In Phav village of Taveng Krom commune most residents have to depend heavily on seasonal rice farming and forest products, and they are struggling just to make ends meet.
Unlike other farmers in Cambodia, who can walk to their rice paddies, Phay villagers have to relocate their whole families to their farms for six months each year, normally from June to December, during the rice cultivation period.
“I understand that going to school is important, but I cannot leave my children all alone in the village when my wife and I are here at the farm. No one will take care of them,” says 27-year-old Phoeuk Trouk – a father of two, a boy, 9 years old, and a girl, 5.
Home to 196 families, the village is split from its rain-dependent rice paddies by a range of three mountains, about a three- to four-hour walk, and two thirds of this can only be passed on foot. “With enough rain, the rice harvest and forest fruits and vegetables can feed us for the whole year but we don’t have a surplus for sale,” explains Trouk, from the Prov ethnic group. Farmers are increasingly worrying about the irregular rainfalls and diminishing forests.
As weather patterns change, families know they can no longer rely on agriculture alone. Families are now realizing the importance of their children getting an education, and Plan International has been supporting children in this community to attend school since 2013.
“First Plan and Krousar Yoeung came with the village leader and explained us many times about the importance of sending our kids to preschool. Then they built the preschool. My husband and other villagers helped with producing toys,” recalls Hun Kanhan – a 30-year-old Prov mother of six children.
Through the funding assistance from the European Union, Plan International in partnership with Krousar Yoeung and the community people mobilized the construction of a community preschool and classes began in February 2014. Some 40% of 73 children aged from 3 to 5 now attend the classes.
Mothers Tlouk and Kanhan often walk their children to the preschool and observe the classes. They can also see the progress in their children. “My daughter can name birds, sing and greet people. She even knows what her older brother, in grade 1, does not know. But then I was worried that my daughter will miss class again when we relocate to the farm from the village,” says Tlouk who does not have formal education but attained basic reading and writing from informal literacy classes.
To address these worries, Plan International and Krousar Yoeung developed a solution that would allow children to attend preschools year-round.
“To ensure the continuity of their preschooling, we initiated what we called ‘mobile’ preschools. We facilitated the existence of temporary preschools at the central point of their rice paddies with similar functions to the village-based community preschool,” shares Uth Phoury of Plan International Cambodia.
Residents provided the land and wood, and helped construct the temporary classroom. Plan International and Krousar Young provided a metal roof, water filters, school supplies and training for the local volunteer teachers.
In Ratanak Kiri, around 75% of its dispersed population are indigenous minorities, and approximately just 11% of preschool-aged children have access to preschools.
In addition to the 13 village-based community preschools, Plan International and partners are planning to introduce two temporary ‘mobile’ preschools to encourage even more marginalized children to get a quality preschool education that will develop a love of learning and establish a strong basic knowledge that will help them to transition into primary school.
“I am very glad that preschool is also available near-by our paddy fields. My kids are not missing it. And I will continue to help them to learn more at home,” adds Phav with a hope that his children will grow up not depending only on farming and being able to seek decent job opportunity like the Khmer population.