I have been with Senhoa’s Lotus Kids’ Club for just over a year. I have been in Siem Reap for almost 2 years. It has been wonderful working with the dedicated folks of Senhoa, both Westerners and Khmers. There are challenges of course, yet the success of the program due to the hard working Khmer staff far outweigh those challenges. Watching the children grow and learn and seeing the joy on their faces as they gain knowledge and have fun is almost indescribable. As many people coming to Cambodia my goal was to help the people in any way that was most useful. I was lucky to eventually find a place that made the best use of my knowledge and experience, almost 25 years working with children and families. Thank you Senhoa.
My initial role was to help set up the preschool space, add to the learning materials and teach the teachers about early childhood development/education in the pre-school program. I have also been involved in the development of the Community Afternoon Program, which serves children 3-18 year olds. I help with the decision making and general direction of LKC. However let me state that the director, Sophy, is quite capable and is a good problem solver who has great ideas and vision. The teachers also are amazingly fast learners and have been accepting of this ‘new’ way of teaching and working with children. Naturally skeptical at first of implementing these ‘barang’ ideas regarding children they have come to accept and even embrace the methods after seeing positive changes in the children.
And of course for all of us we are doing the work to help the children and the families of this community that so desperately need support. So let me give some examples of our work.
I’ve watched so many of the children grow and learn. On her 1st day one girl just stood by the door and sobbed. The next couple of days she gradually moved closer, observing the action. By week’s end she was cautiously participating. In the next several weeks she would mostly play alone, eventually she joined others in play. She didn’t seem to talk or smile though. This gradually changed after a few months and now she’s made friends, she’ll sing songs, and often will flash smiles. She’s bloomed thanks to the patience and support of the teachers. She’s a bright, organized kid who will attend the best primary school in the Fall. A tough school to get into but accomplished through Sophy’s thoughtful persistence. My guess is she’ll excel.
There’s one little guy who was a challenge not wanting to participate in activities, starting conflicts with other kids and generally vying for attention with negative behavior. He seemed to have a face of anger and sadness. It took a little time but this is the kid now who is the 1st to help clean up at program’s end. And I love his boisterous laugh. He’s still a bit of a wise guy though now it’s not mean spirited but joyful. It reinforced my beliefs about young children and how they gain confidence and make appropriate choices if they are in the right environment with caring and supportive teachers. He will also attend school in the Fall and I have no doubt he’ll be a willing learner.
I think about the 2 little guys who were in conflict it seemed constantly. After weeks of appropriate support and intervention these 2 guys are the best of buddies, of course with occasional conflicts but usually easily resolved. They are the 2 kids that are constantly on the move and together find ways to use materials and equipment creatively. I wish I knew what they talk to each other about, they seem to be always jabbering about something as they play. These kids have shown me once again that my ideas may be ok but they have their own agenda. I brought in pieces of hose and funnels for the water table thinking they’d be great to pour the water through. They used them as a telephone line talking and listening to each other through the hoses and funnels and laughing hysterically. They both can be focused on an activity for long periods now also, one prefers building w/ legos, the other likes puzzles. They are fun to watch. They will continue in our pre-school program for another year.
These are just a few examples of the wonderful work the teachers are doing. In the pre-school program our goals are to get the children ready to learn, ready for school. We want them to have a thirst for knowledge, the confidence and persistence to succeed and a belief that they are competent, valued individuals. The belief that they can make a difference in their lives and in the world is what we try to instill in them.
The Community Afternoon Program has become a successful and popular program. Lately we will have up to 40 kids attending a session. We struggled at first trying to figure out how can we make this work with such a large age span, 3-18. After many discussions and experimenting with different ideas we have developed a program that can address the needs of the varied aged kids. I admit I was always reluctant to work with older children but these kids have taught me how much fun and satisfying that work can be.
I am truly impressed with the older kids. Their creativity, intelligence and talents are a wonderful surprise. There are several kids that show real artistic abilities. We’ve recruited a few of those kids to help lead activities for the kids. One young girl around 12 or 13 has lead a craft project bringing in her own idea. We are trying our best to support and encourage these children as they all live in challenging conditions and live hand to mouth with the real possibility of not having enough to eat. Yet these kids are thoughtful, caring and still have a zest for life. I think and hope we are providing a way to express themselves or at the very least learn about who they are and what potential they have. I’m talking about all the kids not just the artistically talented ones but the kid who masters the hula hoop or completes a complicated puzzle. I hope we provide experiences that boost self confidence and lead children on a path to success in whatever they endeavor to accomplish. In any case big kids are fun.
Recently the teachers began teaching cooking one day and sewing another couple days. The teachers started these sessions after brainstorming different ideas. They just took off with the ideas which are popular and clearly a success, we may need another sewing machine soon.
After a year my role with LKC is changing. The teachers are well equipped to run the programs without my direct support. I will continue to teach about childhood development/education introducing more in depth concepts. I will continue to be involved in the planning and decision making. I have already introduced the practice of supervision for the teachers. And I have started and will continue to teach Ratha, the Social Worker, the principles and challenges of Social Work. I will spend more time enriching the programs including the professional and educational development of the staff. Perhaps I will eventually work myself out of my job. Sustainability is the mantra here and it will be a good thing.
Please understand the teachers have little if any formal training in teaching young children. They are caring and willing to learn and as I said do well with the children. Ratha, who also teaches, is the designated Social Worker, though with very little professional training. Fortunately he seems to have a natural affinity for Social Work. What I mean by that is that his sensibilities and demeanor seem to be in line with Social Work principles. He seems to gain rapport easily with parents and appears non-judgemental in his manner. He is great with the kids, caring, calm, gentle but firm. So you may wonder how do I know this considering I do not understand Khmer. Well communication is about 90% non-verbal. Also I see him interact with parents and kids, the kids especially just appear to trust him. At the monthly parent meeting/rice giveaway he always seems to get the parents laughing at the start of his talk. You can learn some of those basic Social Work skills but it’s good to have some naturally.
Let me close by commending the great working relationship I have with Debra, the Country Director. Her hard working ethic, caring and dedication to the success of LKC has made my job easier and inspired me to give my all. Deb is so very supportive with a perspective that is most useful. She is a bright and lovely young women with many talents. I also have to commend Lisa and Anh, the folks who make it all possible from thousands of miles away. I feel so very supported and welcomed in my work with Senhoa. Their hard work and dedication to the families and too kind words regarding my work are also an inspiration and greatly appreciated. Yes I am lucky to be a part of Senhoa, thanks.
Senhoa LKC Project Consultant