In late February 2018, volunteer teacher Rachel Morgan took a leap and left her home in the bustling city of Brisbane, Australia. She landed in the small rural village of Svay Chey, Cambodia. At the time she describe it as ‘the scariest and most exciting experience of my life to date’ but twelve weeks later, Rachel can’t imagine life without her time there.
Read on to learn about this life-changing experience in her own words.
(Volunteer teacher Rachel Morgan with students)
I arrived in Siem Reap on a Saturday afternoon and was greeted at the airport by Ty Soviet, Step2Foundation’ s man on the ground and my new host brother. He began to tell me about the school, the village, and his family (some of whom were to be my new host family). I could feel his passion and enthusiasm for this project right from the very first second, and I was feeling extremely proud to be involved and determined to make a difference.
After spending the first night in Siem Reap, I was collected on Sunday morning to join Soviet on a tour of some of the local sights, before being taken out to Svay Chey. To reach the village we had to first drive along the highway and then make a turn onto a small red dirt road. If you’d have blinked you’d have missed the turn. This was the road into Svay Chey.
Svay Chey village consists of one main red dirt road running all the way through, with homes spotted along on each side of the road. As we slowly made our way down the road, Soviet showed me the school, and pointed out the two water filtration systems Step2Foundation built in the village.
I had so many emotions running through me as we finally pulled up at my new place of residence. Excitement, fear, doubt, love. This was the first time I had seen what country life in Cambodia was like, and this foreign place was to be my home for the next three months. I needn’t have had any doubt though; my new host family showed me great warmth and love throughout my entire stay.
I had only been in the village an hour and was almost constantly in a pinch me state as I unpacked my things. It was now Sunday afternoon and school started the next day, so I was showed where I can shower before having an early dinner.
Using the bathroom (the outdoor wash house) was a place I almost always found myself smiling. I used a large cup to scoop cold water from a giant tub and pour it over myself to get clean. It was so unusual to me and took a little getting used to, but it was an experience that I was truly grateful for. Every evening when I came home from school and clumsily washed before dinner, I was reminded of where I am and why I am here.
(Students collecting rubbish during a community clean up of the highway)
The next morning I walked the short way up the road to school in preparation for a 7:00am start, still unsure exactly what to expect. It wasn’t long after I arrived that I saw the Head Teacher Sok coming in the driveway on his motorbike (I had no idea at that time how much of an incredible support this person was going to be for me during my time here), and just before 7:00am the students started filing into the classrooms. I will never forget that first class.
The class has only just begun, when suddenly there was loud music blaring right outside the classroom! At that moment I was sitting beside Teacher Sok who was addressing the students, and the music was so loud that I was unable to hear what he was saying. I thought to myself, if I am unable to hear him then how can the students? And where is this music coming from? And why is it playing at 7:30am in the morning? And why is it SO loud? I looked outside the classroom and saw nothing to answer my questions. I could only see a big old tree standing in the middle of this charming little playground surrounded by red dirt.
That moment was so unusual and beautiful I simply couldn’t wipe the grin from my face. What was going on?
It turns out that Wedding Season in Cambodia had begun. This wouldn’t be the last time we would need to work around this loud music, which proceeded to play on a loud speaker throughout the rest of the day and the night. How absolutely magical it was! Although it seemed the students and Teacher Sok weren’t actually phased by the loud music and chanting, for them it was just another day!
Some of the students were a little apprehensive towards me at first, but it was only a few minutes after the first class break before they had me in a circle outside the classroom sitting down playing hand clapping games while they practised some of their English and asked me questions about where I am from. This was the first day of 12 weeks.
I found myself almost every day walking or cycling to school with a grin from ear to ear as students and locals called out from their homes to greet me as I went past. Each new day brought new experiences, challenges and enjoyment. Every class and age group was an absolute delight to work with, and it was really special to experience first-hand the progression these students were making with their vocabulary and confidence in speaking in English.
As well as that, Step2Foundation is supporting five local Khmer people (Head Teacher Sok and 4 young ladies) by sending them to Teacher training every week. This gives the students a structure and consistency they can rely on. It also means their learning isn’t conditional on a volunteer being there.
In the Grade 7-12 classes, it is special to see how many students there are working towards becoming Teachers and Doctors, among other admirable professions. I firmly believe that the influence of Step2Foundation and the amazing work of the Svay Chey Teachers will help see their students’ dreams come true!
(The dedicated teaching staff at Svay Chey village school)
All in all my time in Svay Chey was extremely positive and one which I will never forget. Through experiencing a new and completely different culture, I experienced a lot of personal growth and countless special moments.
A few of these moments that I wanted to share:
Words cannot express my gratitude towards Step2Foundation, Zeynep & Soviet, my host family, to the teachers at school (especially Sok, Sophea, Vannsi and Phalla). Thank you so much for opening your doors to me and contributing to this incredibly special experience. Every one of you and the beautiful students will be forever in my heart and the work that is being done here really is changing so many lives.
All the best,
(Celebrating the Khmer New Year in the grounds of Svay Chey Village School)
Attending school in the rural villages of Siem Reap is a privilege. While many children attend in their early years, the number drastically declines by high school. Less than a third have access to a high school education and very few of those are girls.
Instead, children are required to trek long distances in harsh weather to search for water.
Or work in the fields for an income so meagre it barely feeds them.
And for girls the options are even bleaker. Early marriage looms large for daughters in poverty stricken families.
These children will never know the liberation of education.
(Accessing water from Lovear’s new water system, June 2018)
A reliable source of fresh drinking water is life changing for Cambodian children and their wider community. It opens up opportunities and pathways out of poverty that were previously not available.
That’s why Step2Foundation have stepped up our commitment to building fresh water systems in village schools over the past year. In June Zeynep travel to Cambodia where she helped to build a cutting edge, low-maintenance water system for Lovear village.
The village school now has a source of fresh drinking water that can be accessed by students and the wider community. With the water and school intrinsically linked, attending school takes on a level of prestige which encourages attendance. It quickly becomes clear that a reliable source of fresh water ensures better health and better educational outcomes. These in turn create pathways out of poverty for children in Cambodia.
With your support we’ve built four water filtration systems in only twelve months!
That’s 3,200 litres of water per hour flowing into communities where previously there was none; three villages where families no longer worry about where they will source clean water for cooking and drinking.
Community response to these water systems has been overwhelming. The ecstatic thanks of the villagers who now have water is tempered by despair at the lack of water in neighbouring villages. We continue to receive petitions asking for fresh water and school infrastructure.
It is the generosity and kindness of people like you who will make these possible.
There are several school sites for new water systems being explored and many more crying out for help. Without your help children in Cambodia will continue to face the hardships of searching every day for one of life’s basic necessities.
To fully install one water system costs $10,000. This is a cutting edge system requiring minimal maintenance. The system will continue to provide pure drinking water for the community indefinitely.
There are children facing a lifetime of poverty who need your support. Your kindness and generosity will open up pathways out of poverty that impact a whole community. Support an educational charity who really make a difference.
The difference between growing up with access to fresh water and an education is stark. We’re thrilled to see the rate of change accelerating for the children of Svaychey and their families.
We rely on donors to make these education and infrastructure projects possible. As a grassroots charity we’re proud to say that your donations go directly to the areas where they are most needed.
Why not make a tax deductible donation today? Your gift will change lives.
Are you keen to support a grass roots charity with a proven track record for improving lives?
Donate before 30 June to change the lives of disadvantaged children in Cambodia. All donations over $2 are tax deductible.
By supporting projects that meet the community’s basic physiological and safety needs, Step2Foundation donors have enabled children in an impoverished region of Siem Reap to obtain an education. Their health and happiness will form the pathway out of poverty for students and the people they care about.
The number of children attending Svaychey Village School has doubled since the charity began in 2012. Step2Foundation’s supporters are making a tangible impact for the community of Svaychey.
Access to a reliable source of clean, fresh water is a life changing for communities in rural Cambodian areas. Previously, families relied on their children to source water. Now these children can able to attend school instead.
Svaychey village’s second water tower is now operational and producing clean drinking water for the wider community. The new water filtration system is in addition to the two water systems completed in 2017 – one at Svaychey Village School and one in Lolei – bringing the total amount of clean water being produced per hour to 2,400 litres.
‘Feedback from both communities has been overwhelmingly positive,’ said Zeynep. ‘Seeing the kids enjoy drinking fresh water was the highlight of my trip!’.
Safe drinking water is a human right. Each of these water filtration systems costs US$10,000 has been funded by generous donors like you. Thank you to all our existing donors for giving these children the gift of an education.
Students at the Svaychey Village School in Cambodia received two new computers in February. That brings the school total to seven.
The digital divide is shockingly evident in the developing world. With the UN stating that only 5% of households having internet access in developing countries, access to technology is precious. So are the opportunities to learn and connect that it brings.
Teacher Sok has internet access which allows him to connect with learning resources and other teachers. Each computer has English/Khmer programs, the Microsoft suite, and interactive learning games. Using the computers to learn English is a favourite with the kids. Computer literacy puts them well ahead of their peers when it comes to future job opportunities.
Your donation of $400 can purchase a refurbished PC with the necessary software.
Volunteer teachers bring fresh ideas and expertise to the English language lessons. We see it as crucial that the volunteers visiting through Step2Foundation are qualified educators. Our next Australian teacher arrived in Siem Reap on 24 February to a warm welcome.
A rigorous screening process by a qualified volunteer provider facilitates the connection between high-quality teaching volunteers and Svaychey Village School. These talented teachers support our permanent teaching staff to develop their skills and improve English literacy for the children.
To find out more about teaching in Svaychey, contact Volunteer Abroad.
Zeynep’s luggage was a little heavier than usual when she visited in January… due to the generosity of donors Oriana Price and Jessica Burke who sent children’s clothing, shoes, school supplies, and books. The supplies were distributed to families in need who also received milk and food items.
The simple act of providing food and necessities removes enormous stress for children in impoverished families. Often they are faced with pressure to pursue a meagre income working in the fields rather than an education.
The thing is that $10 per month is enough to provide books and supplies for ten children. The gold change in your car console could change the life of a child in Cambodia.
Can you make a difference to children who desperately want an education?
The new year has also seen the beginning of a relationship with a Cambodian doctor based in Sydney. Her medical unit makes regular visits to Cambodia where they focus on improving knowledge around health and hygiene.
We’re pleased to share that their team will be visiting Svaychey Village School as part of their program later this year.
The Foundation built two toilets on the school campus in 2014 but rapidly increasing student numbers mean more are needed.
Collaborating with the community and looking ahead to address key areas of need is crucial to creating pathways out of poverty. Along with ongoing development in the areas above, Step2Foundation will fundraise for specific projects in 2018.
Planned projects include support for the secondary education of a new round of students at ACE, school infrastructure needs such as building more toilets on the school campus, and a breakfast program. To succeed these projects require the generosity and commitment of people who care.
People like you.
One of our regular donors, eleven-year-old Layla, donates $10 a month. ‘It makes me feel really sad that kids just like me don’t have the books or pencils that they need for school,’ said Layla. ‘My sisters and I donate some of our pocket money because we’re so much luckier and all kids should be able to go to school’.
Like Layla and her sisters, you can give the gift of an education to disadvantaged children in Cambodia. Regular donations allow us to plan for the future and ensure we can work with the village to strategically improve lives.
Help us continue to make a difference in 2018. Every dollar donated makes a huge difference to a community who desperately need support to break an entrenched cycle of poverty. All donations over $2 are tax deductible.
Construction has already begun on the water tower, and Zeynep is heading to Svaychey in late January to help with the build.
The support that Step2Foundation received during 2017 was both inspiring and humbling. Over the past five years the foundation has come so far, and it is your support that makes continued growth possible. Thank you so much.
It was a pleasure to meet some of our supporters at the inaugural fundraiser in Sydney on Friday 3 November. Almost 100 people gathered at the Pullman Hotel Hyde Park to celebrate Step2Foundation’s work in Svaychey and pledge their continued support.
From the gorgeous singing of acapella group Bel Canto to the wit of MC Gavin Glozier, the evening was thoroughly enjoyed by all.
Regular giving empowers us to create long-term change for the kind and generous people of Cambodia. By setting up a regular donation you enable us to plan ongoing projects and maintain infrastructure such as classrooms and water filtrations systems.
Now is the perfect time to set up your regular donation. Your generosity will underpin the planning process as we move into the new year and ensure that Step2Foundation continues to change lives.
Help us make a difference in 2018. Every dollar donated makes a huge difference to a community who desperately need support to break an entrenched cycle of poverty. All donations over $2 are tax deductable.
Step2Foundation is proud to say that all donations go directly to projects that are targeted at breaking the poverty cycle for communities in Cambodia. As a sign of our commitment, our directors contribute financially to the foundation and self-finance their trips to Cambodia.
For the children of Svaychey village in Cambodia these are no longer issues. Thanks to the Step2Foundation and a revolutionary water filtration system the school now has access to 800 litres of fresh drinking water per hour.
A quarter of the population and forty percent of primary schools in Cambodia lack safe drinking water. As a result, 380 children in Cambodia die from diarrhoea caused by water-borne diseases each year. It is the second largest cause of mortality for children under five and access to clean drinking water significantly reduces the threat (UNICEF).
When children are no longer required to trek long distances each day in search of water – from sources which are often contaminated by poor sanitation – there is time for school. This simple change opens up future opportunities that help the village as a whole to escape poverty.
Put simply; clean drinking water changes people’s lives by improving their health and wellbeing.
Safe drinking water is a basic human right.
In many villages, water is collected in rainwater tanks or from a bore and sits for long periods of time. Water in these systems is susceptible to parasitic growth and creates the perfect environment for mosquito larvae to thrive. Bores are only successful with sufficient filtration to clean the water before use.
Obviously, producing fresh water every day of the year takes more than a pump and a rainwater tank. Planning for the Clean Water Project took these problems into consideration and worked with the local community to come up with the most effective, sustainable solution possible.
The resulting system transforms ground water into pure drinking water. Ground water is pumped into a 2000 litre tank and gravity fed through a filtration system comprised of four separate processes. A UV filter ensures that the resulting water is free from bacteria.
The filtrations system is protected by a purpose-built brick structure which the water tank sits above. External taps make it easy to access the clean water. Being involved in the development and installation of the system has given the local community ownership over the project in the long term.
The revolutionary yet simple water filtrations system at Svaychey village school provides water for over 1500 people.
Local Operations Manager Soviet Ty was excited to report that ‘the whole community is enjoying fresh drinking water’. He expanded to say that, ‘The kids are very pleased because they can drink as much as they like while at school. They are also taking water home in the afternoon’.
The long-term benefits of the water filtration system go beyond health. When students can attend school, rather than spending large amounts of time sourcing water, they cultivate opportunities through education. Ensuring the wellbeing and sustainability of the village, combined with access to quality education, can lift a community out of poverty.
The project has been so successful that we are already planning a second project for the neighbouring village of Lolei. The community there currently has no clean drinking water and a lack of general supplies make life difficult. Many of the children in the village have lost one or both of their parents leaving them responsible for themselves.
Step2Foundation has partnered with Lolei’s local NGO for some time to supply rice, food staples, and educational supplies. The people of Lolei would benefit enormously from an accessible supply of pure drinking water.
Help us to fund the Clean Water Project in Lolei by sharing this newsletter widely, purchasing a Step2Foundation raffle ticket, and encouraging your network to contribute to Step2Foundation’s life changing projects.
Funds for the Clean Water Project in Svaychey were raised by generous donors and through Step2Foundation’s fundraising raffle in 2016. Board members underwrite all projects undertaken by the Foundation to ensure that they are completed as planned.
This International Women’s Day we’re celebrating four young women – Sophea, Porka, Phaiia, and Varnsi – who are facing a brighter future after completing their education at the Svaychey village school. These four girls no longer face the poverty cycle that results from lack of education; they have been accepted to the Australian Centre for Education (ACE) in Siem Reap and began their study in early 2017.
The Realities of Education in Cambodia
Access to education is something we take for granted in Australia. With the majority of Australian girls completing year 12 our experience is a stark contrast to Cambodia where attending school can change a girl’s entire life.
Only 32% of children go on to secondary school in Cambodia and only a small percentage of these are girls. Incomes are low and life is difficult. For a young girl with very little prospect of earning an independent income marriage becomes the only option for putting food on the table. This is the reality that faces girls in Cambodia who cannot access education.
Path Porka, the youngest of four children in a farming family is already planning how she can share the ongoing blessings of this opportunity. She stated in her ACE application, ‘I want to help the children to get the knowledge and get a good job in their future’.
Reaching level 12 English qualifications and achieving a diploma costs just under AU$2000 at ACE. With the average Cambodian family earning less than this per annum, attendance would not be possible for Path and her friends without support. Without a diploma it is not possible to sit university entrance exams.
Humble Beginnings in Svaychey Village
The Cambodian education system was dismantled under the Khmer Rouge and the neglected educational infrastructure has been slow to recover. When the Step2Foundation began in 2012 the girls of Svaychey village had a decrepit school building and only one teacher with a teacher’s aide for over 250 students. There were no books or pencils and very little clean water.
Still, they showed up every day.
Four years of hands-on project work and dedicated fundraising by the Step2Foundation means that the school is now one of the best in their region. There are eight classrooms, eight teachers, a library, and a toilet block. The school now has electricity, operational computers, and a clean water filtration system is almost complete.
Education Makes Dreams Come True
To enrol in ACE, an international school with campuses across South East Asia, these hopeful young women had to do well at school and submit a written application.
Phaiia said on her application form, ‘I like studying English because I need it for my job. I want to go to University, to get more knowledge in the future and I want to be an English teacher at the University’.
Attending ACE means that Phaiia is well on her way to reaching this goal. On completion of her diploma she can return to Svaychey as a teacher. Already she is working with the Head Teacher to further improve her English teaching skills along with four hours of teacher training per week.
You Can Help Young Women Access Education in Cambodia
Two of these wonderful young women have regular sponsors who donate $12 per week. Regular support for the other two would make an incredible difference to their lives.
You can change the direction of a young woman’s life for the cost of lunch.
In Australia, 83% of 15-19 year old Australians are enrolled in study. These four young women are beating the odds in Cambodia where their education levels will put them in the minority and open up a safer future. For them, being bold for change was as huge, and as simple, as showing up every day for school.
Education is at the heart of the Step2Foundation’s philosophy. We support local youth by giving them employment opportunities. All of our projects are undertaken with a long-term view to contribute to a thriving, sustainable village.
Help us to celebrate this International Women’s Day by sharing our story widely.
‘The hard work that Varnsi put into being accepted to ACE highlighted how determined these young women are to succeed. Step2Foundation is thrilled to provide the support they need to complete higher education and achieve their dreams,’ said Zeynep Roberts, Foundation Founder & Director. As one of the course’s most improved students Varnsi will receive three months of free tuition.
When Zeynep first visited Svaychey Village five years ago, she was dismayed at the state of their school. The poverty that comes with lack of education was evident wherever she turned. Zeynep’s firm belief that all children deserve an education led to the founding of Step2Foundation.
With the support of a committed group of volunteers and donors like you, the poverty cycle is being broken for those that need it most.
In 2017 Step2Foundation gained registration as an Australian charity, supported four determined young women to continue their study at the Australian Centre for Education in Siem Reap, and ran a major fundraising raffle that was born at our inaugural fundraising dinner in September.
If you’d like to help make a difference to the lives of students in Cambodia consider supporting the Step2Foundation by donating or volunteering.
1st prize – M. Hackett
2nd prize – J. Moss
3rd Prize – B. O’Leary
Return airfare from Sydney to Cambodia for one person, 6 nights accommodation, 3 day guided tour of some of
Siem Reap’s cultural highlights and of course, a visit to Svaychey Village School.
$500 Travel Voucher to a destination of your choice
$250 Travel Voucher to a destination of your choice
Winners will be drawn and announced at our inaugural charity dinner 3 November 2017 at The Pullman Sydney Hyde Park. Tickets are $10.00 each or 6 for $50.00.
By purchasing a Step2Foundation raffle ticket you are helping to provide education and infrastructure for disadvantaged children in the Siem Reap region.
As a grass roots charity we’re in a unique position to use funds where they are most needed.
We work in collaboration with village communities to:
Our projects, through community engagement, provide opportunities to build other sustainable programs such as health education and social enterprises.
Fantastic News – your support raised just over $2300 towards our Water Project. We are on track to commence mid-January 2017 and in good timeto collect vital water supplies during the wet season for the school and community. A big thank you from the families of Svaychey!
2nd Prize – Doris (Ingleburn NSW)
Step2Foundation’s latest newsletter is your chance to find out how our projects are progressing and what’s new! Subscribe using the contact form below to make sure you never miss a newsletter.