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Students at Bonteay Pranak Primary School.
Students at Bonteay Pranak Primary School.

Sustainable Schools make a difference in Kampong Speu

ne American lady working to increase pay for teachers and therefore enhance education in Cambodia is Kari Grady Grossman of Sustainable Schools International of Ft Collins, Colorado.

Her interest in Cambodia can be traced back to when she adopted an infant Cambodian boy, now known as Grady Grossman, who celebrated his 13th birthday Monday in Ft Collins, Colorado.

Grossman is the author of two books on Cambodia, one called Bones that Float, a story of her adoption experience, and the other called Teacher Absent Often, about her experiences in the education sector in Cambodia.

“Teachers are not paid enough and they have no housing, no water and can’t afford to do their jobs,” Grossman said in an interview on Monday.

The NGO supports four schools in the Aural district of Kampong Speu, three primaries and one secondary school. A total of nearly $500,000 has been spent in support of the Sustainable Schools programs since 2008, averaging about $80,000 per year.

“Our goal is to increase attendance and change the curriculum especially in secondary school because there are a lot of drop-outs who feel the school is not worth their time,” Grossman said. “They don’t see the end result.”

Sustainable Schools International has set up a microfinance organisation called Community Prosper Bank from which students and teachers can get loans from about $50 to $1,000.

“I started out as a do-gooder and figured out you had to run it like a business,” Grossman says.

The Community Prosper Bank started with $3,000 and now is up to $16,000, has 61 customers and chargers interest of 3 per cent per month.

“For rural schools to operate they need to generate both human resources and financial resources to support it in the local community,” Grossman said. “That’s why we designed the bank and the human resources development team is the Leadership Academy.”

The Leadership Academy consists of a dormitory in the Thmey district of Phnom Penh where scholarship and loan recipients can stay while they carry out secondary school and university courses in Phnom Penh.

The high school students are sent to Hun Sen High School located off Hanoi Road toward the airport where the Leadership academy is located. A total of 19 students, boys and girls, are now in the program receiving housing, supplemental training in leadership and attitude change.

“We pay tuition and books,” Grossman said. “Our approach is they are learning a skill and the certificate means you can apply to our scholarship program.”

Sustainable Schools International’s man on the ground is Cambodian returnee Paul Alan Chuk, who had served in the Lon Nol Army prior to the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia.

“I stripped off my uniform and blended in with the villagers,” he said.

After immigrating to the US and raising a family near Tampa, Florida, he returned to participate in Cambodia’s development. He’s been here for four and a half years now and serves as Program Director of the Leadership Academy in Phnom Penh Thmey but also spending time in the villages at Kampong Speu.

“He’s a natural teacher,” Grossman said.

Chuk said people watched in amazement as he personally got down and cleared out muddy garbage from around the school. Since that time, he’s seen attitudes change.

Paul Alan Chuk and Kari Grady Grossman of Sustainable Schools International.
Paul Alan Chuk and Kari Grady Grossman of Sustainable Schools International.

“Local people who aren’t fighting all the time who can cooperate and get things done,” he said. “If you want something to be sustainable, you have to have people who can do it.”

Grossman and Chuk are proud that the secondary school they support in Kampong Speu graduates 90 per cent of students from the ninth grade which is nine times the national average.

We are excited about micro loan program,” Chuk said. “My dream is earn enough to pay the teachers starting in the rural district who make $70 per month from the government and we pay $50 more,” he said. “Teachers will be really happy with $200 to $300,” he said.

Grossman said the most satisfying part of the job is watching the transformation from fearful to confident students.

“When the kids first come to us they are fearful, like deer in the headlights and they don’t think and express and connect thoughts and ideas. Now they have embraced this with gusto and go back to the village and conduct their own workshops all around the idea of better leadership, supporting schools, better education and picking up garbage. We’re getting a lot more community involvement than other schools get, and its cool,” she said.

In addition to their Cambodian boy, Grossman and her husband George, an accountant and the owner of Happy Lucky Tea House in Fort Collins, have an adopted daughter from India.

“We are now in four government schools in Kampong Speu. We build teacher housing, water supply, pick up the garbage, build a fence and all of this is done by getting the community involved,” she said. “We support the number one school and number one teachers, rated in that district.”

Next on the agenda is a Community Enterprise school with a focus on vocational training, sewing, beautician training, motor repair and agriculture including beekeeping and aquaculture. Sustainable Schools International has a detailed and informative website located at http://www.sustainable schoolsinternational.org/

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