Art teacher Crystal joined the January 2016 group as a Project Team volunteer. She and four others visited our target schools to take part in Getting to School and Better Schools projects while the others attended teaching workshops. Here she shares her thoughts from the experience.
One of the perks of being on the SBB Project Team is being able to visit a different school each day and see the differences between them. The information provided by SBB prior to our visits has allowed us to see variations in teacher to student ratios, dropout and absence rates, and the socioeconomic makeup of schools around Battambang and Siem Reap. There are also differences that are more immediately obvious, such as the size and presentation of the campus, the school’s facilities (or lack thereof) and whether or not the students are accustomed to seeing ‘Barangs’ (the Khmer word for foreigners).
One constant in the schools we have visited has been the community support. Each time we arrived at a school, there were a group of parents, grandparents, community members and teachers waiting to contribute to the work that needed to be done. On many occasions, the Khmer community members took the lead and the Project Team assisted them in whatever small way we could. It was great to see the Khmers placing importance on the education of their children and volunteering their valuable time to make the school a safer, cleaner, more attractive or more appealing place for the children to be. This also demonstrated to me the role of these projects in achieving SBB’s teaching and education focused goals, as the first step is often getting the students to want to come to school.
As a Visual Arts teacher, I have found the art-based activities completed by the Project Team and Khmer community members to be particularly memorable. After drawing the outline for a mural on the toilet block at HS Kbal Thnoul school one afternoon (under direct scrutiny from a crowd of young students watching my every move) it was great to see a group of willing community members waiting at the school the next morning ready to paint it. While I mixed paint colours, the Khmer women patiently waited for me to hand them a brush and point to an area which they should paint. The Barangs and Khmers worked side by side (and under and over each other) in order to paint their designated sections with the aim of making the toilet block a more appealing place for students to go. Judging by the crowd of student spectators who literally watched the paint dry, I think we may have succeeded.
The art visioning workshop that the Project Team were involved in at PH Knach Romeas was an inspiration. The group of Khmer parents and community members who were waiting for us at the school was larger than anticipated, which was a wonderful surprise. The intention of the workshop was to involve the community in the school by creating a shared vision of their goals for their students. Art was used as a means of communication as it allowed parents who were illiterate to express themselves in an inclusive forum. SBB Project Manager Reasmey Cheut excelled (as usual) in engaging the 50 or so Khmer adults who had piled in to the single classroom.
When they were asked to draw their child, it became obvious that some of the community members in attendance were not accustomed to holding pens, and may never have had cause to draw before. They did not let this stop them though, and each drew something that represented their child in some way. Next, they were asked to draw what they wanted for their child at school. This was a humbling experience, as the Khmers’ priorities for their children included things like the ability to read and write, having access to clean water, healthy food, safety at school (no cows!) and safety on the road when school was over for the day. Links between school and home were discussed in terms of what the community could do to achieve the vision that they had for their children at home as well as at school.
As a gesture of commitment to working toward the shared vision that the Khmers had discussed, each community member was asked to place their handprint on to a painting of a tree. This artwork would be hung in the school, and could be referred to in future meetings of the school community as a visual reminder of the commitment they had made. Painting the hands of some of the elderly Khmers so they could print it, and thinking to myself what those hands had been through, is a memory that will stay with me forever.
At Prolit School I had the privilege of holding a brief art lesson with some grade 3 students. Even though we didn’t have any specific art supplies, and the kids thought that my cartoon animals looked funny, they seemed to enjoy the experience almost as much as I did. All of the students tried hard to follow my demonstrations and they ended up with some great drawings!
Being a part of the SBB Project Team has been a fantastic experience. Shane, Mitch, Libby and Hugh were excellent team mates who were great company and hard workers. The same can be said for the SBB staff Ed, Kate, Sarah, Penny, Tegan, Christian, Victoria and of course Reasmey and Phath. There aren’t enough words for how thankful I am to the people at SBB for all of the organisation and support they have provided in making the January 2016 trip one of the best things I have ever done. It has been an experience I will never forget, and one which I hope to have again in the future.