Denied a full education in her youth, a mother is determined to educate the children
Sitting in the home-based classroom under her traditional stilt home, Mrs. Vet Savin, a community preschool teacher becomes melancholic while describing her previous life and poor background.
Mrs. Savin, 36, lives in a small village in Reang Til Commune in Cambodia’s western Pursat province. The commune is located in the floodplains on the southern banks of the great Tonle Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, and a region of central importance for Cambodia’s food supply in both modern and historical times. Mrs. Savin lives with her husband, who makes a living as a fisherman in the lake and surrounding areas. They have two sons: Karunapich, 12, a student in fifth grade, and Sothymongkul, five, a preschooler.
One of the reasons it is difficult for Mrs. Savin to talk about her past is because she only attended school until sixth grade. As is common for rural families facing hardship, and particularly for girls, she was compelled to drop out of school to help earn money to support her family. She did so by selling vegetables from a small boat around the floating villages. The poor conditions of the roads on the mainland and seasonal flooding in her village also discouraged her from traveling to school.
Mrs. Savin continued to earn money by selling vegetables into her adult years. She would load a small boat with vegetables and travel around the floating houses, selling produce to the different households. She could typically earn around 100,000 KHR per day (around $25 USD).
Previously, a typical day for Mrs. Savin would involve getting up in the early morning to do some cleaning around the house and cook food, and then she would go out to buy produce to sell from her boat. During that time, she would spend the whole day traveling around selling vegetables, so she didn’t have much time to spend with her two sons.
Even though she was busy working and had never finished school, Mrs. Savin’s personal dream was to be a teacher. She always felt curious to learn, and she had a love for children. Even before Save the Children began working in her village, Mrs. Savin had tried to start a kind of preschool at her house. Her house was already a safe and friendly environment where many of the children in the community came to play. She kept in contact with her neighbours and would call the children to come over to play and learn. She had tried to share with them what she had learned in school; mostly she would try to teach them the Khmer alphabet and pronunciation. She wanted the children in her community to have a complete education, unlike her own experience.
She really liked working with children, but because of her low education she felt hopeless, and never seriously thought she would reach her dream of being a professional teacher.
In 2016, Save the Children started implementing the Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) project in Mrs. Savin’s community. The project staff heard good things from her neighbours and quickly recognised her hard work, personal initiative, and sincere interest and passion to work for the benefit of young children. After receiving recommendations from her neighbours, the local commune council selected her to be a parenting facilitator to help teach parents during the monthly parent meetings established by the project. At first, she felt self-conscious and did not dare to accept the position. However, after some encouragement from her husband and the other parents, she agreed to take the role. Soon thereafter she was asked to be a community ECCD teacher in the village, using the space under her house as a community ECCD centre.
She explained, “Before I never thought that I could teach or become a teacher or facilitator because I am not a highly educated person, but now I am not afraid to share my knowledge and teach the students at my home, and my husband also supports and encourages me with my work. I feel proud to be a core mother and ECCD teacher…”
Now Mrs. Savin feels positive about the present because she has achieved something that she never thought would happen. With support from the project, she has attended different training courses to build her capacity, and she also completed 35 days of community preschool teacher training, a national requirement of the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport for all early childhood education teachers. “I will try my best to teach the [young] children in my community so that they can get ready for first grade, [and learn] life skills. I will use all the knowledge I have to help all of them in order not to have a low education like me… I would like to say thank you to Save the Children [for] helping me build the capacity to be a parenting facilitator, and especially to have supported me to complete the ECCD teacher training course for 35 days,” she said.
Now, Mrs. Savin’s daily routine has also changed. She still wakes up in the early morning and does chores around the house. But now instead of loading her boat with vegetables, Mrs. Savin prepares her home-based classroom and teaches the preschool class from 7:00 am to 9:30 am with 22 students (14 girls). She no longer sells vegetables, but she still supplements her preschool teacher’s income by selling clothing from her home.
Mrs. Savin is dedicated to her role, she spends some of her spare time in the evenings to prepare different learning materials for her classroom, and has also set up some games for the young children to play with. Save the Children has helped support her home-based classroom by providing materials and ongoing technical support and capacity building to improve the classroom and learning environment for the children.
With her distinctive humble and determined character, Mrs. Savin described some of the lessons she has learned through her involvement with the project and her belief in the benefits of education, “After I became an ECCD teacher and core facilitator in my village, I found that education is very important for every child [and] they must receive [an education] without discrimination. All parents must send their children to school so that they can equally receive education services and [learn] skills for their future life. I will [support] my sons to study higher [education]…”