The Cambodian School Project
The essence of "looking back"
By Heidi M. Pascual
     "In 2006, we had the funds to build a four-room school for the several hundred Kouy families moving to land given by the government," the CSP report further said. That same year, an anonymous contributor gave CSP $7,500, which was enough to build another school. They built the third school at Srei Pou (Rice Field by Large Tree) Village.
      In the progress report for Spring 2007, CSP wrote that the Srei Pou School has been completed: desks have been installed and classes are being held. The Kouy School encountered more difficulties due to lack of qualified teachers. The Kouy themselves found three people with enough education to teach, and CSP decided to fund their tuition and living expenses so they could take the qualifying course. "We will pay their salaries the rest of this year, and the government will then pay them next year," the latest report said.
      CSP is now building its fourth school in memory of Ou's brother Pran who recently passed away. Pran helped CSP build its schools and engage local Cambodian villagers to support the project. CSP is also starting three fishponds this year. "We hope that the families that raise and sell the fish will become more self-sufficient," Ou said.
      "The way of life of the families we help is disappearing as Cambodia modernizes," Ou added. "If they cannot read or write, these farm children will have little chance of escaping lifelong poverty. With literacy and the ability to learn, they have hope for economic survival in the much more modern economy they will live in as adults."
     
The Cambodian School Project needs your help. They need support to continue their work in Cambodia of helping people get out of poverty and children get basic education. Please send your contributions, which are tax deductible, to The Cambodian School Project, Inc, PO Box 259112, Madison, WI 53725-9112.
(Above) Girls from the Kouy ethnic group are fascinated by their new pens.
(Above) Grinning boys who go the Poum Steung School wait for their breakfast outside the school's kitchen (most of these children are underfed so a free breakfast is a significant help to them
The four-room Kouy School; pupils below
Students at the Poum Steung School, awaiting their new uniforms.
Some children inside the Poum Steung School
     It's amazing how nine people (four officers and five board members) can help better the lives of countless poor in Cambodia. Led by President Sarith Ou, the Cambodian School Project (CSP), based in Madison Wis., has built three schools (the fourth is underway) in poverty-stricken Cambodian villages, serving more than 800 children, many of whom would have otherwise not received an education.
      Joining Ou are friends who have connections with Asian American communities in Wisconsin and familiar with the plight of the Cambodian people: Gray Williams, Vice President (former executive director of United Refugee Services); Ann Spooner, Treasurer; Roger Garms, Secretary; and Board Members: Huyen Crass, Sathin Ouk, Steve Strange, Tom Watson and Stephanie Ward. They started the project in 1999 by supplying school clothes and supplies to poor farm children. In doing so, they helped address the declining school attendance in Cambodian public schools. In 2000, they asked for help from churches and individuals, and donations began to come in. The funds they raised increased every year. "In 2003, we had enough to build a school in Poum Steung ( River Village)," according to CSP's first progress report. "Many children here had not attended school, as the closest was 5 km away. Some parents also kept their children home to assist with subsistence farming. Now that they have a local school, and the class schedule has been made to fit the harvest, we have nearly 100 percent attendance for 200 children in this small farm village."
      With the help of local villagers in Cambodia, CSP expanded its services beyond the construction of schools. "We were later able to add a well that now gives clean water to both the school and the
village," the initial report said.  "We planted trees (some of which are now beginning to shade the school), fenced the yard to keep out wandering water buffalo and also built bathrooms. The villagers built an outdoor kitchen in the schoolyard where mothers now prepare breakfast from food donated by a Japanese charity. The school is a great success." When a church donated sewing machines to CSP, the group trained a group of women in the village to sew uniforms. "Most of these young women are oldest daughters without parents and the money they earn supports them and their younger siblings. Several have now been with us for years."
      With a steady flow of donations, CSP was able to build another school in 2005, this time for the Kouy, an ethnic group decimated during the civil war.
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December 2007 Issue