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5 January 2020 - Story

Working overtime for children’s futures in a small, remote village

Ms. Phat Heang and her two children live in Sdok Khlouk Village – a remote part of Pursat province situated in the floodplains of Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake – the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. The village where they live is quite small and isolated; there are only around 158 families with 603 people, including 115 children. To reach the village from the main national road in the province, it takes about an hour of driving on a small, bumpy dirt road through villages, farms, ponds and rice fields.

Ms. Heang divorced her husband around seven years ago, and now she raises her two children on her own, with the help of her relatives. She and some of her relatives, including her mother, live close together in a tight cluster of wooden homes in their family compound.

I am a single mother with two children, one daughter and one son living together [without a father] for almost 7 years,” she explained.

I sell Khmer cakes [steamed palm fruit and rice] or doughnuts to earn income to afford my children’s education. I earn 10,000 Riel [about US $2.50] per day and sometimes I have financial problems. Therefore, I have to go to bed early and I sometimes get up at 12AM to make the cakes. […] In the early morning, I bring my little girl Chakya to school, and then I start selling on my bicycle. After selling, I do some housework and cook meals for my children before they come back from school.” 

Despite the immense challenge of raising two children and earning the family’s income on her own, Ms. Heang has been actively involved in Save the Children’s Early Childhood Care and Development for Floating Villages project since it started in her village. This village is one of the communities where the project constructed an onshore preschool building.

I have been involved in the Early Childhood Care and Development [project] since 2013. I’m a Core Mother, responsible for mobilizing mothers [in the community] to join meetings and teaching children - helping children using recycled things to produce materials for learning, such as painting coloured [numbers] on snail shells for counting […]

Most mothers, especially in this remote area, are easy to communicate [with] and to [get] involved in the meetings regularly, but some mothers do not involve with us. Therefore, I try to deal with those mothers by explaining the benefits of the meeting: ‘If we want our children to be educated, we should frequently join the parenting meeting,’ [Ms. Heang says to them]. Before Save the Children’s project intervention, most parents did not enrol their children to study in preschool because they think they would just send their children to first grade at the age of 5-6 years old. Their children did not learn quickly or know [how to speak/read] basic Khmer.

Before, parents in this community used violence to educate their children, but after mothers joined the parenting meeting, they now slightly change their behaviour to educate their children positively. The parents see the benefit of producing recycled [learning and playing] materials, and their children are happy and enjoy going to school, so they regularly come and [became] involved with this project. They send their children to school at an early age […] 

I always bring my daughter Chakya to the meetings. I applied the lessons with her and when I am back from meeting, I ask Chakya to count the numbers of stairs and the pillow before bed. Now I see my daughter’s results, she is very active and clever. She can remember things quickly, even the songs. When the teacher calls for volunteer, she often raises her hand and reads the poetry smoothly.

Ms. Heang’s daughter, Chakya, 6, lioves the activities of the preschool classes “The group of mothers taught me how to [make] chopsticks into rainbows, squares, triangles, and circles. I also can sing a song and draw pictures. My mother applied lessons with me after the parent meetings; she taught me a song [to sing] before going to bed. Now I can draw pictures like a house and flower,” explained Chakya.

Even though I’m the only one who earns income to support [my children], I am committed to [ensuring] my children are able to access education. I don’t want my children to work as a farmer me because farmers work very hard and sometimes we get a small harvest – I want my children to ‘hold the pen’ [have an office job] and work in a nice place.”

For all her hard work, the benefits seem to be paying off. Ms. Heang’s daughter Chakya is a bright and cheerful girl who is confident and curious to learn about different topics.

When asked what she wanted to be when she was older, Chakya said happily, “In the future, I want to be a translator and I will learn English, Korean, and Chinese.” She then began to list all the different language she wants to learn.