UWS is the first of the ‘new design school’ in that it is still three classrooms but it is built on higher stilts than previous UWS schools have had. This allows for a cool, shaded area under the school, protects against flooding and gives good storage space below. There is a single toilet and a well.
The school, in Oi Ya Dai District near the Vietnam border, serves the Charai people. There are 120 families many of whom do not speak the Cambodian national language of Khmer. Being next to the Se San River, people rely on fishing and subsistence agriculture for survival. Unfortunately both these sources of income are under threat as hydro dams in Vietnam have reduced the fish stocks and village land is being eroded by rubber plantation development.
The school also faces challenges. This year we had to rely on untrained local indigenous teachers as there were no government staff available for such a remote area. These good people are trained by UWS and do their best but their capacity remains low: the children have lost some interest and attendance rates have fallen. Furthermore, through the dry season, the river was very low, exposing rarely seen parts of the river bed. Amongst this sand and grit small particles of gold are occasionally found and the children have abandoned school for gold prospecting.
The Cambodian UWS team is working hard to solve the problems. Solar power will enable evening classes to be held and we constantly work to improve our teachers’ skills. There is however no quick fix. We have asked the authorities for two trained teachers starting in October. The rains have begun and the river is now rapidly on the rise. No more prospecting! The other good news is that a bridge which was washed away two years ago, isolating the village even further has now been rebuilt, so that we can access the village by 4 x 4.
Padol Village is a special place. The people are always very friendly and the chief is a real character. We are seeking a new partner school to give extra support. All ideas and suggestions are welcome.