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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.

The Bayon School, from experience to learning

The Bayon School, from experience to learning

The floor is given to Romain, who has been in charge of the health and social project for more than a year and a half at the Bayon School, and whose adventure is ending today. He talks about his journey, his experience and what he has learned here in Cambodia.

After more than a year and a half at Bayon School, it is time for me to close this chapter and start a new one, with other projects in France.

It is with a heavy heart that I am writing these few words about my experience. And with sadness that I will leave this wonderful country! I will not see the schools open again, where the children – running, playing, shouting, laughing – are happy to be at school. Where these young women, studying for a better future, share moments of complicity, despite the language barrier. These are joyful memories, which date already from several months ago, but which I will cherish for many years to come. Then, because the Cambodians, who have suffered so terribly in the not-so-distant past and who are now facing a new crisis, have taught me so much about life, happiness, sadness… Always smiling, they overcome difficulties where many others would have already failed. Thanks to them, I look at the future with fresh eyes and a different way of thinking!

As Bayon School is an agile and reactive structure, I have been lucky to work on all the programs of the NGO. I started by carrying out a diagnosis of the health project and coordinating the sports and artistic activities at the primary school. I also worked closely with the social team, developing the new database which stores the beneficiaries’ social, health and education information. And finally, I was in charge of the cooperation project between BED and PSE Siem Reap. I have enjoyed working with all my colleagues – each one more involved than the other – who keep this beautiful story of Bayon School alive.

I am not saying that everything was easy. A new culture, and new working methods, far from the French way of thinking and from my first professional experience. I had to adapt, but what a great personal achievement. What a reward to see the realization of projects, which have been imagined, conceived and implemented side-by-side with the Cambodians.

Then came COVID-19, where everything has been disrupted. 3-year plans have been discarded, projects have been turned upside down, priorities have changed and actions have been readjusted on a daily basis. The pedagogical teams have tested and innovated in order to find all possible solutions to limit the educational delay caused by the school closures. The social and health team has worked hard to provide the necessary help to the families, with rice, vegetables with the help of the green farming team, as well as medical support… For this, we must give them a special mention. In spite of a situation that is clearly improving in France, with restrictions being lifted one by one, let’s not forget that this virus continues to cause havoc in other regions of the world, unfortunately among the poorest populations. Here in Cambodia, despite the low number of cases and deaths for the moment, the education of a generation is being sacrificed… Inequalities, already glaring, will increase. The future looks complex. More than ever, the role of Bayon School will be indispensable.

But, in every crisis, there are opportunities to seize; for Siem Reap, a new touristic model will emerge and benefit the greatest number. For Bayon School, this extremely difficult period has made our NGO more resilient, our teams more united, for the benefit of the beneficiaries.

Despite the sadness of the departure and the apprehension of my return to France, I measure the road travelled with pride. Proud to have put my skills to good use for the most underprivileged. Proud to have succeeded in integrating myself into this multicultural environment. Proud to have contributed to all these beautiful projects.

In conclusion, I wish the best to all current and future students of Bayon School, be they at the primary school or in the Follow-up program; be they in university or in vocational training. I know they will be supported to the best of their abilities by the team to help them achieve their dreams.

 I would also like to thank all my colleagues, members of the Bayon family here in Cambodia, for their warm welcome and generosity. I will not forget you and I will continue to follow your many successes from afar!

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.

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
Sanitary Conditions

Sanitary Conditions

In 2020, the Bayon School would like to be even more proactive in helping the families of the primary pupils with their health and hygiene. As a result, the annual social visits of the families have been enriched with a health survey which will give us a more complete view of each individual situation and allow us to identify the priorities to be implemented in order to improve their sanitary conditions. Read on for details and the purpose of these visits, thanks to the account from Romain, our volunteer health advisor. Up until now, the association’s Health project has been reserved for the children, be it from the primary school, the Bakery school or the follow-ups in secondary school, and was organised around the annual medical visit by Jean-Pierre and MIchèle, our volunteer medical advisors. Based on their recommendations, those children who required treatment received dental and eye care thanks to partnerships with other health organisations. Any complex cases were registered and sent to the appropriate hospitals. The infirmary run by Jean-Pierre and Michèle during their visit was also very crowded. Last but not least, the hygiene kits were distributed every three months to all the pupils.

The Health team this year comprises Jean-Pierre, Michèle, Soky and me, volunteer for a year hoping to consolidate the health actions led by the Bayon School, and we are in the process of recruiting a school nurse.Our wish is now to reinforce, develop and, more importantly, open this Health project to the families. In order to achieve this target and to identify the priority areas for action, we decided to carry out a thorough analysis of the health and sanitary conditions in the families; we took advantage of the annual social visits to explore the theme of their health. The scope of the study was limited this time to the families of the primary school pupils.

A survey was drafted by both the social and health teams, with a certain number of areas to be explored: housing, access to water, maternal health, medical history, role of local beliefs, health care and care centres, medical costs.

Between December 2019 and March 2020, each of the 162 families of the primary school received a visit which enabled us to understand their situation and discuss their individual issues with them. Each visit was carried out by Jean-Pierre, our doctor and one of the three Khmer social workers, Soky, Chhein or Srotom. The families all welcomed the survey: they spoke openly about their difficulties and are now waiting for the solutions that we are hoping to provide.

Both the answers received to the survey and the visual observations during the visits are important. The information collected is essential to give us a clearer idea of the sanitary conditions that the primary school pupils return to, once the school day is finished.

The conclusions of this survey will be summarised in a report mid-April, giving us a clear view of the current situation and the strategy we will need to implement to improve it.

In the meantime, the first results are already available with, on the one hand, a number of common problems:

• Access to drinking water and clean toilets is not widespread;
• There are many miscarriages and induced abortions;
• Addictions (alcohol and cigarettes) are a major problem;
• Dental problems are significant, as are the number of cases of untreated high blood pressure.
• Finally, medication is haphazard and irregular with a failure to seek treatment, which can be linked to education, cost or the family organisation; this merits extremely close medical follow-up.

On the other hand, certain medical issues are particularly complex and will require an individual solution.

Our champions’ exploits

Set up in 2018, the sports programme at the Bayon Primary School has developed rapidly over the last two and a half years. Every week, our pupils practise different sports at school and participate in matches as well as an official regional school competition. Discover our champions’ exploits in pictures.

In February 2018, we decided to introduce weekly PE (Physical Education) lessons for the pupils from Grades 2-6 and recruited a qualified PE teacher; this was in line with our wish to offer a different pedagogical approach, based on the children’s individual needs (complimented by arts and crafts lessons) whilst expanding the traditional PE programme at the school. Since October 2018, we have extended the lessons to Grade 1 pupils. In order to continue to offer a high-quality PE programme, we also increased the number of hours in the weekly timetable 2019-20 from 40 minutes to one hour and 20 minutes.

Chuon Dorl is our qualified PE teacher, who followed a training program with the association Kampuchea Balopp, which promotes sport in Cambodia).

PE lessons are important as they allow our pupils to develop skills which are not always taught in the other subjects:

  • Team spirit
  • Self-confidence and the idea of surpassing oneself
  • Value of hard work and effort
  • Respect for others and compliance with the rules
  • A sense of initiative and responsibility
  • A senses of commitment.

These lessons are also the time for the children to let off steam and enjoy themselves whilst discovering different sports and fun activities.

At the beginning of the school year 2018, the primary pupils were all given a PE outfit of shorts and a T-Shirt, flocked with the logo of Bayon. These will be renewed in 2020. Furthermore, Bayon School has invested in the installation on the school premises of goalposts and a sand pit for athletics, as well as buying smaller items such as cones, bibs & balls.  Thanks to these investments, the children can now try out all sorts of sports: football, volleyball, long jump, high jump, running.

In 2019, Bayon School participated, for the first time in its history, in the regional school championship, which was organised by the Government for various different sports: football, basketball, volleyball & athletics. Bayon had football teams in the Boys, Girls and Mixed Teams competition.

In 2020, Bayon participated once again but with more children; 30 pupils overall took part, with the Boys’ football team and the mixed athletics team competing in the high jump, long jump, sprint, running, relay and a type of Pentathlon. Before the big event, our champions underwent specific training sessions and participated in two football matches against other primary schools, both of which they won.

In 2020, and for the second year running, our football team unfortunately did not manage to get past the first round, but we are not giving up and are already preparing next year’s competition with great enthusiasm. Our Athletics team, on the other hand, was more successful in their first participation with excellent results:

  • 1st Place in Boys Long Jump
  • 3rd Place in Girls’ Relay
  • 4th Place in Girls’ High Jump
  • 4th Place in Girls’ Sprint
  • 4th Place in Girls’ Running

The school championship is the only chance that many of our pupils have to participate in real competition conditions. It is most certainly a long-awaited event in the school calendar and they represent their school colours with tremendous pride. The popularity of the activities and the progression of the children in such a short time really underlines the importance of the sporting activities at the school and showcases its success.

For the school year 2020-21, Bayon School plans to continue investing in its sporting infrastructure, in particular a volleyball court, the renovation of the sand pit and the purchase of hurdles. In addition, we would like to register pupils in different sports in the school championship, giving more children the possibility to compete, the aim being of course to participate and have fun… whilst trying to bring home as many medals as possible!

Bayon school – Dealing with COVID-19

It has now been close to four months that COVID-19 has spread across the planet. Even if Cambodia has officially registered very few cases and no deaths, the country has not been spared and its population is suffering from the loss of jobs and the lack of tourist activity. Bayon School is doing their best to help the families during this unprecedented crisis.

Support the families – The first urgency

Since mid-March, no tourist has been allowed to enter the country and the large majority of the hotels, restaurants and spas have closed, leaving thousands of workers with no jobs and no compensation from the Cambodian government. Many of our families have been affected, losing their primary source of income which allowed them to meet the basic needs of 8-10 people. Furthermore, the children who used to go to school were being fed breakfast and lunch at the canteen, one thing less for the parents or grandparents to provide. Now they are at home and need feeding by their families, adding an additional charge.

Faced with this critical situation, Bayon School reacted quickly. From Week 1, all the vegetables grown by the famers invested in the Green Project were bought by the NGO and then distributed free of charge to the parents of our pupils. This guaranteed a salary for these women farmers and the insurance that the children would continue to eat healthy vegetables. In addition, our social teams studied the families very closely and we started distributing rice to those in desperate need from the second week after the school closure. Special thanks to our donors and the company AMRU Rice for their precious support, which allowed us to finance the rice and vegetables.

Closure of the Pastry School and Coffee Shop – What happens next?

At the Pastry School, we had to send our 26 students back to their families and, as a result and out of obligation, close the shop. The Coffee Shop of the Bayon Pastry School, opened more than 4 years ago, covers 50 % of the budget required for the pastry/baking training programme. Its closure means a significant loss of income for the NGO, which we have been able, in part, to compensate through the generosity of our donors. After two weeks of adjustment and holidays for the catering staff, we put in place several projects in preparation for the re-opening: inventory, storage, planting in the gardens, painting the walls, Spring cleaning, … In the end, the team was very busy. In addition, Sokhouern and Sokly developed a brand-new range of bread with no fewer than 10 new references for sale in our future bakery. They had the time to test new recipes to ensure a wide range of products that we will be able to offer the hotels and restaurants once they can re-open. Finally, since the end of April, the teachers have put in place online lessons for our students, who, each day, receive videos and telephone calls to keep them up to date and help them revise their lessons.

Social follow-up, survey and report

Our social teams have been very committed during this period. They worked firstly on identifying the families with the most difficulties in order to help them in the best way possible. This crisis has also given us the possibility to take a big step back and analyse the impact of our actions on the children and their education. A further study was led with the alumni of the Pastry School, with the aim of updating the details of our former students, analyzing their career paths and reviewing their situation one to five years after graduating.

And our communication?

We have launched the huge undertaking of redoing the website for Bayon School. It will be revealed soon! And we are trying, as best we can, to stay in touch with all the friends of Bayon School, who, we know, stand by our side. An enormous thank you for your help which has allowed us to manage this crisis and help our families as much as possible. We hope to reopen the schools very soon and see again the happy, smiling faces of our pupils as they play outside.