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Rising Voices: Hope on the Mekong
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Rising Voices: Hope on the Mekong
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Rising Voices: Moving Forward

Child-Friendly Schools are making a big difference for children in Cambodia: parents are more engaged, attendance is increasing, and lessons are fun. Improved education is not only helping the country heal its troubled past, but is also creating a possible path out of poverty for many thousands of families.

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Produced by UNICEF and the Public Affairs Media Group.

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Segment 1

TITLE
Rising Voices
TITLE
Hope on the Mekong
VOICEOVER
It's a little after dawn and Chea Bora and his sister, Chea Sok Lin, are getting ready for school. Their mother, Huon Lek, washes her baby. She has six children in all but the two oldest boys, 11 and 16, live and work elsewhere. She's not exactly sure where anymore. The eldest went to school for a short time but dropped out. None of her other children has ever gone to school. Until recently, nine-year-old Bora also lived with another family where he tended their cows. More than a third of Cambodian children aged 5 to 14 work. Now he's starting school along with his six-year-old sister. Their mother walks them to school, the two younger siblings in tow. Not far away, 11-year-old Long Kan Buthom is also heading for school. She is in sixth grade and hopes to move on to secondary school next year. On arrival, Buthom and some of her friends buy breakfast from local vendors behind the school. Usually the school provides free breakfast, but hasn't started yet this year. Huon Lek says her kids haven't eaten anything today. "It's normal. If there is nothing to cook, I cannot cook for them," she says matter-of-factly. The school the children are attending is called Reachea Nukol. It's in remote Stung Treng province, a poor, undeveloped corner of Cambodia, on the Mekong River near the Laotian border.
TITLE
Stung Treng, Cambodia
VOICEOVER
Reachea Nukol offers an exciting learning experience to its students. It's a new kind of Child-Friendly School promoted by UNICEF and other development partners.
RICHARD BRIDLE [UNICEF Representative, Cambodia]
Making education more inclusive, making education more child-centered, getting away from a lot of the regimentation that tends to happen in classrooms. The difference between the Child-Friendly School and a regular school, when you're outside the school it's very difficult to see that, because all schools are ... you've got classrooms in rows. It's when you go inside the classroom, you'll see the organization of the desks, you'll see that there's much more around the classroom, in terms of learning materials, things that are put up on the wall, that are hung from the ceilings. You can also see that from the levels of activity of the children, and levels of engagement of all the children. In traditional schools, the low achievers hide. They're down at the back of the class, nobody's actually trying to get them to participate. Whereas, within the Child-Friendly School model, first of all, you don't have that option because there are all the group activities, and, secondly, there is an understanding that education is there not just for the high achievers, it's also there for the low achievers. You can't slip between the cracks. That's a good thing.
VOICEOVER
The new school model is spreading across rural Cambodia, a country with a dark chapter in its history that began when the communist Khmer Rouge seized power in 1975.
RICHARD BRIDLE
At that point, they evacuated the cities. Everyone left Phnom Penh -- but also all other towns and cities -- and went into the countryside where they spent the next three years, eight months, and twenty days under conditions of forced labor. Between one and a half to two million people died during that period, many of them of overwork and disease, but also a significant number who were just massacred. The social fabric was progressively completely torn apart. You had children separated from their parents. All religion was abolished, so the Pagodas were closed down, many of them were destroyed. Schools were completely closed. There was a systematic killing of those who had more education.
NATH BUNROUEN [Deputy Minister of Education]
Seventy-five to eighty percent of our teachers were killed during the Khmer Rouge regime. But January 7th, 1979, the Khmer Rouge regime collapsed. We just rebuilt the country from zero. At the beginning in February we start at the ministry for education, only ten people. In the ministry, only 10 people. From January up to September 24th, we reopen the schools.
RICHARD BRIDLE
They made sure that in every village in the country, and in every neighborhood in the cities that there was some form of school that operated. It might be in a school building, it might be in a house, it might be under a tree, but it was an essential sign of normalcy returning to society.
NATH BUNROUEN
We called for everyone, he who want to be teacher, please, volunteer. No need bachelor degree, no need grade 12, no need grade 10 or grade 9. If you want to become teacher, please
VOICEOVER
Thirty years later, the trauma of that period is still fresh. Long Kan Buthom is well aware of her family's history.
LONG LYPO [English Teacher]
[In] 1977, I remember, my father was killed by a Khmer Rouge soldier.
VOICEOVER
Buthom's father, Long Lypo, was seven years old at the time.
LONG LYPO
They shoot and they take a knife, very sad at this time when I remember about my father dead. I always cry.
VOICEOVER
Lypo's two older brothers had attended university and were also killed by the Khmer Rouge. He's now a fierce advocate of education and teaches English to the local children free of charge. They have no money to pay. Books are donated by the occasional foreign tourist.
LONG LYPO
Nowadays we have no salary. I have no business. I try to work to help the children but I don't have any support, so I worry. I don't know how to find the money to help my daughter to continue to the high school, or the others.
VOICEOVER
Only about one of four eligible students in Cambodia goes to secondary school. Lypo is happy his daughter is able to go to a Child-Friendly School. She is set on getting the education that her father's family was killed for having.
LONG KAN BUTHOM
When I grow up, I want to be like my grandfather, because he was a smart man and could solve every problem.
VOICEOVER
Buthom has attended Reachea Nukol School for six years and is a member of the student council.
LONG KAN BUTHOM
I have a piece of information to share about sanitation. When you finish eating, please throw away your garbage in the bins. We have many garbage bins at our school. After collecting the garbage, please wash your hands with soap to kill the germs.
VOICEOVER
The student council is just one of the innovations at Reachea Nukol, which became a Child-Friendly School two years ago.
LONG KAN BUTHOM
There was no library before. We studied individually and there was no group discussion at all. There were not enough materials to use. The discipline was not good. After establishing the Student Council, students are well disciplined. These are the differences.
VOICEOVER
Lay Nong recently completed a special course on Child-Friendly Schools.
LAY NONG [First Grade Teacher]
It is different. Before I received the training on Child-Friendly Schools, I had some difficulty. We had no groups, so we just taught what was in the textbooks. There was corporal punishment for the children. The Child-Friendly School has been implemented smoothly. However, it is chaotic sometimes, especially when students work in groups. In the Child-Friendly School, students have more activities. They are more involved in the process of learning. The teacher just gives the task and lets the students solve it.
VOICEOVER
Clean water is provided, something not available in many other schools. Parents are invited to observe classes.
LAY NONG
After the Child-Friendly School program was introduced, the classroom arrangement has changed. It looks different. We have corners for Khmer language, social studies, and math. The games and materials are also different. There are many. It is easier to teach than before. Students can understand by seeing pictures.
VOICEOVER
Since Chea Bora has never gone to school before, he is starting first grade with his six-year-old sister, also in school for the first time.
LAY NONG
He still cannot write yet, but he's well behaved. He likes studying.
VOICEOVER
All too often, older kids get left behind and fail to catch up, but Bora's teacher is working hard to prevent this.
LAY NONG
He can. He can move on, as he likes to participate in every activity all the time.

Segment 2

VOICEOVER
Chea Bora wouldn't be in school at all if it weren't for another aspect of Child-Friendly Schools: child seeking. Sam Ang leads a community-wide initiative seeking children out of school. She maps where all the school-age children live and encourages parents to enroll their daughters and sons. She's on her way to follow-up on a nine-year-old who has stopped going to school.
SAM ANG [Deputy Village Chief, School Support Committee Member]
I visit children's families pretty often as I try to collect all children from aged six up to go to school. This boy went to school once, but I do not know why he gave up his study. When I did the school mapping, I learned that the boy is out of school, so I'm going to encourage the parents to send him back to school.
VOICEOVER
The mother tells Sam Ang that there is no money for school uniforms or books. There is only a little bit of rice left to eat.
SAM ANG
If the mother cannot read and write and neither can the son, it is not good. So we have to educate our children to study hard. Even though we are poor, we have to struggle to push our children to school.
VOICEOVER
We find the young boy nearby playing in the water. His mother has promised to send him back to school. Sam Ang visited Chea Bora's mother, Huon Lek, before school started.
HUON LEK
She told me that my children are big now and that I should send them to school. I am happy that my children can go to school like other kids. I will send both of the younger ones to school when they are big enough. If we are uneducated, if we cannot read, it is hard to find a job. I think if they are educated, it will be easy for them to find jobs.
VOICEOVER
Jobs are scarce, especially for the illiterate, and Huon Lek feels lucky to get the occasional odd job doing laundry. Long Lypo, who says he has no income, is still relatively well-off for this region. He at least has a little land and a fish farm, even a few cows. Stung Treng province is one of the poorest in Cambodia, which in turn is one of the world's poorest countries. Most of the population are subsistence farmers. The mighty Mekong River and its annual floods set the rhythm of life here. It is the highway providing the main means of local transport. Eighty percent of commerce is carried on the water, with most basic goods imported from elsewhere. There is hope that a new bridge, financed by the Chinese government, will open up the isolated area to trade and tourism. In the meantime, the meager market in the provincial capital sells mostly fish from the river and locally grown produce. The impoverished community supports Buddhism and education. The Khmer Rouge tried to wipe out both during their rule. This is the annual "Kathan," a procession held at the end of the rainy season to raise money for the Buddhist monks. The donations are brought to the local pagoda and presented to the monks. Later, Say Heng, who doubles as pagoda attendant and village chief, addresses the school support committee, made up of parents and other locals. It's not so much a discussion as a harangue.
SAY HENG [Local Government Official]
I ask the parents to come to school every five days to see how the teacher teaches our children. We should follow our children's study as well as the teacher's teaching.
VOICEOVER
A group of students, assisted by the support committee, then go to work clearing the front yard of a new satellite school of Reachea Nukol. This small school was built so the youngest children in the neighborhood don't have to travel so far to the big school.
SAY HENG
Now we cannot make it a Child-Friendly School because we only have three classrooms, but in the future we will. For example, when we asked them [parents] for poles to build the school fence, they brought them here. They also contributed money to clear the school ground. They are happy to have a good school building and to have good teachers for their children. They are convinced that their children will have good futures.
VOICEOVER
The hole they're filling is a bomb crater.
SAY HENG
It came from B-52 bombers. During the war period, many bombs were dropped on this area of Stung Treng.
VOICEOVER
Parents will teach a class at the school as part of a local life-skills program, showing children how to grow vegetables and dig fishponds. This program draws on the local community to teach practical skills to students beyond the usual subjects. Buthom and her friends take another life skills class that her parents and other local residents assist with. They learn classical Khmer dancing believed to date back more than a thousand years.
LONG KAN BUTHOM
My dance teacher is very strict. She doesn't allow us to chat with our friends. When the hand and foot bending session comes, we have to bend exactly for 15 minutes each style as she instructs us.
VOICEOVER
It's not Buthom's favorite class, but she appreciates its significance.
LONG KAN BUTHOM
For me the dancing is very important to raise Cambodian culture to a higher level.
LONG LYPO
Culture is part of our heart, because we like our culture. Khmer traditional dance, we can show to the foreigners, tell them about our culture, like praying.
VOICEOVER
The Khmer Rouge tried to stamp out the ancient art form and many dancers were killed. Now the old traditions are being revived. This dance incorporates Laotian themes. This region has many Lao speakers and other minorities and this life skills program caters to them outside the classroom where Khmer is the only language spoken. The dance class is mostly young girls, although it's open to both girls and boys.
LAY NONG
In Cambodia, more girls come to school now. They have equal rights. Before, parents kept their daughters at home, because they thought that education wouldn't help them. But now girls can do everything if they study. Even the poorest families, they try to send their daughters to school. The girls are likely to work harder than boys. They are smart and brave to ask and answer questions. Of course, boys are also smart. Both of them like studying.
VOICEOVER
We gave small, easy-to-use video cameras to Buthom and Bora to record their daily lives.
TITLE
Children's footage
VOICEOVER
After a quick lesson from our cameraman, they caught on fast. Bora recorded his sister's pretend marriage. Get together, get your head close to each other, he says. Buthom filmed a family outing to a restaurant in town. When we had met her earlier she told us she wanted to be a lawyer when she grew up, but her real passion was drawing. Her specialty: cartoon characters. She was just starting this one when we left so she filmed the final product to show us. They also shot plenty of footage in their classrooms. Buthom had a friend film her leading math class. Bora was a little less formal. And here the two students with their cameras, attended by their friends, come upon each other after class, one in sixth grade, the other in first grade, but only two years apart in age. In this isolated corner of Cambodia, this new brand of school is playing an important role in rebuilding education systems and societies and setting an example for other countries around the world.
RICHARD BRIDLE
This was actually one of the first places where we began to introduce the model, which has become something of a global model of Child-Friendly Schools. If you want to make sure that a particular concept is going to work, and that it is universal, you've got to do it somewhere difficult. Cambodia's probably quite a good example of various other countries around the world, countries that are in post-conflict, and there are, unfortunately, very, very many of those. We've had a number of studies that have been done on the Child-Friendly Schools here. We've incorporated lessons from those studies into how we roll out the model, but each one has continued to validate that this is an approach that is worthwhile, and the fact that the government has decided that this is mainstream policy, now, I think that's a very good indication that this is an approach that is indeed worthwhile.
NATH BUNROUEN
We hope that by 2010 we try to scale up at least 70 percent, at least 70 percent. We want to develop the country with education. This is a tool that can help Cambodia to develop their country, human resource, and to alleviate the poverty. Without education, we cannot.
VOICEOVER
And with education and new teaching methods, there's new hope that the children of Cambodia can forge a brighter future.
TITLE
[end credits]