A team of 11 Atlassians visited Cambodia to further our efforts in rebuilding education there. This is a continuing post in our series on the Atlassian Foundation’s contributions to Room to Read in Cambodia. Read more in the series here.

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The Kingdom of Cambodia and Siem Reap

It was surreal arriving into Siem Reap. Picture rolling rice paddy fields, water buffalos, kids playing on the side of the road, tuk tuks, tough dogs, glimpses of a temple  (highlighted by a setting sun, of course) – postcard material. This visit to Room to Read Cambodia has been in the cards for nearly two years, and we were finally here. While travelling to the hotel and taking everything in, I couldn’t help but think of the reason why we were here. Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge ravaged this kingdom for 30 years with a genocide that killed over two million, and wreaked havoc on the country’s infrastructure and development.

Under the Khmer Rouge, leaders viewed education and books as pathways to resistance, and as a result, Cambodia’s academic sector was decimated and many of the country’s books and literary resources were destroyed. While the country continues its efforts to rebuild, Cambodia’s primary schools continue to experience a shortage in access to textbooks and children’s literature.

Before I get into the facts and figures of what the Atlassian Foundation and Room to Read partnership has achieved, I wanted to share my  thoughts and highlights of our visit.

Older generations are helping the young ones

One of my biggest takeaways from this trip is how important it is to women in Cambodia that young girls receive an education. The mums, aunties, and grandmothers of these young girls have made sacrifices to ensure the next generation are educated and will have better opportunities in life. We listened to a mum who migrated to Thailand for the promise of work talk about her experience, and tell the young girls cautionary tales. Her daughter, Panna, put her arms around me and said “that’s my Mum”. She was so proud to see her mother sharing her knowledge and participating in the life skills class. This was a common theme throughout the day – mums sacrificing so much to ensure their girls get an education.

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What we’ve achieved so far

Since 2009, Atlassian has been a crucial supporter of Room to Read’s work, establishing more than 230 libraries, constructing 13 schools, publishing 13 local language children’s books, helping to launch literacy instruction across Cambodia, and supporting 1,500 girls in their efforts to complete secondary school and forge a successful future.

To date, Atlassian has helped Room to Read reach over 168,000 children.  We’ve now donated over $2.8 million – more than 100X our original goal.

  • In 2009, Atlassian funded 16 libraries (1 constructed), 1 local language title, and 68 girl scholarships in Cambodia; and 18 libraries and 150 girl scholarships in Vietnam
  • In 2010, Atlassian funded 47 libraries and 80 girl scholarships in Laos; and 18 libraries, 1 local language title, 4 schools, and 132 girl scholarships in Sri Lanka
  • In 2011, Atlassian funded 51 libraries (5 constructed), constructed 1 school, publication of 8 local language titles, 400 girl scholars, and implemented the Reading and Writing Instruction program in Cambodia
  • In 2012, Atlassian funds allowed Room to Read to establish 6 libraries, renovate or construct 8 schools, support 500 girls, and continued to support the Reading and Writing Instruction program in Cambodia
  • In 2013, Atlassian funded 78 libraries (3 constructed), 3 local language books as well as supporting the Reading and Writing Instruction, school repair and renovation programs in Cambodia, and 1 library in Vietnam.

Atlassian-funded libraries

The libraries that Atlassian has funded will each receive three years of programmatic support, providing teachers, school administrators, parents, and government officials with the opportunity to gain the skills needed to manage and sustain these projects for the long term. One of the primary ways in which Room to Read’s team supported the Atlassian-funded projects was through the provision of children’s books and educational resources. Throughout the reporting period Room to Read delivered 5,331 books to these six libraries, ensuring that students were able to access resources that were age appropriate and available in local languages.

After book deliveries were completed, Room to Read outfitted each Atlassian library with furniture to ensure that the space was comfortable and well equipped for student learning. Providing bookshelves, desks, chairs, tables, floor mats, and display cases, the Room to Read team was able to foster a child-friendly environment that created opportunities for student engagement and interaction with library resources and materials.

Implementation Activities for 2012 Schools

In 2012, Atlassian funded the construction of one new school and the renovation and repair of seven schools across the Kampong Cham and Siem Reap provinces, in cooperation with local community members and government offices. The seven Atlassian-funded renovation and repair projects each faced a lack of windows and adequate lighting sources, leaky roofs, poor ventilation, and minor structural defects prior to Room to Read’s intervention. In Cambodia, where monsoons bring torrential rains and inclement weather and warm months bring average temperatures of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, these repairs are crucial; weatherproofing each school and allows children to comfortably access these buildings throughout the year.

The Reading and Writing Instruction program 

In 2013 with Atlassian’s support, the Room to Read team has been implementing the Reading and Writing Instruction program in 772 classrooms across the country. The current Reading and Writing Instruction program includes five key instructional components that guide all instructional program development: phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Room to Read works closely with the Cambodian government to identify gaps in the current curriculum in these areas and create instructional materials and, in some cases, lesson plans to support teachers in the classroom.

Atlassian has been one of Room to Read’s largest partners in promoting literacy and gender equality across Cambodia. With Atlassian’s support, Room to Read has been able to enhance both programmatic and operational efficiency, improving the impact of their programs and ensuring that their efforts are fully sustainable and relevant to local interest and need.

And finally, my personal trip highlights

  • Meeting the local staff from Room to Read, including Mr. Kall (country director) who speaks with with such passion about their vision, the achievements, and future planning. He was like an older version of Jackie Chan, fighting the good fight for education throughout Cambodia. It’s comforting to know that he’s our man on the ground.
  • Back in 2012, Room to Read founder John Wood gave me some advice for when I visited the schools: Put the iPhone away. It’s tempting to take photos, but instead, take in the moment. So I did. As we biked towards the monastery next to Samrong High School, you could hear music and drums in the distance. We were greeted with long lines of students bearing handmade gifts and very big smiles. I’ve never experienced anything like this – it was quite overwhelming. 
  • I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Grade 1s at Phoum Svay Primary School. We spent time in their classroom learning Khmer vowels, and then joined the little ones for library time. This library was established through the cooperation of the local community, Room to Read and Atlassian. The land on which the school was built was kindly donated by a great man (more about that in this post).

If you’re interested about finding out more in person, Room to Read offer site visits throughout the year – this is a unique opportunity to experience their work first hand.

We’ve accomplished a lot but there is so much more that we can do for this generation of Cambodian girls who are truly inspirational.

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