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.
Normally purchased from an external provider, we have, many times, been disappointed by the quality of the uniforms we bought: issues with delivery, bad quality… Aside from these problems, we also felt it was the opportunity that represented this project that helped us set it up.
On the same model as the green gardens project that was installed in the families to provide food for the school canteen, the main idea was to give an extra salary to the family, and therefore improve their quality of living.
For this launch year, we decided to produce only the uniforms of the primary school and to buy the ones for the secondary school and pastry school from an external provider. The objective is, for next year, to produce all the uniforms.
The first step for this project was to recruit the “sewer” mothers. In order to accomplish this, I asked for help from the person who knows the families best: Soky, our social officer at the primary school. She helped me identify families who most needed this extra income and amongst these, 3 mothers had sewing skills: Sokheng, Mom and Mai.
Sokheng lives in a small house made of metal in a village opposite Angkor Wat with her husband and her two children. Her daughter Panha, is 6 years old and will be entering Grade 2 in October. Her son is only 4 months old, and it is very difficult for her to feed him correctly as she has no income.
Mom lives in a big house on the side of the river that goes through the temples’ enclosure. She lives with her four nephews and nieces. They are enrolled in Bayon. She is the only person in the household to have a form of income. She is therefore in charge of buying the food and to provide for the needs of her family.
Mai has 3 children: her two daughters are enrolled in Bayon primary school, Sopheak in Grade 5 and Sreyka in Grade 4, and her son, Kvan, aged 3 is for now too young to join the benches of school.
These three women all live in very precarious conditions and did not hesitate to seize the opportunity of an income. When we visited their homes to offer the chance to participate in the production of the uniforms, they all accepted without hesitation. However, their skills were insufficient, we had to ask help from Lan, a professional sewer.
The purchase of the fabric and accessories was done at the market, the cut of the fabric to the right size and especially the training of the mothers for the sewing of the pieces, Lan is an essential member of this chain of production for this first year. Also living in precarious conditions, she also benefitted from this project. Next year, we will make sure the mothers take charge of the whole chain of production.
To start the conception, we needed to invest in new equipment: a sewing machine, 3 irons, a special machine to sew the buttons… Luckily, the donators supported us!
At this date in early September, the production continues: we are finishing the uniforms for Grades 3, 4, 5, and 6 and we are going to start soon the uniforms for Kindergarten, Grades 1 and 2. Objective: 490 uniforms for the 1rst of October!
Phorn, the director of the primary school and Jeanne, our fundraising officer, bring me essential help for the tracking of the production. We visit the 4 women invested in the project 2 times a week to make sure they are not missing anything and to collect the uniforms that have been produced already. It is very encouraging!
We are impatient to see the students in their uniforms produced by the mothers of Bayon.
Chhein joined Bayon School in January 2018. She comes from Banteay Mean Chey, at the north east of Cambodia and grew up in a family of 7 children. Like many Khmer children, she took care of her younger siblings when she was still very young. This is probably what drove her towards working with the youth.
After high school, she completed a course to become a primary school teacher and taught in her home province for a year. Even though she enjoyed the role, she decided to go back to university to become a social worker, job that she found more stimulating and that offers a better wage.
After graduating with a management bachelor from Siem Reap University, she worked with Enfants du Mékong for 3 years, then for Japanese charity Kimonos. Her role with Kimonos consisted of empowering young women to become independent and responsible, through a social and personal development programme.
When she joined Bayon School, Chhein had an induction with her predecessor Tep, who had been social manager for the pastry school for a year and a half. He introduced her to her job description, which includes:
– Recruiting students;
– Assessing applicants’ families situation;
– Provide personal development sessions (job interview, resumes, etc.)
– Support the students with their life at the school and health;
– Seeking internships in restaurants and hotels;
– Seeking permanent roles after the training.
Chhein fast integrated into the team and was given a nickname – “Chhein Chhein”. What she most enjoys about her role is her relationship with the students. She works with them every day by providing essential information and support across many areas. She deeply wants to encourage them to become strong and independent women. She would like each of them to succeed in building a career that matches their interests.
When she was younger, Chhein would have loved to receive such support, but her family encouraged her to end her studies to help with farming work and get married. Despite the pressure, she stood for her values and worked in a primary school to fund her studies.
Today, Chhein is very proud of her background and how far she has come. She just gave birth to a beautiful little girl. Before going on maternity leave, she told us she would like to support her daughter in her education to become an independent woman.
Big thanks to Chhein for her involvement within the school and congratulations on her happy event!