The children of the Aziza Schoolhouse line up to visit Santa at the school/community center's Christmas party, December 2006.
Whether it's Phnom Penh or Los Angeles or Phoenix, Santa's magic never fails. Taken December 2006 at the Aziza Schoolhouse Christmas party.
Steve Heimberg is surrounded by children from the Aziza Schoolhouse, a program of the Cambodian Education Project, in the slum community of Tonle Bassac in Phnom Penh, which he visited in December 2006.
The Cambodian Education Project is a grass-roots effort to provide education and outreach programs to Cambodian children living in the most extreme poverty one can imagine.
In December 2006, Steven Heimberg visited an old friend who was working at the project’s one-room schoolhouse, the Aziza Schoolhouse, in the slum community of Tonle Bassac in Phnom Penh. Approximately 100 children of all ages come for free English lessons and a variety of other classes and programs, all taught by Khmer (Cambodian nationals) teachers and supported by individuals from nations across the world who hear about The Project and come to volunteer.
The Aziza Schoolhouse
The school also acts as a community center and on weekends life skill instructors volunteer to teach the kids the dangers of drugs, AIDS, pedaphilia, prostitution, human trafficking and hygiene. There are also character building/values programs and a leadership program. On Saturday night teens are offered movies and karaoke.
The Rudi Boa Center
The new sister school opened January 2007 in “the railroad slum” in Boeng Kok (Boeng is “lake” in Khmer), and the school sits on stilts over the water of a lake in Phnom Penh. Nearby is the train station and the railroad tracks which, like the lake, are littered with trash and lined with dirty kids. The school is close to the base of a peninsula going into the lake where people farm snails, fish, frogs and various greens. The waste of 20,000 people flows directly into the water, and skin conditions are common. Kids swim right next to houses whose toilets empty directly into the water.
The Rudi Boa Center’s classes were immediately filled with 40 kids each. Most of the kids are of primary school age, with teens offered evening classes. One of the first steps teachers took was to teach the children to wash their hands and feet and to trim nails.
The list below details some of the numerous programs provided by The Project at both schools/community centers, but it doesn’t begin to describe the sounds children singing “Heads, Shoulder, Knees and Toes” or “Old MacDonald” booming through the walls, or the numerous art projects created, or the laughter and smiles and silly screams of happy children.
Here are the current programs being offered;
- English classes at various levels for anyone from the community; mostly kids from 6 to 20 years old. Four classes per day, two-hours each, Monday through Friday.
- All the dental care any kid needs, health and medical assistance programs.
- Daily art and activities classes.
- Saturday fun time/safe space; singing, movies, and snacks until 11 p.m.
- Sunday morning volunteer lecturers on hazards common to life there and how to avoid them (pedophilia, prostitution, pregnancy, AIDS, drugs, etc.), as well as life skills, character building, and hygiene.
- Reading and story time: to promote literacy in Khmer language.
- A women’s group for teenage girls to discuss and learn about all the things that this culture leaves a mystery. Also learning to swim at a public pool.
- Leadership training for teens.
- Scholarships for eight very poor students to attend “public” school, including uniforms.
- Football (soccer) team: 30 teen boys pile into a tuk-tuk to have fun, bond, compete, and get out their aggressions in a healthy way.
Currently the slum community that the Aziza Schoolhouse is serving is being “evicted” for the building of condominiums. It is projected that the community of Boeng Kok also will be evicted in about a year so the lake can be filled in and more condominiums be built. The Cambodian Education Project is working to help the people find places to go.