Sophay’s grandmother sent him to a local kindergarten in Battambang where there were too many pupils in the class and he received little attention from his teacher, so before long he did not want to attend.
Sophay’s parents had migrated to work in Thailand with their second son when Sophay was only three years old, leaving him with his grandmother until they returned to Battambang last year for the birth of the family’s third child. They discovered grandmother’s care for the child had been minimal, which had adversely affected his behaviour.
Hope’s pre-school turned all that around.
“Since Sophay came to study at Hope, he has changed a lot. He’s extremely motivated. He does not want to miss or be late for a school day. He no longer asks for an allowance to buy unhealthy snacks,” his mother says.
The pre-school service offered by Cambodia’s Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport remains limited due to scarce physical and financial resources and limited capacity. The two public kindergartens servicing Battambang’s nearby communities have not responded to the growing demand for places. Over 300 toddlers from these communities need pre-school education, while a 2014 report by non-profit advocacy organisation Results showed that 40 percent of Cambodian children under five years old are physically stunted. The local health care centre also reports that many children in the region are underweight or suffer from malnutrition due to the lack of food and unhealthy food consumption. Sophay was one of those kids.
In 2015, Hope opened its first early child care and pre-school education class with 17 toddlers aged from three to five. As well as pre-school education, Hope’s early child care program delivers physical education and a filling breakfast. Hope staff select the toddlers from poor families based on family assessments, so the breakfast may be the one good meal the kids get each day.
Following requests by local authorities and parents in the communities, Hope this year opened another 17-strong pre-school class. Sophay’s mother heard the news that we were recruiting from her neighbours and she arrived to enrol him in our program. Word-of-mouth increased requests for places even further so that the total number of Hope toddlers now stands at 43, because we found we just couldn’t say ‘no’ after we did the family assessments and saw the dire family situations.
Sophay attends Hope from 7am to 10am Monday to Friday. Every morning after his mother drops him off, he and the other kids raise the Cambodian national flag and sing the national anthem. Then they do some physical exercises and sing songs. Then they normally have basic lessons followed by breakfast. In each class, kids are always under care of a teacher and a care giver, so there’s no lack of attention and no child feels left out. With Hope’s care and our full attention, Sophay now has developed into a brave and confident child, and his teacher describes him as a smart, bright boy and a quick learner.
It doesn’t stop there. With the need for pre-school education so evident, Hope is planning to convert one of its bungalows to a classroom so that we can accept more toddlers into a third class next school year. Our plan is to have three levels of early education based on age.
We don’t know yet what six-year-old Sophay’s future will be, or whether he will stay with Hope next school year, as his parents are planning to go back to work in Thailand soon. But whatever happens, Sophay is enjoying his head-start.