Bees for the Bayon School’s moms

Bees for the Bayon School’s moms

Launched in 2021 by UNESCO and Guerlain, the Women for Bees program, whose godmother is Angelina Jolie, aims to promote beekeeping around the world while strengthening the role of women in their communities.

Before having a social dimension, the program is mainly focused on the protection and repopulation of bees, responsible for 90% of the pollination of wild flowers worldwide. Today threatened by climate change, UNESCO plans to install 2500 beehives in 25 biosphere reserves around the world: in France, Italy, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Russia, Ethiopia, Rwanda, China and Cambodia. Indeed, the Tonle Sap region is one of the largest biosphere reserves today and the majestic forest surrounding the temples of Angkor is an ideal place for their development.

The initiative aims to study the benefits of pollination while putting women at the heart of the action. A predominantly male profession, the Women for Bees program encourages women to be “change makers” by becoming beekeepers. The training takes place over several weeks and consists of teaching these women the techniques of sustainable beekeeping, encouraging them to learn and become true experts in the field, before being able to extend their knowledge to others.

In Cambodia, the challenge is to protect the wild bees of the country, regrouping 4 species in total, where in France only one species exists. Eric Guérin, a French biologist and specialist in the conservation of wild Asian bees and sustainable beekeeping, is in charge of the program in Siem Reap and is training six women to become beekeepers, working with one of the Asian bee species that exists here, “apis cerana”. Of these 6 women, 4 are mothers whose children are at the Bayon School.

“Beyond learning technical skills, this training is an opportunity for them to empower themselves by realizing that they are finally capable of doing it. All of them, the first time, and as is often the case in Cambodia among the most underprivileged populations, especially women, answer that they will not know how to do it, or that they don’t have the means to learn. And in the end, they themselves were surprised by their ability to learn about the subject.” explains Eric, who works with them every week in the field.

Located in the temples of Angkor, these future beekeepers are all from underprivileged backgrounds, a selection criterion to be part of the project: if objective number 1 is to preserve bees, a fragile symbol of a planet damaged by climate change, objective number 2, just as important, is to strengthen the skills of women around the world by involving them in the preservation of a sustainable environment.

Eric explains that over the course of the weeks, they have changed: “The women I have in front of me today are not the same as they were four months ago. They have gained confidence, they express themselves freely, they give their opinion. Their transformation is remarkable, as is their desire to learn.”

They have, more than others, an important role to play, especially when we know that they are the first to be impacted by global warming throughout the world (UNDP), and that the consequences of these disruptions lead to inequalities indirectly related to gender issues and social oppressions that women around the world are facing today (United Nations).

At the end of the training given by Eric Guérin, our beekeepers will work together with some of the guides of the Angkor temples to offer tourists a visit of their hives and an awareness session on the preservation of bees around the world. This activity will also allow them to generate a complementary income to their daily activities, thus improving their current living conditions.

“The tour of the apiaries by tourists will be very important, because it will allow these women to see that what they do is of interest to people all over the world, that they have things to contribute, and that what they have mastered now, few people know how to do as well.”

Angelina Jolie recently came to visit them on their grounds to encourage them and see their progress. This is an incredible chance for them to affirm themselves and gain confidence in their communities.

It is also an opportunity for these women to share their knowledge with the youth and adults of the Bayon School who surround them and to help others to rise up around them.

Written by Pénélope Hubert, communication manager at Bayon School.

The Bayon farmers’ project is evolving: Towards the marketing of their vegetables!

The Bayon farmers’ project is evolving: Towards the marketing of their vegetables!

Launched in 2018, the Potager project aimed to train primary school mothers in organic farming. Thanks to volunteers and members of Bayon, a dozen women have (re)learned to cultivate their garden. Eggplant, squash, tomatoes, chili pepper… Year after year, our farmers gain in skills and autonomy. They have seen their production increase and their living conditions improve. Since the beginning of the project, Bayon has been helping them to market their production.

This year, in order to provide them with additional income and to showcase their products, we launched the sale of baskets of their vegetables at the Coffee Shop of the Bayon Pastry School.

An intensive monoculture

According to the World Bank, Cambodia’s agricultural sector contributes 22% of the gross domestic product. Rice accounts for more than half of Cambodia’s agricultural products and makes Cambodia one of the top 10 rice exporters in the world. In contrast, Cambodian fruit and vegetable production meets only 30% of local demand. The rest is mainly imported from Thailand and Vietnam.

With a predominantly rural population (76.6% in 2018) and a third of its people living on less than $1 a day, Cambodia faces problems that European agriculture has faced before. Most farmers are smallholders cultivating less than 2 hectares of land per household.

In order to meet the growing demand and due to lack of knowledge of alternatives, most vegetables and fruits are grown intensively and with many chemical inputs. The massive use of these pesticides combined with the monoculture of rice, prevents the regeneration of soils and leads to a decrease in the yields of current products. The Minister of Agriculture is slowly beginning to take into account the challenges of intensive agriculture in Cambodia, but concrete solutions are not yet available.

The place of women in rural areas

In developing countries, women play a major role in managing their households and communities to provide food security and improve overall living conditions. Nevertheless, they face many difficulties, especially in terms of human rights and income equality. They have limited access to education and very little independence, which does not facilitate their evolution within society.

Rural women represent nearly 43% of the agricultural workforce. Unfortunately, these women farmers are considered “unpaid or contributing family workers“. They therefore have a much smaller source of income than men, which does not allow them to increase the yield of their farms. It is therefore important to rethink this financial system in order to meet the needs of these women who contribute fully to the life of their households and to enable them to become more emancipated.

The creation of the Vegetable Garden Project at the Bayon School

At the Bayon School, the transmission of the principles of agroecology to the families of the children attending our primary school seemed to us to be a viable and effective solution in the long term. That’s why, since February 2018, eleven vegetable gardens have been set up in the gardens of the families we support.

The initial objective of the creation of these vegetable gardens was to provide Élodie’s canteen (primary school canteen with 250 students at lunchtime) with locally grown and pesticide-free vegetables, while allowing the families to generate additional income. Bayon then set up vegetable distributions to help families during the Covid-19 outbreak and organized partnerships with supermarkets like Farmer Market.

In 2021, 17.6 tons of vegetables were sold. This represents a 35% increase over the previous year. This vegetable production generated $13,350 in revenue primarily from the vegetable distribution set up during Covid-19 (70%), the primary school and bakery canteens (20%), and the Farmer Market in Siem Reap (10%).

In August 2022, we will end food assistance, hoping that our families’ economic situation will have stabilized. It is therefore necessary to find other sources of income for our farmers.

One solution among others: Selling vegetable baskets

In order to diversify the sources of income, we set up on April 5, 2022, the sale of farmers’ vegetable baskets at the school’s Coffee Shop.

Each week, on Thursday, we open the basket orders according to the quantities produced by the farmers. Eggplants, long beans, zucchini, pumpkins, limes, peppers, tomatoes, radishes…

Each week the composition of the baskets changes according to the production. On Tuesday we receive the vegetables ordered at the Coffee Shop and our teams distribute the vegetables in the baskets. Guests have the option of adding the fresh bread of the week, prepared by our chef. They can pick up their basket at the Coffee Shop or have it delivered directly to their home.

The sale of baskets allows us to create a real synergy between the different projects of our school. By selling the baskets, it also provides an additional source of income and visibility to the coffee shop and thus helps finance part of the pastry training of our students.

The first orders were a real success. Customers ask for more and are happy to participate in our project, while buying products that are good for their health. This is a first phase towards the deployment of the farmers’ organic vegetable sales in Siem Reap’s supermarkets and restaurants.

So don’t wait any longer, reserve your vegetable basket and talk about it around you!

Written by Morgane Boudoul, communication officer at the Bayon School.

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.

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.