Monday, February 16, 2015

Smart Kids

Hello Everyone,

We would like to update you about a program that K.I.D.S. implemented about four years ago for 23 young people ages 12 and up. For those new to our posts, the Smart Kids program is for rural children who live in an area called Kompong Khleang on the shores of the Tonle Sap Lake in Central Cambodia.

Family incomes are very low in this area and derived mostly from fishing and labour. The main sources of employment are the brick factories. Sadly, not only do the parents work in the factories, but the children from about the age of six or seven upwards also work there due to low wages that are paid to the parents. The working conditions are not good with many of the children operating dangerous machinery and stacking bricks in the kilns.

The Smart Kids program supports one child from each family and assists them in all their education related expenses, such as: uniforms, school supplies and the all important bicycle so they can commute back and forth from school to home. In addition, we provide Cambodian school costs and have hired an English teacher to instruct them every afternoon. Hak, the program manager, supplements the English classes with tutoring every Sunday as well as counselling and moral support for the children. We recently brought out some donated computers and the students are very keen to learn computer skills.

After unpacking the small laptops and helping them to get started with typing tutorials, one boy was typing with the correct fingering on the keys, slowly but accurately, within five minutes. Stunned we asked him if he had ever used a computer before and he said no. He then produced a photocopy of the silhouette of the right and left hand with all the corresponding letters and numbers written on each finger. He had memorized each finger and had been using an imaginary keyboard to remember the fingering at home. With the  enthusiasm expressed by the other children they are not far behind him.

Lekena in front of her
You would never know by the crisp, clean look of their school uniforms the difficult housing situations these kids face. Some families are provided with very substandard housing either in the factory itself or on the factory grounds. We feel very sad that we cannot help the children in the factories as the owners will not allow it. Many of the families outside the factories are squatters, so we cannot improve their situations either because they do not own the land and cannot rebuild. One of the worst housing situations we saw is for a girl in the program named Lekena. Lekena's house was literally falling down the dirt slope. The family luckily owns the land where their dilapidated, rotten and crumbling home/store sits, maybe 3 feet from the edge of the narrow road, as cars pass by dangerously close. The family sells small things from the house to get by.

Three feet from the road

Slipping down the slope

Lekena's mother built the existing house, as a single mom, ten years ago while she struggled with a serious heart condition. While building the house, she could work for only a few minutes at a time and had to stop to rest and catch her breath (fortunately by another stroke of good luck, her heart was fixed by an NGO last year). Lekena's mom remarried and together with the dream of a more substantial home they all worked, saved and bought the main support poles and floorboards in the hope of buildings a more permanent and nicer house for their family of six. In addition to the small store they operate out of the house, Lekena's mom knits hats for a bit of extra money and her husband is learning small engine repair.

Long story short K.I.D.S. provided funds for roofing, walls, concrete columns and some more structural wood to add to what they had accumulated over several years. The family then called on friends and family to help them. K.I.D.S. provided a bit of funding for a builder to oversee all twenty-some people that volunteered with the building. The new house, though not totally completed, is well on the way and Lekena and her family can finish the rest by themselves.

The old house, the new house and Lekena's family
It will be a relief for us to know that when the rainy season comes, the family will no longer have a muddy dirt floor, a very compromised roof overhead and will no longer have to worry about being injured by a car while inside their home as they are now off the road. They could not thank us enough and in turn we pass their thanks on to all of you.

Ten new Smart Kids
We are also happy to say that thanks to the Compassionate Eye Foundation, ten more young people will be sponsored for this program. This brings the number to 33 students. It is our hope and theirs that through education these great kids can break the cycle of poverty and child labour and assist their families in the future.

All the best,
Rick and Adrianne