On my first day at Grace House I was given the tour. They now have six classrooms. They are not the type of classrooms we are used to in England. These classrooms are a raised floor space with a roof made from weaved vine and tin ( I think) They now have electric in Grace House so each classroom has a couple of fans but to be honest in that heat they didnt make too much difference. They had benches for the children to sit and write on and a white board. Two of the six classes are kindergarden and their rooms were even more basic with no fans.
Each class has a name ( mine was Tigers & Rhinos) and each child is placed based on his or her English ability.
Grace House offers classes for the local community children from poor areas as a way to supplement their state school education and teach them English. This gives them more chances to get work if they can speak English.
I was told that the state school classes are very large and the classes are taught in such a way that the children basically listen and repeat or copy what the teacher says or does. They don’t have much chance to develop other key skills such as thinking for themselves- decision making, team work, using their imitative, being creative and obviously having a chance to practice their conversational English. All of which can give children more confidence.
Some of the children couldn’t always get to state school so Grace House was their lifeline to an education for which they were very grateful. Reasons for this varied from having to be a carer for younger siblings as a lot of families could have as many as 15 children in them, working to help support their families or because their family could not afford the school uniform, without which they cannot attend state school.
Apart from offering classes to the children, over the past 4 years Grace House has expended to support the needs of the local community.
Also available are adult classes so they can improve their English, a community centre were a youth club has been established and held several nights a week and a few days a week a class for disabled children has now been set up to give local families some respite.
There is now a shop at the front of the community centre selling local weaving crafts made in Grace House by some of the children’s families ( mothers, sisters, grandmothers etc) a fantastic ethical project that is sustainable.
There is now 2 workshops that have been set up to offer vocational training. The first group of trained electricians are out and about in the community fitting and rewiring for the electricity in the communities houses. A fantastic sustainable project that trains and employs local people into local jobs serving the community.
There are lots of plans to expand the project offering these skills to the children as part of the curriculum.
Areas of vocational learning are/ will be Electrical, woodwork/ carpentry and plumbing. There are two workshops set up already that have been donated and built to support this and although they could do with more resources what they really need is to train more Khmer people to become trainers therefore not relying on outside resources or volunteers once established.
Currently they learn English led by a khmer teacher with a volunteer to support and a topic covered by the volunteer (Me!) which can also include science, maths, art and reading during a week
The manager of Grace House, Bridget, is the only westerner employed by the project. Her husband Alan is a fulltime volunteer and project manager/creator of the vocational side of the project. All the other employed people are the Khmer teachers, office and kitchen staff.
On top of all this, they offer outreach support to the local community. And they are starting to grow there own organic products in the garden too! Phew!
The outreach programme is led by Dani, a Khmer qualified social worker who visits the families of the children if there is a problem or if the family have requested support.
I accompanied Dani on a home visit to a home of one of the children. Dani was going for two reasons. The first was the little 11 yr old girl hadn’t attended Grace House for 3 weeks and she wondered why and the second was the mother had asked for some financial support as the floor in their home was broken. If Grace House are to offer support like this, it must be assessed and normally things are put in order of urgency to support families most in need. This sort of area is were some of my donation will go to.
I wasn’t sure what to expect visiting a local Villiage and one of the families of the children in my class. I knew they were poor but it’s a harsh reality when you actually go inside and they are so humble and happy with their lot.
The house was a wooden room built on stilts, it had a set of stairs leading up to the opening- no door. It was one big room, empty apart from some clothes in one corner and some cooking equipment in another and unbelievably – a T. V. No beds. They all hudle together on mats – weaved and home made. Although, the most noticeable thing was the massive hole in the floor by the cooking equipment. One of the reasons Dani was here.
My head went in to a ‘ spot the dangers’ health and safety type quiz mode!
Number 1…a massive knife balancing on a chopping board…number 2…its over the edge of the hole…Number 3…children playing underneath…number 4 children playing around the room NEAR the hole!!! Yikes…and so on and so on.
They chatted in Khmer as I continued to make mental notes of likely causes of injury! They were a lovely family.
Last I heard, Dani told me this family were in line to get the floor fixed to make this a safe family home- all this through the donations towards Grace House- it’s something so simple but so important- the safety of this family.
All the above is amazing and inspirational to witness but the place that moved me the most and will stay with me forever was of course inside my classroom. I was placed with the Tigers & Rhinos…