For the water-dwelling communities of the Tonle Sap Lake in central Cambodia, commuting to school can be quite a challenge. With houses that float on the river’s ever-fluctuating surface and a population that is sustained almost entirely by fishing in the surrounding waters, there are a lot of barriers to education. School is separated from the students’ homes by a two-kilometer boat ride, so each child must learn to swim before making the daily trip to Phat Sanday Primary School.
The school rests on floating docks, and serves 358 students from three villages. Due to its relative inaccessibility, the schools in this area have largely been ignored by development efforts, but in 2009, Room to Read established a library at Phat Sanday Primary—adding more than a thousand books to the shelves and committing three years of training for the school’s staff.
The school's staff has noted a marked change in the students since the library opened, as well. “The school grounds used to be very quiet,” says librarian Chhun Nhork. “Now, with the new library, the sound of students reading aloud is enough to compete with the boats that roar through this area.”
The school’s principal, Heng Peng Eang, agrees. “Before, it was hard to teach because we were completely dependent on only the one textbook from the ministry of education,” he recalls. “Now, we can use different books to guide the teaching and learning process.”
Before the addition of the library, he remembers many students in the upper grades who were still unable to read at the appropriate level—a fact only exacerbated by the half-day schedule the school uses to avoid overcrowding its facilities. “Now,” he says, “they can read confidently.”
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