While the primary focus of the recently visiting Australian Volunteers was facilitating the Teacher Workshops and lending a hand to help improve existing school infrastructure, Volunteers from both the Teacher and Project Teams were also given the opportunity to participate in SeeBeyondBorders’ broader programs aimed at engaging school communities and addressing some of the critical factors impeding regular school attendance.
One of these factors is poor health. A notable number of students are absent from school because of illness, often due to poor hygiene practices at home and school, and a lack of access to clean water and sanitation infrastructure at school.
SeeBeyondBorders has developed a Health Program under its Getting to School focus area.
The Program is designed to educate teachers, parents, and students on some fundamental aspects of keeping healthy. The key aim is to improve the general level of health amongst students and therefore reduce the number of days students are absent due to illness.
One component of this Program is to conduct hand washing and teeth cleaning demonstrations at the school.
During their recent visit, Australian Volunteers worked alongside SeeBeyondBorders’ staff to deliver two health demonstrations.
The demonstrations involve visiting the school and setting up two ‘stations’ – a hand washing and teeth cleaning station. Students, parents and community members are invited to participate in an activity in which the correct technique is demonstrated for both. There is a real eagerness from all involved to engage in these active learning demonstrations.
The first Health Demonstration involving the Australian Volunteers was held in the first week of their two week visit at Kok Dong primary school. Thanks to the support of the the Rotary Club of Parramatta, SeeBeyondBorders has been working with the Kok Dong primary school since early 2013 with the specific goal of improving access to clean water, and improving sanitation infrastructure and hygiene practices.
Where previously children from the school were forced to collect and carry water from a pond 300 metres away, fresh water tanks were installed to allow for a cleaner, more convenient supply of water. A much needed new toilet block was also built at the school as part of the health-focused project.
Some of the older students at Kok Dong primary had previously participated in a Health Demonstration. They took a leading role in the demonstrations by teaching the younger students the correct technique for hand washing and teeth cleaning. It was delightful to watch the older children take pride in their ability to pass on knowledge to the younger students. It was clear that Kok Dong had greatly benefited from the focus on improving health at the school.
This stood in contrast to the second Health Demonstration which was held at Bos Tatrav Primary in the second week of the volunteer trip. The school, which lies on the outskirts of Siem Reap, sits within a very poor community. 43% of families in the area live on less than $2 a day. To put this is context, over 35% of the families have 6 or more children, some with as many as 13 children.
SeeBeyondBorders started working with the school a little over a year ago. This was the first time the Health Demonstration had been conducted. The hand washing and teeth cleaning activities were demonstrated to a group of older children first, who then did their best to assist the Volunteers and SeeBeyondBorders staff in the demonstrations to younger children.
It was evident from the outset that this was the first time a lot of the students had ever held a toothbrush, let alone brushed their teeth. While the process seemed odd and foreign to the students at first, they seemed to pick it up quite well. The level of engagement by parents and members of the local community was high.
However, the contrast between the earlier demonstration at Kok Dong primary was great. It was clear that for many of the parents and children at Bos Tatrav primary having enough to eat was the first battle, and getting to school and having enough energy to participate in daily lessons and activities was the second.
The experience left a lasting impression on the Australian volunteers, many of whom later commented that the visit to Bos Tatrav gave a rather shocking insight into the real and enduring challenges many children in Cambodia continue to face when it comes to getting to school.
While SeeBeyondBorders’ core program focuses on upskilling and empowering Cambodian teachers, it recognises that what happens outside the classroom can be equally influential in terms of a child’s education. The “Getting to School” and “Better Schools” programs focus on addressing some of these additional challenges.