What if you sent your first grader to a school without any toilets or clean drinking water? Even more, what if your child didn't even know how to use a toilet? Those two things that American families take for granted are unheard of in some Cambodian schools.
This is the story of one school and how the community stood up to take action and improve the lives and education of their children.
For 5 years, enrollment rates at Rothanak Raem Primary School had steadily dropped. The community was losing faith in the school because the conditions of the school were so poor. The grass and bushes were overgrown, and even Samaritan's Purse (SP), who has been working in Poipet for several years, did not see the school till a recent survey.
The problems at this school resulted from poverty and poor water, hygiene and sanitation in the community. The school did not have any water for children to drink, and the toilets were not functional. We could see the poor sanitary conditions of the school yard, which had been used as a latrine.
Many students had diarrhea, and the average student missed class at least once a month because of illness. In our baseline survey, 17% said they practiced open defecation at the school. For those who don't know, that means pooping in the open!
Water for Kids also provided training on how to raise funds in their community and use the money for maintaining the water and sanitation system provided. After the training, the teachers called a meeting, inviting all the parents and community leaders. They used this opportunity to talk about the need for financial support for the school.
The principal showed the parents the improved environment, and encouraged the parents to send their children to study. He promised in return to be dedicated to both the education and health of the students.
The next year, enrollment shot up 21%, from 372 to 450 students. Teachers told SP staff that increase was directly related to the toilets and clean water. No other school in the area had such nice facilities.
With this increase, a new problem arose: space for the additional students. The teachers became worried about the space available for the students to study.
However, this brought an opportunity for more development of the school grounds. From the community’s financial support, the principal planted trees, made swings for the children, and continues to seek funds for more classrooms.
One of the parents said to the teachers, “Thank you so much for teaching my child how to wash their hands before eating and after using toilet. Now when they are at home they remind their brothers and sisters to wash their hands.”
The vice-principal, Mr. Horn, explained to Water for Kids staff, “The water and sanitation improvements are not only bringing good health to the students, but have started a chain reaction of support from the community because they can see immediate changes. Thank you, from our hearts, Samaritan’s Purse for serving the poor and for those who gave in Jesus’ name to help this school.”
For me, I have always loved serving and teaching children, which is why I love Samaritan's Purse and this project.
Now that I am a father myself, I feel even more passionate about it and hate to see children suffering. My heart breaks when I see the difficulties they have. I want to do all I can to help, even though it is overwhelming that there are so many needs. It often feels like trying to feed the 5,000 with only five loaves of bread.
But we as the body of Christ are called to a task that is bigger than can be accomplished by ourselves in order that the riches of God's glorious grace and love are made known.
So it's a constant reminder of my need to surrender and trust Him to work His miracles in and through me. I love how God always keeps His promises. He is always here for me and all of us no matter where we are - even in the darkest night.