Knar Village Learning Center Slated to Open
Last month, I posted a notice that we had withdrawn from Knar School in an article entitled “Toughest Decision Ever”. That title is a serious understatement. Withdrawing from Knar School was an emotional and very difficult decision, but one that had to be made. Let me get you updated now on how we worked to turn the “Toughest Decision Ever” into the “Best Thing to Happen, Maybe Ever.”
In keeping with Ponheary’s constant advice to “Light a candle rather than curse the dark”, we turned our attention away from the trauma of the withdrawal and toward what could be done next. We were absolutely not going to just abandon our 400 students there, or our very well trained teachers. If we can’t run a program at Knar School, then what CAN we do?
Lots, it seems!—and we are now full steam ahead, with the soon-to-be-opened Knar Village Learning Center.
At Knar School we had the following after school programs running:Technology Courses for High School students English classes for Grades 4-12 Science Lab for Grade 6 Arts & Crafts activities for Grades 4 and 5 Chess Club Ukulele Club
All of these programs will transfer to the Learning Center, which will open May 1st.
With the kind assistance of the Ministry of Education, we were able to remove all materials from the school, including a massive solar array, all the computers and musical equipment and the AV equipment for the science lab. Our three teachers, Chenda, Chamroeun and Ka’Oun, found a house in Knar Village that was rented for $40 per month and in early March all the equipment was installed at the house.
Phase one will be getting the computer classes rolling again. We are currently building the necessary furniture in order to be ready for English classes to resume, then we will start again with the clubs and arts and crafts. We will be looking for volunteers to come and help us out with that part.
Here is the most important thing that happened during many conversations we had with the parents in the village during all of this:
The parents in the community, especially the mothers, were deeply upset by our withdrawal from the school. We were actually somewhat surprised by their level of angst as it far exceeded the level of support we ever sensed we had from them. Understanding how we could have been so far off that mark is something I am examining closely.
Ponheary and I met with about 150 people (mostly the moms and some of the older students) at the new center on the day when we gathered them to discuss possible solutions. They were not only supportive in their understanding of why we left the school, but also resolute in their firm support of establishing the center. Beyond that, they asked for adult (Khmer Language) literacy classes and workshops on everything from domestic violence issues, to civil rights, to first aid and all manner of life skill classes.
A lot has changed in this community in the ten years we’ve been working there. Ten years ago the village would not have a) cared this much about these programs continuing for their children or b) imagined themselves attending classes. The adults at Knar Village are largely uneducated. What could it mean for the advancement of their children and for the community at large to have the adults also engaged in learning?
This very organic spread from the children to the adults regarding the transformative power of education is deeply satisfying. We cannot underestimate the power of these adults seeking education for themselves., especially the moms. It shows a complete shift in the mindset of Knar Village.
The obstacle is this:
Pilot projects for something we’ve never done before can be a difficult pitch to you, our supporters.
We are in the earliest stages of considering this pilot project to open classes for the parents, and we are committed to making it a reality. We have promised the community we would address these requests for adult education at the Center, but first, we need to get the projects that we’re already doing back up and running.
The work required to make this a reality includes finding an adult literacy teacher as well as either contracting the workshop piece to another organization or perhaps hiring a part-time social worker to run these workshops. Our work over the next few months will be to examine how best to deliver these services.
It’s always a risk to try something completely new. Even if that risk, when successful, would have extraordinary benefits, it is a risk nonetheless. We have seen many community projects brought by others in Knar Village thathave failed. What compels us is the 10-year relationship we have with the community and the trust we felt given to us on the day they gathered together and asked us very earnestly to not abandon their children and to include them in the work we were doing in the village.
This level of trust and communication is something we know no other organization has ever been able to build there. We are excited about what that relationship might bring.
We will be working on figuring out a budget for this pilot and I am “out in the world” right now, visiting donors in America and in Europe, hoping to find someone or a group of someones that will fund this amazing project.
We hope you’ll join us in making the new Learning Center a great success.