COMPARED to most schools in this country, the classrooms at Evergreen Community come as a breath of fresh air. The school block is painted in a bold blue outside and the classrooms look clean and tidy.
Along the walls, charts depict the Khmer and English alphabets. Next to them are children’s hand paintings and pictures of animals. This being the Year of the Rabbit, bunnies are very much in evidence. A sign on the wall announces: “Let’s spend ten minutes to read an English book at home.” Even the toilets are clean.
Established six years ago, Evergreen is the personal project of Long Lypo, with backing from the Austrian organisation, Children Planet.
“We have more than 300 children, divided into two groups, one in the morning and one in the afternoon,” said Long Lypo. Children from three to 18 receive tuition in English and Khmer, as well as breakfast and lunch. Everything is free.
These are some of the most underprivileged children in Stung Treng. “Some of them are orphans, some of them are affected by HIV and many of them are from poor families,” he said.
Long Lypo himself was an orphan by the age of six. His father was a policeman killed by the Khmer Rouge, which also claimed the lives of his mother and brother. His childhood has had a bearing on the children selected for schooling at Evergreen.
“Most of them are children of retired police officers and soldiers,” he says. “They don’t have money to send them to private schools. That’s why I had the idea to provide them with free education.”
Children are taught in classes of 35-45 by the four Khmer teachers and three volunteer foreign teachers. As there are not enough classrooms, children are taught in the canteen and an outside area Long Lypo intended to be a restaurant.
As the name suggests, Evergreen is not just about teaching English and Khmer. Children are given instructions on environmental issues and primary health care, such as brushing your teeth properly and washing hands before eating. There is a water filtration pot in each classroom that provides children with clean water.
“We have a small project on environment issues,” he says. “Last year we organised a plastic campaign. Children walked along the road to announce to people how to take care of our community; to know how to keep our environment clean.”
For Long Lypo, it is important that the children take the lessons they learn at school not just out to their community, but into their own homes.
“I tell them ‘If you do not keep your house clean, I will not allow you to study here’,” he says.
A community-based organisation rather than an NGO, Evergreen funds repair work to the roof of the local hospital, as well as digging wells in several places throughout the community. It also aims to provide the children with a sustainable future.
“We are building a tourism training centre where we will also invite visitors to stay,” says Long Lypo. The centre will have six upstairs rooms for tourists as well as a restaurant and training room downstairs.
“We will provide basic knowledge about guiding and catering and housekeeping.” Ultimately Long Lypo wants his students to find jobs in tourism, housekeeping, hospitality and catering in Stung Treng.