Global Playground's School in Cambodia Opens with Fanfare

Monday, March 16, 2009 | posted by Global Playground News |
It is common in Cambodia that Buddhist pagodas and schools share property. Both religion and education are central to Cambodian villages. Global Playground's five-room school in the Koh Kehl village is no exception, with Buddhist monks having graciously allowed classes to be held in their pagoda while the school was being built. It was therefore fitting that the monks began the school's opening ceremonies with incense and chanting before the hundreds in attendance and Global Playground's representatives, who were ushered before the monks to kneel in participation.

When Global Playground's representatives rose to their feet, the area before them was peppered with local government officials; hundreds of smiling school children, parents, and grandparents; and other proud members of the village, all sitting under elaborately colored tents. Global Playground Advisory Committee member Annie Yehl marveled, "The entire village was there to support the school! It really showcased how important education is to the people in the village and how they really saw this as an opportunity for their children to have better lives or just to enrich their lives." Global Playground "want[s] to have more schools like this" around the world so that even "more people can get excited about educating their children," Yehl added.

All these happy voices rang as several school children--members of the coveted government scout program--raised the Cambodian flag and led the singing of the Cambodian national anthem. The Minister of Education for Cambodia and the head of education for the local school district both gave lengthy speeches, which although presented in the native language of Khmer no doubt commemorated the school's opening, stressed the importance of education for the future of Cambodia, and thanked Global Playground for its assistance. Board member Doug Bunch remarked, "It is very moving to see that Global Playground is having such a broad impact."

This outpouring of local support was no accident. When Global Playground undertakes a project, it strives to find partnering organizations with strong local connections and a robust track record of building schools. "Global Playground utilizes a set of approximately ten criteria," said Bunch, "to identify ideal partners for [its] projects, with local government connections one of the chief criteria." For Cambodia, that partnering organization clearly was American Assistance for Cambodia (AAfC), which has successfully built more than four hundred viable schools. For the Koh Kehl school, AAfC provided the necessary in-country support and secured matching funds for Global Playground's $13,000 contribution in the form of a loan from the Asian Development Bank to the Cambodian government. Importantly, as board member Doug Smith acknowledged, "AAfC has executed an agreement with the Cambodian Ministry of Education that Cambodia will support the school and make it its own." This link between the government and the school "stresses a key part of Global Playground's mission to empower the local communities where our schools are located," Smith said.

-Jennifer Rinker

Education Key to Alleviating Child Trafficking in Cambodia

Wednesday, March 11, 2009 | posted by Global Playground News |
Last January, Global Playground had the opportunity to visit the Sao Sary Foundation ("SSF"), located an hour's drive outside of Cambodia's capitol city of Phnom Penh. SSF was founded in 2006 to "help improve the living standard of the poorest of the poor and vulnerable families . . . and to develop support for the education of orphans and other vulnerable children." The ultimate goal of SSF is to ensure that vulnerable children are kept safe from all forms of violence, exploitation, and abuse, especially child trafficking. This was also the lifelong goal of the foundation's namesake, Sao Sary, deputy chief of Takeo province in Kus commune, who was gunned down after intervening in a robbery.

SSF runs a house where students live so they can attend school, develop skills, and generally be in a safer environment than they might otherwise be in their own homes. Children at SSF are considered those particularly susceptible to being trafficked, such as those who have been trafficked before, who live well below the poverty line, or who come from single-parent households or families with physical disabilities and low earning potential. In addition, the beauty of a child and lack of access to education also make a child a likely target for trafficking.

To contribute to their keep and to support SSF, the girls who live at SSF spend hours on end making hundreds of elaborate flowers fashioned out of metal rods and colorful nylon, which are then sold at market for use in weddings or other ceremonies. But not all of the organization's work is at the home itself--much of what the organization does extends into the community. Global Playground saw SSF's outreach efforts firsthand when it toured the Cambodian countryside and visited with several of the families that SSF is helping. One family consisted of a single mother and her daughter who were living in a dilapidated structure, but because the home had no walls the daughter was in constant danger of abduction and trafficking given her beauty. SSF is rebuilding the home. In other cases, SSF teaches families how to run a business and provides them with startup capital to do so. For example, SSF taught one mother whom Global Playground visited how to raise fish and grow rice and morning glories (a marketable vegetable in Cambodia) so that she could keep her family out of poverty and her daughters safe.

Global Playground visited SSF to better understand the importance of bolstering education in Cambodia. Board member Doug Smith stated, "Part of the reason Global Playground is operating in Cambodia is because there is child trafficking and education is a means to alleviate it." Although SSF's goal is not education alone, Global Playground does see education as the ultimate preventative measure. "If kids are in school and gaining education to allow them to enter jobs successfully and earn decent income, then trafficking is not as serious of a risk," said board member Doug Bunch.

During its visit, Global Playground purchased the entire inventory of the girls' nylon flowers and will sell them at Global Playground's March 27 event in Washington, DC at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

-Jennifer Rinker

To read the profile of one of the families SSF is helping and to view pictures from Global Playground's visit with the family, click here.