The association les Enfants d’Angkor Wat: What is its mission ?

The association les Enfants d’Angkor Wat: What is its mission ?

Created in 2012 by Dominique Roussel, the association Les Enfants d’Angkor Wat supports Bayon Education & Development in Cambodia, allowing our organization and our local teams to develop several projects, mainly related to the issue of general education. Dominique explains to us what his mission is and the reasons for his commitment.

What is “Les Enfants d’Angkor Wat” ?

“Les Enfants d’Angkor Wat” is is a non-profit association (Law 1901), whose purpose is, thanks to its donors, to help the education, in the broadest sense of the term, of the poorest Cambodian children.

We are involved in the fields of education, health and professional training.

Our goal is to help these children, in often difficult family contexts, to gain permanent access to school, to build their future and to acquire the values that will be the foundation of their lives.

What are the guidelines of your comitment ?

Our actions are guided by 3 principles:

School is a place of development …

Beyond the classical intellectual and cultural learning, we want school to be a place where the child discovers what he/she has the “possibility to be” … and not the “obligation to be” that the family misery can impose on him/her. They discover their rights and duties but also explore their own potential in order to make informed choices for their future.

Health remains a major concern

Even if things are improving with time, health is an area where there is still work to be done. Nutrition remains precarious for many children and when it is chronically insufficient or unbalanced, it generates various pathologies affecting the child’s growth. In addition, diseases not detected at birth are sometimes identified later. We facilitate access to health care and provide financial support because health is still a luxury for the poorest.

The future employability of children is a priority investment

Building the future of these children is our purpose.

In our projects we invest in key fields that are and will be discriminating in their future employment searches. Thus, computer science, English and ecology are major issues in the education of children, as they are omnipresent in daily life and are used as selection criteria in recruitments. So many training courses to which poverty would not give them access.

What need have you identified in Cambodia ?

We must not forget, in Asia, the power that parents have over their children throughout their lives. I think we need to communicate with them more and more, to explain what we do, the values that drive us and that we talk about to the students…

Otherwise, there is a great risk that two universes will operate in parallel, the family and the school, and that one will not be the relay for the other…

Thus, we have to be very inclusive with the parents: share the pedagogical project and involve them in the follow-up as much as they can, so that the school is not only a place where they don’t have to feed the children or look after them while they work. Cambodian social workers and volunteers are doing an extraordinary job in this sense. It is necessary to continue and to amplify this work in order to avoid further school dropouts because the child remains too often an adjustment variable of the family economy.

What projects are you investing in ?

Each age has its own specific needs, so we have decided to create and implement projects for each age group, from early childhood to professional training.

With Bayon Education & Development, a Cambodian NGO, with whom we have signed a partnership and who follows these projects locally, we run a kindergarten class for underprivileged children in the Angkor temple region, we invest in computer and English classes as well as dental care for primary school students. We have also created a hostel for young girls in middle and high school in the north of the country to prevent them from dropping out of school and we support various vocational training programs in the hotel industry, agro-ecology and pastry-making.

A look back at Diane’s journey: Cycling for equality

A look back at Diane’s journey: Cycling for equality

July 2021. The beginning of a beautiful thought

Sitting in the family car, I watch the landscapes of France go by at full speed. While observing these colorful distortions, I wonder how to better know these landscapes and the inhabitants who populate them.

That day, I decided to learn to take time to discover countries close to home and about which I almost know nothing. To learn to immerse myself in the beauty of a landscape that I would discover at my own pace, to let myself be surprised by honest, rich, and surprising encounters.

I see in the discovery and encounter of the unknown a breeding ground for listening, tolerance and peace. I believe that discovering other realities makes us aware of the needs of others. This awakens in me the desire to get involved in social initiatives and to support issues related to gender inequality. For this reason, I decided to leave for 3 months, alone, to pedal through Europe, carrying along this travel a solidarity project.

Sensitive to women’s condition around the world, I wanted this project to be an opportunity not only to discuss, but also to support women’s education through an organization that I care about: the Bayon School. This Cambodian NGO, whose mission is to provide quality education to children from disadvantaged areas in the north of the country, has always inspired me. In 2014, it opened a pastry school dedicated to young girls. This program gives them the opportunity to emancipate themselves through a job, and the keys needed to build their future. Education being for me the first step towards a fairer world, I decided to pedal for them, and to raise enough funds to finance a year of study at the pastry and bakery school, which is 2500 €.

September 10th 2021. The departure sounded.

5 a.m. Alone on the train platform. The adventure begins, with my bike and my four bags. That day, I repeat to myself the proverb “let those who think it is impossible do it, let those who want to try.” With this first pedal stroke, I am already getting closer to the “impossible” that I am looking for: freedom, human contact, exchange and simplicity.

This trip has shaken me up, upset me, and transformed me, for several reasons:

 1. Traveling alone

Freedom is often something we take, rather than something we are given. Being free to choose what is good for us is also learning to listen to ourselves. Traveling alone was also for me synonymous with being surrounded, everywhere I went. Each day took on the color of the many encounters I had along the way. I learned a lot from this diversity of personalities: artists, athletes, students, or travelers. Each of these encounters enriched me and expanded my universe a little more.

2.Traveling by bike

Not knowing anything about what is called “cyclotourism” or even the basic functioning of a bicycle (I learned how to close my bags correctly after a month and a half), I learned everything “in the field,” gathering information along my adventures. But most of all, I learned that for every problem there is a solution, and if I can’t find it by myself, I will always find a kind help on my way. Traveling by bike is also rediscovering distances by counting the kilometers, keeping patience during an endless climb and savoring every little victory or reward.

 3. Being a woman while traveling

During the trip, I often felt that I had to fight twice as hard because of my gender: against prejudices, against additional vulnerability, against my own fears and worries.

On the other hand, being a woman made it easier to make contacts and to be trusted.

I was thus confronted in all its power with the condition of being a woman, in Europe, while supporting the independence of a Cambodian woman thousands of kilometers away from me.

Throughout this trip I asked around me what everyone thought was most essential to improving gender equality. The biggest majority answered education, thus echoing the mission of the Bayon School, the reason for my trip and my commitment. I had the feeling that I was supporting a constructive debate and that a consensus was emerging: that education is the key to social progress, but also that it is important to realize that this key is not yet universal. That it is important to carry these projects to give them a voice.

December 20th 2021. The end of a beautiful trip

In front of me, the acropolis of Athens. Behind me, the 5000 km that I have just covered. Besides the satisfaction of having succeeded in crossing six countries with diverse cultures, the surprise of having reached 200% of our objective, and thus 5000€, filled me with joy. Being able to finance the entirety of the studies of 2 young girls proved to me that by daring the impossible, we can contribute to making the dreams of equality closer to reality.

Today, if this cycling adventure ends, it will have opened a field of opportunities that I am eager to seize. It will have given me the essential resources to continue to explore this personal journey and to pursue my commitment to human rights, especially women’s rights.
Sponsoring the Bayon School – Why?

Sponsoring the Bayon School – Why?

The Bayon school welcomed its first pupils in the primary school almost 20 years ago in 1993 and over the years, our association has grown and diversified. A program to accompany students in secondary school, a pastry and bakery school, training in agro-ecology, development of income-generating activities for the families of the students… all of this has been made possible thanks to the precious support of a group of people: our godfathers, godmothers and sponsors.

They started out as a small group of about twenty;  now they form a community of more than 450. The Bayon School is a big family, in which each person plays a role: from the volunteers, to Thorth, our executive director, to the occasional donor. The sponsors play a central role in this wonderful picture because they not only bring our projects to life, but also support them in the long term. Accountants, artists, school teachers, from Paris to the small villages of the Vaucluse, London or Singapore, so many different profiles that constitute the primary strength of our projects.

Our gratitude is immense and thanking these men and women is a priority for us. Our regular exchanges with them allow us to maintain strong links over the years. An updated presentation of our projects every other month, a newsletter which discusses fundamental issues every quarter, a direct link with news from the field on social networks and through direct exchange with our communication manager… We do everything possible to place them at the heart of our projects. Authenticity and sincerity are the key words of this relationship which allows us to provide quality education to children living within the Angkor temples.

By sponsoring the Bayon School, they have decided to support this quality education, entirely free of charge for more than 450 young people, taking care of all the basic needs which are necessary to the proper development of children/students. While a quality education is essential to progress in life, it is at least as important to foster personal development through recreational, cultural and sports activities.  This is why we have integrated various activities into the school curriculum, from physical activity to cultural and artistic awareness.

You too can take part in this magnificent web of human links (participation from 13€ per month). All the information about sponsorship and other ways of support on our website: https://www.ecoledubayon.org/nous-soutenir/

Four lessons to be learned from this exceptional year

Four lessons to be learned from this exceptional year

Thorth, Vantha, Rithy, Sakoth and Soky come back with their words on these last two years and on what lessons they have learned. What tools will we keep in the future? What did we learn?

Resilience, solidarity and adaptability: these are the terms that have guided their work and become the driving force behind their commitment.

Lesson #1: Learn to anticipate to better apprehend

If you ask Thorth, Deputy Executive Director of the Bayon School, what he remembers about the past year, his first words are “unpredictable” and “stressful”. Indeed, his main goal over the past few months has been “to make sure that we would be able to maintain the education of all our students at a stable level: we had to consider which were the essential actions where we needed to mobilize our efforts and which were the ones where we could slow down, to make sure that we would be able to meet this goal, despite the situation.” 

He explains that we had to consult, debate and make decisions to respond to the emergency, without knowing how the crisis would evolve: “This taught me to analyze and question myself more about future issues in order to anticipate this type of situation as well as possible, even though they are exceptional.”

“We learned to adapt quickly and to find a solution to each problem, thanks to the commitment of the entire team: the challenge was to move forward day after day and to think about our actions in the short term to ensure an optimal efficiency.”

Thorth, Deputy Executive Director.

Lesson #2: Communicate better to be aware of each other’s needs

The implementation of online courses within our training and the obligation to visit our primary school students in the villages made us realize that it was essential to be aware of everyone’s needs.

“We became aware of everyone’s needs because we were with them on a daily basis, in their villages and their environment. We were able to discuss with the parents, especially those whose children are having the most difficulty. Today, this allows us to go back to school knowing which students we need to follow more closely, even though we are back to functioning normally.”

Vantha, Primary School Director.

The development of online education – Zoom, YouTube and Telegram – means that our baking school students have been able to use these different communication channels to stay in constant contact with our teams and their peers. Sokly, our pastry teacher, and Rithy, the new director of the pastry school, were therefore never disconnected from the reality of each one, quite the contrary.

“Each platform had its purpose. Zoom was a way to discuss together any questions related to the courses but also a space where students could hear and exchange with each other. YouTube allowed students to review at their own rhythm and to prepare their questions for our online meetings. Finally, Telegram was our main tool to discuss more informal, but all the more important, subjects at this time: how they are feeling, their emotions about the crisis and how we can help them. It allowed us to stay connected with them and for them to feel that we were listening to them.”

Rithy, Pastry School Director.

Lesson #3: Focus on short and local circuits

When the town of Siem Reap closed and all activities were suspended, the Vegetable Garden Project team was faced with a major dilemma: how to sell the vegetables produced by our farmers and avoid losses? 

Most of the farmers could no longer move between villages while the vegetable production was increasing. They had no way of selling their vegetables and we needed to find solutions. Working with the social team and the follow up team, we decided to buy back the vegetables and then redistribute them to our beneficiary families. They were therefore assured of having an income to take care of their families and we were assured that our beneficiaries would have something to eat despite the loss of their jobs,” said Sakoth, manager of the vegetable garden project and the agro-ecology school. “This project has strengthened the work of our farmers and made them aware of the role they play in Bayon’s chain of support. They are increasingly motivated to learn and to become more involved, so that it benefits everyone.” 

From a more global perspective, the complete absence of tourists has had a considerable impact on our activities, mainly that of the Coffee Shop. For Thorth, it was the opportunity to rethink our relationship with the local population, so that we would not be completely dependent on tourists. “The closure of the Coffee Shop was not easy to manage since its income finances our pastry training program. We had to find new solutions. Today, we would like to develop local products so that we can serve a local clientele and increase our visibility in Siem Reap.

Sreyleak, Coffee Shop Manager.

Lesson #4: Working better as a team for greater efficiency

The social team, in constant contact with our students and their families, has been at the heart of our actions for many months. Their work has been essential in following up with our families and responding effectively to the emergency. Soky, head of the social team, is proud of the work accomplished by her colleagues.

“We had to work hand in hand and it was not always easy. We had to think about our actions as a team, to divide the tasks. We realized what needed to be done and had to prepare ourselves to be more effective in the field. I’m really proud of our work; we’ve been busy, it has been hard work, but we have never stopped thinking about the families and the children.”

Soky, Social Team Manager.

Outside the Bayon School team, it was also necessary to work closely with the local authorities, as it was difficult to get around. “We worked jointly with the village and community chiefs. They often acted as a relay between our beneficiaries and our teams, which allowed us to keep in touch, even when we could not move between areas,” explains Thorth.

What we remember from that time is the force of teamwork: we can help each other to help those most in need. The team is more close-knit now than ever before.

Become aware of its role

Become aware of its role

 It has been 4 months since I landed in Cambodia and the time has flown by. Since my release from quarantine, it has been a whirlwind of discoveries and sometimes I feel like I only arrived yesterday…. 

I had been warned that Siem Reap was all over the place and that the passage of Covid had had a considerable impact on the town; add to all that the renovation of the roads and the first impression is –  how can I say – dusty? 

Furthermore, the closing of 80% of the hotels, restaurants and bars gave the city, at that time, the appearance of a ghost town. Even though the shock was a bit brutal, I had had the time to anticipate it and prepare myself for it, which surely made my arrival smoother than it could have been.

After these first impressions, I was able to meet the team of the Bayon School and discover what we – the school, the local team, all the hard work – are committed to achieving. And what a joy! 

I was able to visit the agro-ecology school, the pastry school, where the offices are, and the primary school, such a special place being located within the temples and sheltered from the sun and the noise of the city. If all the schools were still closed, the discovery of these places allowed me to put real images on those I had imagined.

I also visited the farmers to discover their vegetable gardens and was impressed by the work of these women who work the land, often alone, and whose production allows us to feed our beneficiary families. There is so much to say about them and the few pictures I was able to take often speak for themselves.

I remember that, after this first visit, Sakoth, the agroecology program manager, took me back into town on his motorcycle and, having no idea which way we were going, I let myself be driven around. What a surprise when I realized that we were on the road to the temples as I saw rise before me these magnificent stones and the impressive Angkor Wat.

I was stunned by this spectacle and realized how very lucky I am to be here, in the middle of a pandemic.

Today, 4 months later, I have had time to find my feet and I know Siem Reap (almost) like the back of my hand. The sanitary situation has clearly improved since September and we no longer have any restrictions, which allows us to appreciate the town differently. The roads are almost finished, we can see some tourists coming back and this gives us hope that we are heading towards better times – even if the situation in Europe alarms many people.

My work has taken on its full dimension by being here. I know why and for whom I am involved, I see the results of our actions and I observe the progress we are making. I have exchanged with the team, I have listened to their life stories and their reflections and I am aware of the role we have as volunteers in the field.

I wonder about what we have and must bring to them, how to be a support, at their side, whilst letting them guide their projects because they, more than anyone, know the issues of their country, the consequences of their history and the situations in which the most vulnerable populations are. I think it is important, when we go into the field, to be aware of these different issues and to know how to take a step back when the reflection is too far from our reality and from what we think we know about the country we are visiting. 

I feel that we need to be aware of the fact that, while most of us are just passing through, for those who live here and work at the Bayon School, this really is a lifelong commitment.

I see my role as a small hand in the shadows, helping to shine some light on the team’s work. I like to share my knowledge with them and give them the tools to do it for themselves, to exchange with them and to question myself on the way we articulate our work to make sure that it bears fruit. 

I like the idea that we are here to sow what we know and direct the work towards fair and sustainable decisions. Socially, environmentally and economically sustainable. Not to reproduce the same patterns that we all know, but to offer our children a better future and to give them the keys to understand today’s world whilst designing their own world for the future. 

During my time at the Bayon School, I hope to develop these ideas, to tell the story behind the hard work, to share the questions we ask and the answers we find. I hope to transcribe in my writing and the contents I share with you, this dynamic that we want to establish, to question myself and to question you in turn on the difficulties encountered here, which, although they are physically far from you, are very often the echo of what we encounter at home.

I hope to be able to show you the will and commitment of our members, of a local team that never loses sight of its objective: to offer children a quality education and to ensure them a better future.

Pedalling for Equality : 5,000 km across Europe

Pedalling for Equality : 5,000 km across Europe

Can you introduce yourself in a few words? 

Hello, my name is Diane Robert, I am 21 years old and I have just completed a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science at McGill University in Montreal. 

Where did you get the idea to cross Europe by bike? What is your itinerary? 

Since I started my studies at McGill, I had planned to take a gap year after my Bachelor’s degree to discover new countries and new projects. I did not have a specific plan as I wanted to give myself the opportunity to push myself beyond my limits and adapt to different circumstances. With Covid, the idea of going further and further away was replaced by the desire to take the time to discover places closer to home. This, combined with the thirst for freedom and meeting new people, gave me the idea of discovering Mediterranean Europe by bike. 

Why did you decide to get involved in an associative project?

I did not want my project to be just a personal adventure; I wanted it also to have a positive influence on people close to me and to be useful to others. Being particularly invested in gender equality issues, I wanted to carry out a project with a concrete impact in this field, as well as supporting an NGO concerned with this issue. Through awareness, education and fundraising, I wanted to participate in the improvement of the economic and social situation of some women, whilst opening the debate on these issues to those around me. 

Why did you choose the Bayon School ? 

I firstly wanted the funds collected to go to an association whose name and effectiveness I knew. I particularly appreciated the work of the Bayon School and its focus on education, which I felt was the most effective way to have a short, medium and long-term impact on individuals and society as a whole. Within the School, one project particularly resonated with my values and commitments. Your Pastry and Bakery School allows young Cambodian women from underprivileged backgrounds living in the Angkor temple region to have access to quality education and to promote their professional integration at the end of the training. In addition, I had the chance to visit your center during a stay in Cambodia and I was touched by your commitment to stay close to the children, young people and families that you support on a daily basis.

How will the funds raised be used?

The goal is to raise 2,500 euros; this amount corresponds to the complete training of a young woman at the Bayon School of Pastry and Bakery. It includes the student’s food and lodging, all courses and related expenses, school supplies and uniforms, a bicycle to facilitate transportation as well as the monthly allowance.

Why does the issue of gender equality interest you so much? What do you think you can contribute? 

Firstly, it is one of the themes that affects the largest proportion of the population. It is also a theme that is often misunderstood or misinterpreted, leading to debates that are often poorly researched and therefore counterproductive. In my opinion, equality is the most basic justice. The courses I have taken on this topic have allowed me to form clear and critical thinking, with the conviction that change is possible, through action but also through reflection. While it is necessary to improve the situations of the most vulnerable people in this regard, I believe that it is equally crucial to raise a constructive debate at the societal level in order to change certain mentalities. I hope that, by sharing quality resources and taking the time to listen to various opinions, I can improve my knowledge on the subject, promote this questioning in the minds of new people and present or support concrete proposals in this direction. This is why I would like to ask one question of as many people as possible that I’ll meet along the way: “In your opinion, what should be worked on as a priority to reduce gender inequality?” 

Equality is the most basic justice.

So if I ask you “In your opinion, what should be worked on as a priority to reduce gender inequality?”, where would you start?

Education. I think that we must start by observing society to take into account gender differences in order to denormalize and de-banalize certain phenomena. For example, it is not normal for a woman to feel unsafe in public places just because she is a woman. Street harassment should not be seen as normal and inevitable when a woman goes out. Similarly, it is not normal that a woman does not have the same opportunities as a man to access quality education, stable employment and security. Sadly, these inequalities do exist. I believe that the first step is the actual recognition of these inequalities, the study of their sources and their consequences. Only then can we hope to find solutions to reduce them, or even to erase them. This is what I hope to do by communicating personally on the subject and by showing my commitment to projects like the Bayon School. 

What would you like to discover or learn during this trip? 

During this trip, I aim to take the time to cross different European countries, getting to know the local populations, eating and sleeping in their homes. By doing so, I hope to understand the many European cultures, which are both so diverse and varied, but yet so similar to ours. I would like to learn from them, from their reflections on their society and on these questions that I ask myself. I would also like to grow, to learn about myself, about my mistakes and my successes, to confront difficulties and to observe how I face them.

Can we follow you on your journey? 

Yes of course! I will share my adventures on my Instagram page (dianerobert8) and prepare some other small surprises for you. I cannot wait to “take” you with me, so that you too can discover a little more of Mediterranean Europe, the Bayon School and the solo cycling life! 

 

See you soon!