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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.

VIEW ON… – “It’s time to go” by Penelope

VIEW ON… – “It’s time to go” by Penelope

When I learnt 3 months ago that I would be coming to Cambodia as a volunteer with the Bayon School, I felt both excitement and apprehension; although this was not my first expatriation, this one already had a special taste.

Firstly because it is in Asia and I have already had the opportunity to discover a small part of this continent a few years ago. Memories that since then have never faded, quite the contrary. I never stop telling anyone who will listen to me that, one day, I will return.

Secondly – and this is the real value of this new adventure – because I am going there in a singular context; to work for an NGO in a field, which has motivated me since I started thinking about my future professional project, and in which I long to be involved. I have always tried to understand how our world works, how it finds its balance, how our societies are articulated, and especially what our differences are. Cultural, identity, social, I have always wondered about the importance of these differences and what they can teach us about others. I am convinced that it is vital to look around us in order to find the resources necessary for a more egalitarian world, for a balance conducive to change and progress. I also believe that it is by looking to others that we can look at who we are and who we want to be. 

My involvement with the Bayon School is a melting pot of all these questions that I take with me, and that guide my work on a day-to-day basis.

I am particularly interested in how communication can transmit notions of equality, social justice and civil rights. I wonder about the many tools we have to shine a light on what is happening elsewhere and to spread the word about social and humanitarian initiatives that do not always receive enough attention.

As I started working for Bayon whilst in France, I have had time to picture what my work and my life would be like here. My imagination fills my head with images, which I am eager to replace with real experiences. Projecting from a distance what our future home looks like is a rather singular experience and my initial apprehension is gradually replaced by the growing excitement of finally leaving.

I am finally going to be able to discover what the school looks like, to meet the team in person rather than from behind a computer screen, to visit the families and the children, to stop imagining their smiles but to be able to smile at them too, to admire the work of these women who cultivate the land, to taste the pastries of our budding chefs, to be able at last to be a part of what the whole team likes to call this large family of the Bayon school.

D-day, August 12th. With my PCR test being refused at the check-in counter, causing me cold sweats and a great deal of stress, my departure is chaotic and I have to run like mad to catch my plane. But here I am, finally in the plane, exhausted from the last days and goodbyes to my family and friends, but happy to finally take off to Cambodia

 

After 15 hours of flight, a short stopover in Singapore and 3 PCR tests to welcome me, I head to the hotel for the quarantine. Through the window of the bus, I rediscover the overwhelming, humid heat, the effervescence of scooters and tuk tuks in all directions, the street stalls of fruit and vegetables, the noise of horns and engines, and I have a hard time realizing that I have finally arrived.

 

Day 10. As I write this, it is August 23rd and I have been in quarantine now for 10 days. Only 4 more to go! Since I have been here, my work has become more meaningful and things have become more real. I am more aware of my role and the roles of everyone who assists our families. My commitment and motivation are growing and I cannot wait to be able to exchange and put all my ideas into action with the team on site.

View from my quarantine window

I don’t really know what to expect or what this year will bring me. I am slowly letting myself be carried and guided by the energy I already feel here. I hope to be able to give my work and my commitment an even wider dimension than the one I already try to have every day. Firstly for them, the children for whom the Bayon School works relentlessly, by giving them my support and accompanying them as best I can through this precious learning experience that is school. Then a little for me, hoping to grow even more, because I already know that, of all my experiences abroad, this one will surely be the richest in emotions.

When you will read this text, I will already have been in Siem Reap for a few weeks, and I will take the time later to tell you how I feel, if the images in my head and those I share with you for the communication of the Bayon School are the same as those in real life.

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!