The Toughest Decision Ever.
By Lori Carlson
Ponheary started her work at Knar School in 2002. When I met her in 2005 it was at Knar School that I came to understand her work and decided I wanted to help her do it. To say that the children at Knar School are “important” to us is a gross understatement.
Many of you have come to Cambodia to work at Knar School and have developed relationships with students and teachers over the years. We know that many of you also hold the Knar children close to your hearts.
We made extraordinary progress at Knar School, building programs that work, against extraordinary obstacles. We’ve hit one that cannot be overcome, and it is fundamental: we have a growing lack of trust with the administration of the school.
There is a time when PLF needs to start standing back and let schools run on their own. We can’t stay at schools forever; our goals are to work with the school administration building competency so that it can run programs on it’s own. We spend years and years upskilling, building trust, building methodology, then slowly release our hands on programming and see if it can stand. Our process is “train, release and observe”. The thing that falls down, go back and pick it up, try something new, then gently release & observe again. The one thing that is absolutely required when we think about releasing is TRUST.
TRUST has been elusive at Knar School and we are helpless to do anything significant without it.
Pilfering is endemic and pervasive in Cambodia, everyone knows that, especially at the top where persons are above reproach and allowed to do what they want with impunity. For obvious reasons we cannot turn a blind eye to it when we see it. When we find irregularities we need to take action. Or we need to remove the possibility that they can occur in the first place. The former creates bad will. The latter creates a situation where we can never stop micro managing the school. So much of our success depends on the character of the top management at the school.
This nastiness eats a lot of time, is utterly demoralizing to all parties and inhibits progress. There is a threshold as to how much success we can have at a school where the administration is not “on the team”.
We certainly do have a fiduciary responsibility to you, our supporters, to not let your money be pilfered. Your trust is of the utmost importance. When we find it impossible to stop active pilfering and have exhausted all means at our disposal to mitigate that risk, we have no choice but to walk away.
Our team, with the backing of our partners at the Ministry of Education, has made the extremely difficult decision to withdraw from Knar School, effective immediately.
All of you who have worked at Knar School or have otherwise been amazed by the accomplishments of the students there will understand how painful this decision has been. We are committed to finding a way to keep the children at Knar from bearing the brunt of this action.
We will continue our high school scholarship students at Knar and yesterday we started working with our Knar staff (in whom we have invested years of training and have now lost their jobs) to open after school centers in the village for English and Technology classes. In due course we will put back in the music, chess and science clubs so well loved by the older students. We will send volunteers out when the dust has settled.
It will be the first time PLF has ever helped build programs outside a school gate. It runs counter to our mission that mandates we keep our work inside public schools; this exception is fueled by our refusal to let the children at Knar be the victims of these actions.
Ponheary is working with the Ministry now as we scout a new school in another District. The children there will be just as deserving of an education and with a principal who is “on the team”, we will be able to seamlessly transfer ten years of experience and get much accomplished.
We will take on this new school and we will provide services in the community for the children of Knar Village. We are determined to do both of these things and we know you will help us do it.
I invite anyone to please if you want to discuss this further. There is only so much I can say about “what happened” in a public space.
Please do stay tuned on facebook and in future newsletters about updates on our progress.
Rest assured we will find a way not to leave the children of Knar village behind and we will be looking for supporters to help us lift this new community education project. As we move toward the opening of a new school in the next months, we look forward to working with you there as well and want you to know we do appreciate your support and your trust as we move ever forward.
We are not discouraged by this, don’t you be either!