Wednesday, July 25, 2012

“Floating” School at Kampong Kleang

Last year, we saw a floating school on Tonle Sap Lake, to cater to the children of the fishermen who live in the floating villages on the lake.  It took us a while to track it down.  It turned out there are three of them, operated by the Catholic Church.  This year, we managed to send one team each to Chong Khnies and Kampong Kleang.  During the raining season, starting from June until perhaps October, the water level in Tonle Sap is very high, and the lake is much bigger.  The floating school at Kampong Kleang is indeed afloat, just like the one at Chong Khnies.

When we got there at the end of May this year, however, the rainy season had barely started.  The water level was very low, and the lake had shrunk tremendously.  The boat was stranded and unreachable.  So the church rented the grounds underneath a house in a village for the lessons.

The houses have to be built on stilts, so that when the high water comes, they can hope to remain above water.  My estimate was that the houses were at least 20 feet above the water at the time.  Even then, the houses are often flooded in the rainy season.

There were normally ~20 kids there for the Khmer language classes.  As soon as the kids around heard that there are visitors, however, suddenly we were flooded with 100 screaming kids.  We had 15 university students from Hong Kong, plus 4 Cambodian college students as translators, and we came prepared, so we were OK, even though it was a bit chaotic at times.

To give them more incentives to stay in school, the church fed them lunch.  It was congee with rice, vegetables and pig’s blood.  It was simple, but it did look appetizing, and the kids loved it.  Some of them even took the leftovers home.

These kids have never seen computers before - they don’t even attend the government schools.  But we were able to engage them with stop-motion animation.  The iPADs are really great.  The kids learnt to use them to take photographs and run the animation program much more quickly compared with notebook computers. There were no electricity.  So we had to rely on batteries.  It was also extremely hot.  The grounds were just dirt and uneven.  There were no toilets.  The environment was challenging, to say the least.  But the students were great.  No one complained.  They all worked hard.  Everyone had a good time. 

We could spend only one day there, effectively only about 4 hours for the lessons.  How much could we have achieved?  Probably not much in terms of knowledge transferred.  But we hope we have shown them that computers can be fun, that computers are not necessarily very difficult to learn, that learning can be fun, and it is worth it to stay in school.  We do what we can.

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