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GET REAL: Election Unrest and Flooding Create Massive School Hurdles

28 October 2013
“Get Real” will be a regular post from Ponheary, Lori or Travis about real challenges we face daily in the operation of Ponheary Ly Foundation.

By Travis Thompson, PLF Executive Director

Since mid-July we’ve been up against some of the biggest challenges we’ve ever faced in terms of getting school information about our students.

Get Real

We knew the election of Cambodia’s Prime Minister was on its way July 28, and we knew it was going to be heated.  We weren’t blind to the fact that we were going to see some uncertainty and delays around the time our Grade 9 and 12 students were going to be taking the national exams.  It’s no secret that many public school teachers stop their classes to run election polling locations.  So, we expected some hiccups in getting exam scores for our new scholarship students–the scores that help us determine if they’ll be sponsored by PLF.

But we never imagined just how bad it would get.

election 3

Sam Rainsy’s campaign caused gridlock on the national Highway in Siem Reap.

As Cambodia’s opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, was suddenly being allowed back into the country after being in exile, as his campaign swooped the country by storm with hundreds of thousands of supporters flooding national highways and shutting down the country’s biggest cities, we were trying to put our students through summer school to prepare them for their exams.  We spent a significant amount of money putting students into these classes which are necessary to give them a chance of getting adequate scores.

When it came time to sit for the exams, students sat, but nothing happened.  Delays related to the election and ensuing uncertainty of the election’s outcome lasted weeks, wasting our students’ time.  They were left sitting in the heaviest of rain, waiting.  Our kids at Srayang Dorm went through an especially frustrating situation after they traveled two hours on a crowded taxi to the district town to take their scheduled exams.  When they arrived, officials told them “Nevermind!”.  So, our students had to turn around and travel another two hours to get home, all because no one bothered to tell them rain and election confusion had cancelled their exams.

rainsy 2

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s campaign caused excitement, and a bit of chaos in front of PLF’s office.

Not to mention, PLF’s office staff members had our own challenges with simple things like getting to the office.  One morning as I rode my bicycle to the office, a huge political campaign shut down one of the city’s main roads, forcing me to take a longer route.  Another morning, Sam Rainy’s campaign shut down most of Siem Reap’s roads, including the one our office is on.  Lori Carlson took pictures of the chaos from the second floor of our building.

On top of the political unrest  and confusion, Cambodia was hit by unusually bad flooding that wreaked parts of the countryside.  In Siem Reap, workers released a dam to relieve flooding on the

Flooding made getting in many schools difficult or impossible.

city, however, that re-routing of water caused flooding to become worse in the countryside near our schools, making it impossible for many students to get out of their homes.  We got phone calls, heard from our teachers, and even saw picture posts from students on Facebook—all messages telling us they were having to stay home to help their families deal with the quickly rising water.

road to KK

One of our trips to Koh Ker was nearly called off after our van had to pass through water above the exhaust pipe.

The flooding caused further issues for PLF because a huge part of our secondary school scholarship selection process is interviewing incoming Grade 10 students to vet them and to meet their families, to determine if they truly need our support.  But, with impossible road conditions in rural areas, we had to push back interviews again and again.

We are happy to report, we now have nearly all the information we need, including exam scores.  For the most part, new secondary school scholarships have been awarded.  And, you’ve funded all of our incoming students.  We can’t thank you enough for your patience as we’ve worked through these trying times the past few months.