who have shared with us their computer literacy resources for us to deliver to our students. After completion of the REACH Level 1 course, the youngest students will start the PLF Explore Class course which is a self-taught, play based learning course. Our teenagers will move into the PLF Microsoft Office course which will teach them how to use the basic Microsoft Office programs. This style of learning will encourage our students to think independently, move at their own pace, and help their peers.

With most jobs requiring computer literacy as an essential skill, this can be the difference between a graduate gaining fair employment with opportunities for
development and progression or working in exploitative conditions.

Thanks to our partners at First Move Digital our computer lab is kitted out and ready to go!

The Youth Pathways Sunday Course is commencing!

Impoverished youth in Cambodia are amongst the most vulnerable, which is why our youth pathways program is arguably one of the most essential parts of our organisation. 13 youths have been supported over the last 2 years through regular engagement, volunteering, and elective sessions; after 6 months of intensive development, we are now ready to welcome 17 additional youths to our newly structured Sunday course. 

The Level 1 course will run every Sunday from 8.00am-12.00pm. It will run for 12 months and is targeting 30 students from the ages of 14, or Grade 7 and over. To be accepted into the program, youths must either attend both REACH and their public school, achieving a high attendance rate. (Or be attending REACH full time, 6 days a week; an alternative for those who have dropped out of formal education).

Due to the costs associated with public school, many youths drop out between grade 7 and 9, this is why REACH covers the costs related to attending public school including school uniforms, extra classes and stationery. Our Level 1 course focuses on a variety of soft-skills and topics including gender equality and team building, and is aimed at broadening our youths experience and giving them the skills they will need once they complete school.

After they complete Level 1, youths will have the opportunity to join Level 2, which will focus on their individual career paths, whether that be vocational training or university, and how they can achieve their personal and professional goals.

Youth Pathways course

It’s the moment our youth have been waiting for, their 12 month Level 1 Course will be starting soon!

Our Kindergarten is opening for the little ones!

Recognising the limitations for mothers to attend work when they have young children, the Kindergarten program is going to be a safe space for our youngest students to learn in a play-based environment. Thanks to Paul Keane from Keane & Co Real Estate, our Kindergarten playground has been constructed and the indoor classroom has been kitted out with interactive educational toys to promote creative learning. Kindergarteners will also receive access to our nutritious school meals during the most critical time in their growth and development.

This program will give parents the opportunity to work without the need to source childcare or be forced to bring their young children to dangerous environments such as construction sites. Every child enrolled into the Kindergarten program is a younger sibling of a student already enrolled at REACH. This further maximises the impact for our families, and we intend to see our Kindergarteners all the way through until they graduate from high school.

Kindy Placement Tests

Our little ones take placement tests for the Kindergarten classes starting soon.

We’re ready to fill our seats and maximise our impact! 

The last 6 months of our soft-opening ‘pilot semester’ has been an incredible opportunity for our team to refine and prepare our programs, and now it’s all coming together…

On June 27th, for our ‘full re-opening’, our gates will see more than 200 children pile through, eager to eat, learn and play; their families filled with gratitude, excited to access all of our offerings.

And this is where we need your help …in 10 days from now, any donation you make will be matched, dollar for dollar, so you can #doubleyourREACH

Watch this space!

Keen to know more? Email emily@reachsiemreap.org now.

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