Discovering new challenges – Laurane’s feedback

Discovering new challenges – Laurane’s feedback

Laurane was an intern at the Agroecology School from March to August 2021. Although the health situation was difficult during this period, she comes back with words on what she learned here, and the memories she takes with her to France.

What was your first step or your goal in coming here?

I arrived in Cambodia in March 2021 for a 6-month internship during my gap year from my agricultural engineering school (ENSAT Toulouse, France). My mother has been working for over 15 years in the French-Cambodian association « Pour un Sourire d’Enfant » and she visits Cambodia every year. Since I was a child, I have heard so much about this country on the other side of the world; it seemed very close to me although we do not hear much about it in the media. I am very sensitive to the social situation in Cambodia and its history; I think it is essential to give the tools to each population to succeed in moving towards sustainable, solidary and self-sufficient food production.

Coming here, I wanted to help and accompany women and families in the field so that they could become autonomous and independent, thanks to market gardening and agroecology. I am convinced that agroecology is a lever to counter climate change and social problems related to food and health, which are present all too often in developing countries.

What was your role during these 6 months?

The arrival of Covid in Cambodia made the period somewhat complicated, as the lockdowns and quarantines prevented us from visiting the farmers to ensure a regular follow-up as well as the vegetable distribution to the beneficiary families. These last 6 months have been a little unpredictable, but I was able to provide support to the Green Farming team, in particular in analysing the problems met by the farmers and the team, understanding the stakes of marketing vegetables and their production in organic farming as well as the difficulties brought about by the diseases and pests present in the vegetable gardens.

I worked together with Theary, a student from the Agroecology Bayon School and an intern with the Green Farming team. She was very inspiring, sharing her technical and theoretical knowledge directly with the farmers!

I also accompanied 3 students from the school on an internship at our partner Fair Farms in the South of Cambodia. I was able to work with them on the project of planting vegetation cover on a pepper farm. Another project was more oriented towards the protection of the environment and the reforestation of 5 degraded hectares in order to create a stable environment favorable to bees and including melliferous resources (which produce honey) all year round.

What did you learn from a professional and personal point of view?  

During these 6 months, I learned a lot about tropical agriculture and the issues related to the new seasonality: the dry season and the rainy season each last 6 months, and include various challenges. During the dry season, we must successfully irrigate the crops to avoid the development of diseases, and create new shelters to protect the crops from the sun. During the rainy season, part of the fields are flooded and diseases and pests develop very quickly, so it is important to develop new techniques to preserve the crops.

The Bayon School project works hard at finding solutions to the challenges faced by the farmers, giving them tools that can be passed on to help other Bayon beneficiary families.

I also learned about the creation and management of an agroecology school in a developing country where agriculture is often synonymous with poverty and social failure. I was able to see the inside workings of an association and the drive of its members to succeed in following the children and beneficiaries of the NGO as best as possible, even in the current health context. I met many actors and pioneers of agroecology in Cambodia, all of them very inspiring.

On a personal level, I learned to speak Khmer, thanks to my colleagues, and I was able to discover their culture within the families in a more intimate and personal context than at the Bayon School.

What have you noticed about the health crisis? What can you say about the impact it has on farmers and their families? 

« The February 20 Community Event” has turned the daily life of Khmers upside down. Cambodia had managed to curb and control the number of cases on its territory by sacrificing the tourism economy, closing its borders to tourist visas as early as March 2020. The Bayon families living around the temples have many jobs related to tourism and I have seen a great deal of solidarity within the families, with the return of brothers, sisters, and children who had left to work away from the temples. The farmers benefited from more labor to work with them in their gardens, but they also had more mouths to feed, representing a bigger workload. Their families became interested in the project and it was very motivating to work with them and explain the basics of agroecological principles!

What lessons can you take from this particular learning environment?

It is very important to have good communication within the teams in order to support each other and find solutions together. This is true for the Green Farming team, but also for the social team, as we work together distributing vegetables to the beneficiary families. It is in this type of crisis situation that we can observe the resilience of a project and a team, as well as improve certain points to better understand and find solutions to these difficulties.

What do you retain from this experience?

Whilst agriculture and agro-ecology act as a lever for the empowerment of a country, it is really the education of future generations that will boost the development of Cambodia. The majority of the members of the Bayon office have benefited from educational aid programs and, in turn, they are giving back to the underprivileged children of the Angkor temples. I really hope that Cambodia’s vaccination campaigns will allow the schools to reopen quickly so that the children can return to school.

I thank my colleagues Theary, Chorvin, Sreyleak, Sakoth and En for their welcome, the transmission of their knowledge and the smiles I received. I leave for France with my head full of memories of the farmers, of their laughter and of the pride they display in producing these vegetables and providing for their families. I will remember the courage and strength of these elderly women, who often work alone and who were able to regain their dignity and joy, thanks to the acquisition of this new knowledge in agriculture. The best moments of the week were always the visit of their gardens and the distribution of vegetables. It is such a pleasure to see them blossoming, exchanging tips and admiring each other’s vegetables!

I wish good luck to Marie, the new intern of the Green Farming team, who will be the lucky new interlocutor of the farmers!

If you had to summarize your experience here in 3 words?

 Gratitude, Challenge and Autonomy. And Morning Glory!

Emergency food baskets to face a growing crisis

Emergency food baskets to face a growing crisis

In March 2020, the COVID outbreak was spreading rapidly around the world and, one by one, countries were closing their borders in an attempt to stop the inevitable pandemic. Cambodia was no exception. On March 9, 2020, all schools in Cambodia closed and the country completely banned tourists from entering. The last foreigners in the country left the Kingdom and the country’s economy was severely affected.

Since September 2020, the situation in Cambodia had returned to a semblance of « normality », but today the country has, once again, been hit hard by the COVID-19 outbreak. On March 21 2021, we had to close the doors of the primary school, the vocational training in Bakery/Pastry and now the one in Agroecology yet again. Our students were compelled to return home. Faced with the resurgence of COVID cases, measures have been tightened and the town of Siem Reap experienced its first two-week lockdown before regaining freedom, tempered by sanitary measures (curfew, social distancing…). However, schools are still waiting for a potential reopening.

While these initiatives are helping to curb the spread of the pandemic, they are also severely impacting the lives of our families and students. Usually fed twice a day at Elodie’s Canteen, the children rarely receive the same food rations at home, especially since the country has been completely emptied of tourists and a large number of Cambodians have lost their jobs for over a year now. An insidious consequence of this new interruption is the economic burden it represents for families who have already lost their main source of income.

To mitigate the effects of the crisis on our beneficiaries, we had set up weekly food distributions as early as March 2020. The Bayon mobilized resources in order to buy back part of the vegetable production cultivated by the farms we support in the framework of the green farming program, in order to give them back, free of charge, each week to the families of our beneficiaries. This initiative amounted to no less than 300 kg of vegetables per week and allowed these hard-working women to continue generating an income, whilst providing a variety of food to the beneficiaries’ families. For those who had seen their living conditions deteriorate severely because of the crisis, bi-monthly distributions of rice were also carried out, the quantity of which was determined based on the number of people in the household.

Today, faced with a situation that persists and worsens every day, this assistance is no longer sufficient to ensure a decent diet for most of the families we support. This is why we have decided to reinforce the distribution of vegetables, to extend the distribution of rice to all our beneficiaries and to offer food supplements in the form of emergency meal baskets. At a minimum, this initiative will be maintained until the reopening of schools in order to relieve the families, who must now take charge of these additional meals.  It will also ensure that children always have the resources they need for their proper development.

Because healthy eating and family support are key factors in a child’s success in school, we will always strive to provide them with the means to feed themselves and live with dignity.

More than an internship at Bayon, a personal journey

More than an internship at Bayon, a personal journey

The floor is given to François, trainee in the Green farming program, who looks back on his experience in Cambodia during which he put his skills at the service of the farmers we support.

As an intern in the Green Farming team since October, my mission is coming to an end in these last days of March. The transition with Laurane, a student-engineer in agronomy in her gap year, is going smoothly. She will take over for the next 6 months and will be the privileged interlocutor of the farmers we support. 

It is not without a pinch in the heart that I will greet the farmers one last time. Aware that what was my present will slowly slip away, as the days and years go by, into a vaporous memory. I will only have a few photos to bring back the moments shared with them, their laughter, their complaints and our exchanges. Many things were learned during my mission, of course they were theoretical and practical, having taught me a lot about agriculture in a tropical country, about project management or about the functioning of an association. But these learnings were also less tangible, because when they find their source in informal exchanges, in sharing and in the relationship with others, they nourish the individual and cannot be transcribed in the lines of a resume.

I would like to warmly thank the people I met during my stay, because they also contributed to my training. I think of the farmers who let me get involved in their daily life. I am thinking of Chorvin, my colleague whose laughter will echo in me for a long time, I am thinking of Camille, Tintin, Romain, Sakoth or Sreyleak.  It is also and especially through this human contact that I learned.

2 membres de l'ONG discute avec une bénéficiaire
Formation des agricultrices accompagnées par le programme

I am aware of my luck. I was able to live six months in Cambodia with these courageous women and committed colleagues. I was able to escape the difficult period that France is going through to dive into the maze of the temples of Angkor, but above all, I was born in the heart of this same country. Because even if it is sad or pathetic to go so far away to realize it, it is a unique chance that we have. Some situations in Cambodia remind us, sometimes brutally, that existence can also be a battle for some people. To be directly confronted with these testimonies or views, without the filter of distance, is quite corrosive. Seeing painful scenes or having access to the history of certain families, observing these difficulties whose multiplicity can make the thing common, one feels saddened, distressed, powerless and then, selfishly, one realizes how lucky we are to have a less painful life. So maybe that’s why, because our life is easier, simpler, we should commit ourselves and try to help those who need it in a modest way.

Formation des farmers

To finish, I wish Laurane to savor every moment here. To take the time to listen, to learn from the people she will meet. And I am sure that she will be able to integrate perfectly in Cambodia and that the project will make good progress during her presence!

So good luck Laurane!

Successful start for the agroecology school

Successful start for the agroecology school

Agroecology School Director Sakoth Brang talks about this new vocational training program that has just been launched at Bayon.

The Agroecology School is a cooperative project launched in partnership with Pour Un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE) and Life & Earth. The school opened its doors on January 18th of this year and welcomes its very first intake of 10 students. Following Khmer tradition, the inauguration was accompanied by a blessing ceremony during which three monks were invited to bless the students, the staff and the facilities. In Khmer culture, the blessing ceremony is very important, bringing luck and prosperity to those who receive it.

Coming back to the school, our vocational training program aims to give young people, selected from disadvantaged families in Cambodia, skills in agroecology over a 12-month period. Because we wanted our training to be adapted to the context and allow students to be able to insert themselves into the job market in agronomy, our program meets the Cambodian certification criteria in the field.

In order to ensure that they develop the skills and acquire the practical tools they will need for their future profession, field trips are regularly organized. Students are also invited to meet the farmers that we support in our green farming program, or to benefit from technical lessons given by professionals in specific fields.

In addition to the regular courses taught at the school, the students will have the opportunity to do 2 internships in farms, agricultural companies, or cooperatives. The objective is clearly for them to gain a first professional experience and to put to the test the skills they have acquired during the training.

Beyond this approach, the internship is an opportunity for them to become familiar with a company that will probably welcome them at the end of their training. Indeed, a study conducted on our pastry school showed that nearly 74% of the students were hired at the end of their apprenticeship in one of the establishments where they did their internship. We expect the same success rates for students in the Agroecology School.

In any case, and because our support does not end with their graduation, we will accompany them to the door of their first employer.

At the end of the training, students will be able to use their technical skills to put agroecology techniques into practice and to carry the values of sustainable development into their future jobs. This implies knowing how to manage small productive farms, how to sell their organic products on the local market, how to establish links with other farmers and organizations, and how to understand agricultural and food systems. In this sense, the primary focus of the training is not the study of agroecology as a discipline, but the profession of agroecologist. The main skill is not to understand or analyze the agroecosystem, but to develop and act as a practitioner of agroecology who knows how to mobilize the ecological principles and processes of ecosystems to produce in a sustainable manner.

On behalf of the School of Agroecology, I would like to thank the generous donors who support this project and our two partners PSE & Chivit Neing Dei for their educational expertise and participation.

A year like no other at the Bayon School

A year like no other at the Bayon School

As the year 2020 comes to an end, so does the school year for our primary and bakery/pastry schools. It has been a complicated 12 months, during which our students and teams have been seriously challenged. We have had to adapt, reinvent ourselves and act quickly in the face of a crisis, the impact of which no one could have foreseen. Even though the situation is far from being « normal » again, we have come out of it stronger, enriched and eager to keep innovating in order to provide a better education for those in need.

Let’s look back at the actions and successes of our schools

In September 2019, we welcome our 6th class of students at the Pastry School with 26 young girls; a number, which has been constantly rising since the opening of the school. The new laboratory intended to free up space and reinforce our bakery teaching is almost finished and we are delighted to be able to start the new year in optimal conditions to train more and better. In 2018/2019, we manage to self-finance almost 55% of the school’s costs, thanks to the Coffee Shop’s income, and we are doing our utmost to welcome tourists and visitors to do, if not just as well, even better. The hygiene teaching program is reviewed with a food safety specialist and English classes are reinforced with the launch of a partnership with the Australian Center for English.

pastry-student
des enfans mangent à la cantine

In October 2019, 232 students are enrolled in the Bayon primary school and 120 middle and high school students continue their studies, whilst being accompanied on a monthly basis by our teams with educational and social follow-up. The primary-aged children discover the new sit-down breakfast with a hot meal from 6:45 a.m. The art-culture-sport program is reinforced with traditional puppet classes and one and a half hours a week are dedicated to sports. In February, 30 pupils participate in the inter-school sports championship and win 2 medals; a very proud moment for all involved! Support classes for pupils with difficulties continue and the project for a building dedicated to small group teaching is on the road to completion.

In November 2019, the number of “farmer” families in the Bayon increases to 11, as three new families join the vegetable garden project. This project allows these women farmers to earn additional income and 90% of the vegetables bought for the canteen are now organic.

Cooperation with the association Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (For a Child’s Smile) kicks off and together we launch a major collaborative project to create a field for experimentation in agroecology. Projects such as planting fruit trees and medicinal plants, building above-ground cultivation tables, creating compost and installing an irrigation system mean that this land will become the home to our future agroecology school with its first 10 students in January 2021. At the same time, and in partnership with the NGO Vivre de sa Terre, the 10-month training of the future teachers starts and the team fine-tunes the curriculum.

Une agricultrice montre ses cultures

From December 2019, the families receive a visit from our medical and social teams to assess their sanitary conditions and medical needs. 156 families are interviewed and a major study is conducted to define an action plan to be implemented with our families.

Adapting to the Covid

On March 9, 2020, all schools in the country close their doors and, by the end of March, the last repatriation planes send the last remaining tourists back home. Our students return to their families and our younger pupils are kept away from the school. Disheartened at the beginning, we have to react quickly to help our families face this crisis, not knowing how long it will last.

enfant porte un masque à l'école
des légumes et du riz sont distribués aux familles

All the vegetables produced by the farmers are bought by the NGO and distributed every week free of charge to the families of our pupils, who are no longer being fed morning and night at the canteen. Our social team visits the families at home to analyze the impact of COVID on them: those identified as being in great difficulty receive rice. Distance-learning and very small group-teaching starts in April and in July we receive a donation of smartphones to improve access to online courses for our pastry students. Our teams put in motion the different projects: redesigning the website, painting the walls of the Coffee Shop, studying the situation of our alumni pastry school students, launching a database to regroup all the social, medical and pedagogical information of the students, training for the farmers and precise monitoring of the quantities of vegetables, which just keep on increasing.

tous les enfants de l'école primaire

Bounce back and move forward

All of these actions have made it possible to accompany our families and maintain a pedagogical follow-up, avoiding, as a result, too much delay with the school programs. Some families returned temporarily to their home villages to work the land as they had lost their jobs. The Cambodian people are proving to be resilient and strong in the face of this crisis and we hope that economic and tourist activity can resume as soon as possible to recreate jobs for those who really need them.

photo de groupe de la 6ème promotion
News from the Agroecology School!

News from the Agroecology School!

Very soon, the Bayon School of Agroecology is due to open its doors. A one-year vocational training program, its purpose will be to train technicians in agroecology, who will also be able to undertake and carry the values of sustainable development into their future profession. The 2 professors who will lead this program tell you more about it: