THE PATH WIDENS: Our beloved Srayang Dormitory becomes the Srayang Learning Centre

It’s happening, PLFC friends!  The Srayang Dorm is evolving, reaching out to even more vulnerable Cambodian students, helping them to achieve their dream of an education. 

PLFC was founded in late 2010.  That year, the doors to the Srayang Dorm opened, and your generous donations have kept it thriving ever since.   

Many remote Cambodian villages have no schools at all.  Others (like the PLF-supported school in Koh Ker village) go only to Grade 6.  To continue to middle school, the children had to travel 15 miles to the village of Srayang, a daunting distance to traverse by foot or bicycle, every day.  And that is why we built the Srayang Dorm.

Beginning in 2010, the best of the Grade 6 grads from Koh Ker school moved to the Dorm where they lived and studied as they attended Grades 7, 8 and 9 at Srayang school.  Three years later we had our very first Grade 9 graduates. And soon, the best students continued on to Grade 10 in Siem Reap.

In 2015, we welcomed a new cohort of students from Romchek Village.  And then, in 2017, Set Channy made history by becoming the first student from tiny, remote Koh Ker to attend university. If you haven’t seen her story: watch it here.    

Every year we have been in awe of the students at the Srayang Dorm — at the grit they possess to move away from home, doing everything in their power to get an education. The result of all this education has been a sea-change in the village of Koh Ker. As the now-educated children return to their community, they are changing the culture, bringing new ways of thinking, and new earning power to lift their families out of poverty. Their parents – whose outlook was once “we will allow it but not support it” – are now pushing us and pushing their own children to go further and further in school.

When parents, who never went to school, begin prioritizing the education of their children, we know things are working. Real, lasting change is occurring.

Our mantra has always been: step-by-step and one-by-one. In the 2020-21 school year, a decade into the project at Srayang, we’re taking that next step with the community and transforming the Srayang Dorm into the Srayang Learning Centre.

What does this mean?

Instead of living on-site, students will be transported back-and-forth from their villages to the Srayang school each day (in huge trucks!) They will receive their government curriculum at the public school (just across the road) and then return to the Learning Centre for the rest of the day, where they will have lunch before launching into additional English classes, remedial Khmer and math classes, computer class, access to a library, informal study groups, chess clubs and many workshops.

This is KEY:  instead of only the top 25-30% of graduating 6th graders who previously could get into the Srayang Dormitory, now 100% of all grads can continue on to secondary school.

We will take things gradually, to ensure a smooth roll-out. In November 2020, when school starts, we will focus on the logistics involved in getting 150 students (!) from the bush to the school by 7 am. We’ll figure out how to quickly serve 150 lunches. Given the Covid trainwreck that was the second half of this school year (like in Canada but worse), instead of jumping right in with “additional curricula” we will hire some high school Khmer teachers to provide the necessary remedial classes in core subjects to get students who will have missed half a school year caught up. We’ll focus on getting the library put together. We’re still remodeling the facility, but we’ve already started buying books.

We’re going to spend the first year getting everyone caught up after the time they lost (due to Covid) and we’ll push out from there.

Recently, the Middle School at Srayang has scaled up and goes all the way to Grade 12, which means Grade 10, 11 & 12 students don’t have to travel to Siem Reap. This means our two Dorms in Siem Reap (city dorms!) can be devoted to preparing the more talented students for College or University.  It means we can provide options to our students. We can support them, wherever their path takes them.

Over time we have been able to give the students extra classes and mentoring to ensure that students are graduating Grade 6 at the grade-appropriate age. When the Srayang dorm first started, the average age of our students at intake for Grade 7 was 15-16 years. It’s now 12-13 years old. But a 15-year-old moving away from home (and living in a dormitory setting) in pursuit of an education is very different from a 12-year-old doing the same.  It’s unfair and not optimal for children of that age to be away from their families, especially over such a long period.

We’re happy to be able to turn the page on residential housing for children of this age.

Before, with limited space at both the Srayang Dorm and the City Dorms, we could only advance those with the highest academic performance.  Now, every student will have the opportunity to complete high school at Srayang, while living at home.  And the more gifted students can move to Siem Reap, where they can attend the more competitive city schools to prepare them for College and University.

The path is wide open, finally.

Now, children can spend vital extra years living with their families, and develop fully before embarking on their own paths. Because of the communities’ growing investment in their children, every single student who has a drive to learn will be on that truck and will find a home in our Learning Centre. They won’t leave their villages unless they are one of the 5% who are University-bound and even then, not until their last two years of high school.

The Srayang Dorm will always hold a special place for PLFC. For those who stopped at Grade 9, many have gone back to work for their communities, such as Sareng and Tha (check out their story here). For all the students who have had the grit to join the Srayang Dorm, they leave with their value of education immeasurably higher than that of the generation before them, creating a ripple effect of change.

Students from remote, rural areas like Koh Ker and Romchek are born into a society that is miles upstream from those living in cities. They make up the forgotten population of Cambodia, the 80% who get skipped over because there simply aren’t enough services and resources.

Because of your generous and tireless support of the Srayang Dorm over the past decade, there are now hundreds of students who have reached Secondary School, and step-by-step, one by one those students are changing the whole trajectory of their communities and blazing the way forward, lighting the path for others to follow behind.

With the opening of the Srayang Learning Centre, that path grows ever wider and ever brighter as hundreds more will now have the chance to gain their diploma.

We began our work in Preah Vihear province with the promise to build pathways out of poverty and into a brighter future. Over the past decade: done that. And now, the transformation of the Srayang Dormitory into a Learning Centre is a new chapter, a bigger promise, for more Cambodian children and youth.

Stay tuned for pics of the revitalized digs at the Srayang Learning Centre.  And the trucks!!