The following blog post is from GO Campaign donor Craig Tooman.
In January of 2010 my family, some friends, and I spent two days with Osman Ysa, Executive Director of the Community Connection Cambodia, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We decided to forego the Genocide Museum and instead asked Osman to tell us his experience as an ethnic Cham surviving the Khmer Rouge’s regime.
Osman spoke about the Cham’s enormous losses under Pol Pot, the absence of virtually an entire generation as well as the deeply entrenched poverty was apparent when we visited two rural Cham villages. What struck us most about the villagers who received us, however, was their abundant generosity. When we asked how we might help, they invariably suggested support for the least fortunate families in the village. It was one such conversation with Osman himself on the journey back to Phnom Penh that planted the seeds for the Spring of Hope School.
Osman’s dream was to open a school for Cham children in his childhood village so they could learn English and computer literacy skills that are essential for them to improve their quality of life. With the assistance of GO Campaign, we began raising funds in 2011 and together with Osman, we were able to open the school in March of this year.
My son, Kalei, and two of his friends spent a month this summer there helping teach. My wife and I and our 19-month-old daughter went to pick him up at the end of the month.
The village is similar to those all over rural Cambodia with dirt roads that are alternately choked with dust or impassably muddy. The school is closely surrounded by wooden houses on stilts with bare window openings. It looks like any other building in the village until you get inside. The main classroom is pristinely clean, crowded with 35 chairs and desks, a large table and three bookcases stuffed with new books. The computer room has two long tables and 12 computers running along the walls. Ceiling fans turn slowly and the school manager looks on proudly. We had seen pictures of the school so it was not unfamiliar, but the details were what struck us: how the stairs from the ground were so steep, how the main stair led right into the classroom, how full the classroom looked, how the large screen Macs donated by our office looked on the table next the small refurbished PCs we had purchased in Cambodia, how close the adjacent buildings were where one neighboring child stared at us through the windows without glass. It was wonderful to walk through and take in.
The real thrill though was when the children arrived. We observed classes on Monday the 31st of July, the last day of the month, test day. The school provides classes outside of the hours of the public school, two in the morning before public school classes, one in the middle of the day during the lunch break, and two at the end of the day before evening prayer. Over 160 kids come to the school, they attend class five days a week. On test day we walked through the aisles looking at the test papers written in precise lettering. These children who speak and write Cham at home and speak and write Khmer at school, were speaking and writing English in a third alphabet.
At the end of the last class of the day — the beginner class with mostly middle school children — my son and his friends led the class in a review of the test. Using repetition to help the children hear the sound of the language spoken by native English speakers, they went through each question on the test with the class repeating in unison with boisterous enthusiasm. The volume of the questions and answers was so high that the children in the neighboring houses were drawn to their windows to participate in the fun. The session ended in a standing rendition of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” and a heartfelt round of applause for the visiting kids who had worked with them for a month. I do not know how many people have seen the results of their efforts the way we did on that day. But if it was possible to have everyone experience that, this world would be a much better place.
We are beginning work on funding the school’s expansion. To meet our goal of accepting every child who wants to learn, we will build out additional classrooms under the building and hire more teachers. To improve access to online tools we plan to secure more reliable internet service. And lastly to ensure that our students have educational opportunities beyond the village, we plan to establish a scholarship fund to send graduates of the Spring of Hope School to university in Phnom Penh.