Success Story: Indigenous Youth Monitoring Education Service

The Story of Lun Seat and the “Check My School” Project in Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri Provinces Cambodia is home to numerous indigenous communities. Most of these communities are located in remote areas of the country, and particularly in the northeast provinces of Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri. Indigenous people have poor access to educational resources, and although the Cambodian Ministry of Education has taken significant steps in recent years to alleviate the educational shortcomings, most schools in these areas still lack adequate equipment, teaching 2 materials, and modern building infrastructure. Online access in many of these schools is virtually non-existent, and teachers lack the pedagogical skills to implement new teaching techniques. In addition, for young people in these communities (and particularly women) family poverty often makes school attendance difficult, if not impossible, and often forces them to drop out of school at a young age. Lun Seat, a “community facilitator” with the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability (ANSA), a sub-grantee of the Cambodia Civil Society Strengthening (CCSS) project, is one of these indigenous young people. Now in her twenties, and a member of the Kreung ethnic community, Seat was born in Kachoun commune, in the Vein Sai district of Ratanakiri province, and is the youngest in a family of five children. Family poverty unfortunately forced Seat to leave school after the ninth grade, but her thirst for knowledge, her recognition of the importance of education and her strong desire to help her community, and particularly its young women, sparked a desire to become a volunteer with ANSA. Seat works with the people of Team Leu village, as well as those from the neighboring communities in Kachoun commune, where she has lived all her life. Most every day she can be found either traveling on the dusty roads of the commune on her motorbike, or huddled in meetings with villagers, local authorities, officials of the local Ministry of Education, and school principals. As a volunteer with ANSA’s USAID-funded initiative, “Check My School”, which focuses on promoting accountability and forging collaborations with local school officials, local government officials, and citizens in order to improve educational services to indigenous communities in Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri, Seat’s duties are numerous and varied. She collects statistical and survey data, organizes the regular 3 community forums attended by citizens, local authorities, and school officials, and consults regularly with local education officials and school administrators on citizen concerns and complaints regarding the local schools. ANSA volunteer Lun Seat on her motorbike as she travels for a field visit in Ratanakiri Province. As one of 24 young volunteers in the Check My School project, Seat has earned plaudits for her keen intelligence, strong commitment and excellent interpersonal skills. Uon Tha, an ANSA Program Officer for the Check My School, works closely with Seat, often accompanying her on field visits, and notes that she has demonstrated strong initiative and good collaborative skills. “Seat is honest, reliable, and very committed,” says Mr. Tha. “She is very adaptable to different situations, a quick learner, eager to learn something new, and is an effective team leader.” 4 ANSA Cambodia is a local NGO founded in 2015 that works to fight corruption, promote human welfare, and protect the rights of citizens through promoting good governance. It uses social accountability approaches to achieve these goals, and promotes the application of these approaches in local communities by community members to strengthen the relationship between citizens and their government. Social Accountability is the concept and practice of constructive engagement between citizens and their government; citizens monitor the government’s use of public resources to improve service delivery, protect their rights, and promote community welfare. In addition to monitoring, ANSA trains and empowers citizens to voice their concerns regarding government services and policies that affect their daily lives. Through its community trainings, citizens learn how to hold local government officials accountable for their delivery of essential public services. It is ANSA’s strong belief that good governance can only be achieved through the active and constructive participation of citizens. . “Our goal is to enhance constructive engagement and dialogue between government and civil society on education . . . We also want to empower the local indigenous communities, improve school governance and monitor ongoing educational services to students and the community. We work in the way of capacity development by giving them a great opportunity for engaging the local people to education service monitoring and harmonize their action to make community people and education 5 service providers interact closer so that they can to solve problem of primary school students” ----San Chey, Executive Director, The Affiliated Network for Social Accountability (ANSA) ANSA Cambodia’s primary initiative at present is the Check My School project, which focuses on Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri provinces and its indigenous communities. The Check My School initiative aims to increase partnerships with local authorities, empower indigenous women and youth to access information on education and school services, and to involve local community members in the monitoring of the local primary schools. In addition, school strategic planning is considered essential to the continued success of the project. Training sessions are held for volunteers, community members, district and commune officials, and local school administrators to gain the necessary knowledge to take action to accomplish community-oriented goals in the local education sector. By working closely with the local / provincial departments of the Ministry of Education, ANSA has also been able to the gain the strong support from provincial officials According to ANSA Cambodia Executive Director San Chey, establishing multistakeholder engagement and fruitful dialogue, as well as promoting citizen empowerment are key elements of the project. “Our goal is to enhance constructive engagement and dialogue between government and civil society on education,” he points out. “We also want to empower the local indigenous communities, improve school governance and monitor ongoing educational services to students and the community.” 6 “I have always wanted to help my village and my community, and see it developed with a better livelihood for my people. Working as a volunteer for ANSA has made me learn to be a strong, confident and effective leader for my community.” --- Lun Seat, ANSA Check My Schools Community Facilitator In its community trainings, ANSA has taught citizens about education standards and how to monitor school performance. As a result, parents of students gain the confidence to raise issues with the local school officials related to their children’s education in constructive, collaborative dialogues. Additionally, local Ministry of Education officials and school principals learn how to develop strategic plans for the schools, and to work together with community members in addressing specific school challenges and problems in the formulation of these strategic plans. The ANSA volunteers, many of whom like Lun Seat, are young indigenous women, play a vital role in facilitating communication, trust and collaboration between all stakeholders, and in ensuring continued cooperation in solving problems. According to Mr. San Chey, the young volunteers go through an intensive training program, where they learn about good governance, social accountability, gender equity, social inclusion, educational services, communication skills, community facilitation skills, local event management, negotiation skills, data collection skills, the use of online platforms, and video conferencing. 7 Although challenges remain, particularly with regards to improving the quality of the educational curriculum and teaching quality, the Check My School initiative has produced some notable positive outcomes. One initial success was a Ministry of Education order that all classrooms be equipped with fans and that schools have access to electricity. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic most government schools in Cambodia, including those in Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri, remain closed. But this has not prevented Check My School from achieving more positive outcomes in recent months. As a result of citizen requests and collaboration with local school and governmental authorities, important infrastructure improvements have been made to several primary schools serving indigenous communities in both provinces. New toilets and hand washing stations with clean running water have been built, along with new fences, library bookshelves, the installation of a water well on one campus in Mondulkiri, the repainting of campus buildings, the repair or construction of campus gates, repaired building roofs, and new or renovated school playgrounds and sports fields. In addition, new school teaching aids, and school books were also provided at several schools. 8 ANSA’s “Check My School” community facilitator volunteers Check My School has earned strong support from officials at both the Mondulkiri and Ratnakiri provincial education departments, as well from school principals, teachers, and parents. Several local education department officials want the project to be extended to other parts of the two provinces and have praised the its efforts in training principals on creating strategic plans for their schools. The young community volunteers like Lun Seat have certainly played an important role in all of these achievements. Says Mr. San Chey: “From our teaching, mentoring, coaching and encouragement Seat has been empowered to change from a quiet, unassuming village girl into a confident, proactive, prominent and respected community facilitator for her local indigenous community.” 9 As she continues her often exhausting, often challenging, but also rewarding work as a community facilitator, sometimes working as much as six or seven days a week, Seat remains fiercely passionate about what she does. “I have always wanted to help my village and my community, and see it developed with a better livelihood for my people. Working as a volunteer for ANSA has made me learn to be a strong, confident and effective leader for my community