Vantha HEM – On the right
In November 2019, after a rich and diverse career, Vantha HEM joined the Bayon School as headmaster for the Primary School and he has easily integrated the team. Read on to learn what motivates him and what he has been working on for the last 8 months.
Vantha, can you tell us briefly about yourself?
I am 42 years old and I have one child. I started my career as a school teacher before taking over as headmaster of the Ta Pen School (NGO Le Don du Chœur). I then worked for FRIENDS International as project manager for the reintegration of young dropouts before joining Water for Cambodia as deputy manager and head of operations.
What has struck you the most since arriving in Bayon School? And what do you appreciate the most since starting work here?
Its location! The school is located in a really exceptional place with all these gigantic trees. I have also been impressed by the fact that everything is given to the children to ensure that they can study in a good environment (canteen morning and midday, school supplies, uniform, …). I am touched by the atmosphere within the team of teachers and the solidarity between them. I also find that the pupils show great respect towards authority and the teachers. As a whole, the children are all quite honest.
What was the first thing you did?
For me, it seemed essential to get to know the children, their background and their families, in order to understand better the global project of the NGO. At the same time, I got in touch quickly with the local authorities (village chiefs, monks, …) to introduce myself. The school now participates once a month in an inter-school committee.
How do you perceive working with children who come from very poor backgrounds & whose families are very often unable to support them?
It is true that the pupils of the Bayon School are, for the most part, left to care for themselves. I worked for several years on the reintegration of young dropouts and so I make use of that experience as well as that of the current Bayon team. We work with a committee which summons the parents whose children miss too much school or who are no longer invested enough in the programme. It can be complicated to get the families to understand the importance of education. When the children fall behind and grow older (after Grade 6), it becomes delicate as they search for odd jobs to help support their family.
After eight months as headmaster of the Bayon Primary School, can you tell us about some of your achievements?
Firstly, some things have changed in human resources. Sothea has become the administrative manager and Loan the maintenance manager. Their roles are essential; I am training them and encouraging them to take on more responsibilities. The full team of teachers now takes part once a month in training programmes to help them with their teaching methods and the creation of their curricula; they are all very happy to participate. We have also implemented internal training with « school demonstrations ». Once a month, a teacher spends half a day in the class of a colleague to observe, pick up some good ideas and then introduce them in his/her own class.
We have also worked on the school surroundings and safety. I have requested that the APSARA authorities cut down the dangerous branches of dead trees and we have planted several areas with flowers and plants.
Lastly, as I was saying at the beginning, I have been working on promoting good relations between the monks from the pagoda and our team members. We are on their land and it is indispensable that we work together to ensure the future of our school.
A last question: how do you manage to keep everybody motivated during the COVID-10 crisis?
At the beginning, we split the teachers into two groups to ensure social distancing. Some worked from home, whilst others came to the school to tidy up, decorate the classes and review the preparation of the lessons. Very early on, we set up distance learning for the pupils with work they could do at home. They come in groups of 5 at a time to pick up documents which they then bring back the following week. This system requires a great deal of organisation by the teachers. We are all hoping that we can reopen the school very soon.