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School in Kep

We Care #1: Help Tracy build a school in Kep

At Triple A Cambodia, one of our core principle is to help the impoverished local population with our business. We’re however far from being the only ones willing to help. We are starting our We Care blog post series in order to highlight some of the best initiatives taken in Cambodia that will help the locals on the long term.

As an opener for our We Care series, please meet Tracy! We first heard of Tracy through her gofundme campaign, aimed at providing the necessary fundings to build a school in Kep. As we got to know her better, we were impressed with her unstoppable motivation and long term commitment to help impoverished children in and around Kep. Without further ado, let’s talk to Tracy about her project!

School in Kep

Tracy and her students

  • Hey Tracy! Can you present yourself and tell us a bit about what you do in Cambodia. 

Hello and thanks so much for the opportunity to share my story. I’m currently working as a long term volunteer English teacher at the Sang Kum Reas Nyum secondary school here in the coastal province of Kep. I originally came to Cambodia from Los Angeles about 6 months ago with one intent: to teach English at one of the private schools in Phnom Penh for a short time and then move on to Thailand or Vietnam. Well, here I am 6 months later and I’m getting ready to open my own school. When I first arrived in Phnom Penh this past December, I decided rather quickly that it was a little too crowded for me, so I decided to head North to Siem Reap. I really enjoyed Siem Reap, and ended up staying there for several weeks but I just felt the urge to keep moving and finally ended up here in Kep. A few of my friends who’ve travelled to Cambodia in the past had warned me that it would change my life and I wouldn’t want to leave. They were absolutely right; I fell in love with the Khmer people, their culture and the country. Becoming a teacher’s been a new and exciting experience for me. In my native country of America, I worked as a merchandising manager for adidas and The Walt Disney Company but I couldn’t have imagined how changing careers would completely change my life. I love what I do and I’m finally at the point now with my students where they trust that I’m going to stick around and they believe I’m invested in their lives and their future. I’m not only working to break the cycle of poverty but also to empower them with the belief that they can achieve anything.

  • You’ve recently started a gofundme campaign in order to build a school in Kep. Tell us a bit more about it, and tell us how we can help.

Yes, I’m very proud of the gofundme campaign! I’ve gotten a firsthand look at the lack of resources available to the students of Kep and really Cambodia in general. The schools are old and dilapidated and there’s no running water, electricity or bathrooms. Also, the teachers have little more resource than an old chalkboard. Definitely none of the resources that we take for granted in America. The gofundme campaign is really a grassroots project with a fairly small goal of $2,000. It will provide the necessary funding to open a small schoolhouse located in the Kep countryside. I’ve located a great old house that I’ll be converting into the small school and 100% of the funds that we raise will go towards renovating the building and providing the children with textbooks, a computer, writting materials, reading books, art supplies and hiring a local Khmer teaching assistant.

The future school

The house for the future school

  • How many kids will benefit from the school you’re building? Will there be a selection based on families incomes?

I’m currently estimating 20 students per class with an approximate total of 120 full time primary grade students along with dozens of other local students who will be attending special tutoring sessions during the evenings and on the weekends. I’m also expecting our enrollment to consist of at least 40% of the students coming to us from the local orphanage and/or children who do not currently attend school. The enrolled primary school students will receive a completely FREE education and I’m also hoping to provide them with a daily nutritious lunch. Though, I’m still working on the budget to see if I can make that happen. If you would like to learn more about the project, follow our progress or make a donation, you can visit http://www.gofundme.com/2fpers

  • In the gofundme presentation for your campaign, you mention that the kids will receive an “innovative American style education”. What does it entail exactly?

Yes, we will be teaching the students many different subjects, including mathematics, science, social studies, geography, English, Khmer, art education, and more. The courses will be taught mainly in English which will give the students a head start in mastering both languages. The majority of students in Kep learn English from a Khmer teacher and this really presents a problem because most of the teachers have been taught English only by other Khmer teachers. It’s kind of a vicious cycle because after years of studying English, the students are really no better off. Another goal of mine with opening the school is to actually teach the teachers. I don’t want to take away from the extra income they earn from teaching English lessons but I do want to make sure they have the proper knowledge and training. Right now, I’m looking at implementing several creative ideas for learning activities. I really want to get the kids excited about learning and to give them the ability to think about things from many different angles. I like to refer to my school as a school built on Pinterest ideas. I think it’s important to build a wide curriculum that incorporates many different ideas for learning and creativity.

Kep kids

  • Now that you’ve been here for a little while, what would be your advice for someone who’s new to Cambodia and is willing to help the country?

I would say if you’re going to come to Cambodia to teach English or help in some other way, make sure that you’re serious about what you’re doing. I see too many people who come here for  a short time and want to teach a class or two and then move on. However, I would suggest in order to truly help the children or the people of Cambodia in general, it’s best to become invested and make a long term commitment. I would also caution against orphanage tourism. I have many students who live at the local orphanage and when volunteers come to visit, the students are generally discouraged from attending school in order to accommodate the volunteers (editor’s note: please read this insightful article on the topic) . In short, if you are going to donate money – know where it’s going. If you are going to donate time – make it count.

  • Any recommendation for people visiting Kep? What’s your favorite spot?

Kep is known for its restaurants in the Crab Market but I would suggest trying out some of the other food from the stalls located to the right of the Crab Market. If you want to eat like the locals, this is the way to go. I happen to love the nom bahn chak (curry chicken soup with noodle) and at 3,000 riel, it’s a great deal! My favorite spot to visit in Kep is actually Koh Tonsay, more commonly known to the tourists as Rabbit Island. You can take a quick 20 minute boat ride from the Kep Pier to a little slice of island paradise. It’s definitely my favorite place to go and swim, get a massage or just relax. I usually go for a couple of nights and stay in one of the super cheap bungalows on the island. If you’re staying in town and looking for a great deal on a guesthouse, I would suggest Visalsak. It’s a great Khmer family owned guesthouse where I ended up staying for the first several months and I had a great experience.

Thanks Tracy for taking the time to answer our questions. We hope this post contributes to raise awareness about your project!

Again, to keep track of and/or donate to Tracy’s gofundme campaign:  http://www.gofundme.com/2fpers

You can also vist her school’s blog: http://littlekeplearnersacademy.wordpress.com/

Say hi to Tracy on twitter: http://twitter.com/TKirstine