Monday, 11 February 2013

Youth School – helping the young urban poor of Phnom Penh

Set along the railroad tracks in Phnom Penh in a shantytown slum community, Youth School is a community centre / school which brings education and health projects to children and young people using a variety of programs and activities. Run by Empowering Youth in Cambodia (EYC) and funded by CamKids, this small school is showing some very effective ways to give young people a hand up and have fun along the way.

Started in October 2009, Youth School’s programs include free English and computer classes, medical and dental care, a library, as well as weekend activities including leadership development and field trips Youth School also runs sports programs including cycling, yoga and an under-14 football team. The school was initially started by student volunteers from EYC’s Lakeside School who wanted to share their experiences and talent in a new community, and over time has incorporated professional teachers as funds became available, thanks to CamKids.

Youth School has approximately 100 students attending daily and is primarily an after-school program since government schools teach only 4 hours each day. During the morning and afternoon sessions, students are primary school age, while in the evening they are in high school and even some university, as well as youth who have dropped out of school and are working, unemployed, or underemployed.

At the heart of the school is some excellent staff including Heab Sokhuoch, the English teacher from 5:30 to 7:30pm (2 different levels), who by day is also the EYC program manager.   He is a graduate of the government university “Institute of Foreign Languages” and has a bachelor’s degree in English Teaching and has a grasp of the English language far beyond most non-native speakers. Sokhuoch has allowed his students to become a part of his life and his work is more than a job. “My students get involved in all the EYC activities, and have the highest participation in the cycling team that I manage” he says with pride. “Youth School is more than a school since it is also a favorite gathering place for young people who are on their way to success. The kids really enjoy going to class. Outside of the school are people drinking and gambling, but inside we always try to provide a positive place for them,” said Sokhuoch.

Other key staff include university students Mr. Khorn Kungkea, the school manager, who lives on site, and Ms. Khom Pheary, the English teacher in the morning and afternoon. Pheary will soon graduate with an English Teaching degree. The school also has 2 assistants to teach ABCs to our youngest students and 3 computer teachers for classes throughout the day. The school provides 8 hours of English and 6 hours of computer lessons each day.

An example of the many activities made available to the youth is a series of training sessions recently  held on Job Hunting Skills, over 6 Sunday mornings, facilitated by EYC’s job placement officer Sor Sophea, and included a speaker from Nokia Corporation who shared what he is looking for in potential job applicants. Graduates all now have their CV’s ready and feel more confident to seek quality work.

EYC has also had great results in getting kids from the community who had dropped out of the government school to re-enrol, with regular follow up to make sure they stay in school and that public school teachers don’t ask for money from the students. 

Youth School has plenty of challenges to be able to work in the demanding slum environment. In late 2011 the previous landlord decided to cancel the rental contract.  The school scrambled to find a new site and was lucky to have found the current location, which is bigger and actually a better space for a school. The school has regular electrical outages and is near a sewage canal, which creates a bad smell for the children coming and going to the school. A small problem for the school, but a very sad reality for the families who live along it. 

In 2013 Youth School plans to provide additional life skills trainings for our teenaged students to prepare them to navigate the many challenges that come with being a young adult, including relationships, preparation for university, and conflict resolution.

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