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School: A new hope for Oudom

Wed 19 Aug 2015 | Poor and Remote | Save the Children (SC)

© CCOSC/Save the Children

Oudom, an 8-year old child, is not as healthy as other children. He has had a case of chronic malnutrition since he was born. In addition, he has been an orphan from a very early age. His mother passed away when he was only 5 months old, followed two years later by his father. Today, he lives in poor conditions with his grandmother, Mrs Phok Sen, in the village of Prey Moul which is located 25 km from Kampong Chhnang.  Mrs Sen can earn from USD 0.5 to USD 1 per day by harvesting rice for her neighbours in the rainy season, and by collecting fire wood to sell in the dry season.


Oudom grew up shy, often sick and scared to talk to others. Malnutrition negatively effects brain development causing delays in motor skills and cognitive development. Oudom’s health condition has undermined his ability to learn, communicate, think analytically, socialize effectively, and adapt to new environments and people.


As a young child, Oudom was used to staying with his grandmother while she was working. At 5 years old, he joined the kindergarten class of Prey Moul primary school. At first, he was not familiar with the school environment. He kept silent and did not talk to anyone, not even his teacher. However, only after three months, Oudom started to talk and interact with other students and participated in some class activities.


Dropping out of school


Oudom was then enrolled in grade 1 at the same primary school. Due to his poor health, he could not go to school regularly. In addition, as he expressed in his own words: “I am not as smart as the other children. I do not remember my lessons well. Every time I ask my teacher questions, I am very scared that he will hit me.”


By the end of the academic year, he needed to repeat grade 1 and Oudom’s grandmother decided not to send him to school anymore. She preferred to bring Oudom along with her when she was working so that she could take care of him herself. She thought that, in any case, education was not appropriate to a slow learner like Oudom; and furthermore, she could not afford his study materials and food.


Overcoming education barriers


In February 2015, Save the Children and Operations Enfants du Cambodge (OEC) began working together on a project with local and school authorities to help vulnerable and out-of-school children like Oudom, as part of the Cambodian Consortium for Out of School Children (CCOSC) led by Aide et Action International (AEAI) and co-funded by Educate A Child (EAC). The nationwide project consults with local communities to map out the most marginalized children and help them get back into the classroom. Oudom was recommended to the project team by both the school principal and the village chief.


The project team had been to Oudom’s house several times aiming to share the importance of sending children to school with his grandmother and to encourage Oudom to go back to school. After talking with the team, Mrs Sen changed her mind and agreed to send Oudom to school again. “Although I am poor, I am very pleased to send my grandson back to school. I am very thankful to Save the Children and other members of the team who support my grandson and me,” she said. The project also provided him with school materials, such as books and school uniforms.


After being absent for 5 weeks from school, Oudom continued his studies in grade 1. Oudom’s teacher, Mr Ros Noeurn, also changed his attitude and teaching technique to adapt to slow learners in the class. He always encourages Oudom, and frequently asks him to come to the blackboard and solve exercises. He usually gives Oudom extra work to do with his grandmother at home. He said: “This year, Oudom’s study has improved very much. He can read and write some words. He always does his homework and submits it to me with no mistakes.”


He can read and write now. He likes talking to other children in the class and has some friends. He is ranked 18 among the 34 students in his class. “Now I have a lot of friends. They are very kind and often share some of their food with me,” says Oudom. “When I grow up, I want to be a policeman. I will be able to support my grandmother.”