Helping children in Cambodia get a pre-school education

Photo: archive of Czech Embassy in Cambodia

In addition to the Czech Republic financing developing aid projects around the world, the network of Czech embassies provides aid in small-scale local projects. The Czech Embassy in Cambodia recently joined forces with the Japanese Embassy and the French Development Agency to fund a local project in which two community kindergartens were built in the villages of Trapeing Chrab and Beung Preah. The kindergartens, with complementary infrastructure, were handed over to the locals late last year and are now attended by close to 70 children under the age of six. I spoke to Lucie Chudá, a diplomat at the Czech Embassy in Phnom Penh, who took part in the endeavor and began by asking how such projects are chosen.

Photo: archive of Czech Embassy in Cambodia
“Each of these kindergartens is located in a village that was in urgent need of pre-school education facilities. For example one of the villages is still suffering from seasonal flash floods which damaged the former small kindergarten they had, in the house of one of the villagers. So it was really crucial to build the kindergarten in a safe place in the village. The project was undertaken in close cooperation with the local community, the villagers and the local authorities who were really engaged in it –one family even donated their own land for the construction of the kindergarten because they wanted the children from the village to have a proper pre-school education. So it was really an amazing kindness.”

And are both kindergartens in operation now, is it all working out?

“Sure. The school year in Cambodia starts in November and so both these pre-schools are in full swing with more than 30 children attending each of them.”

Did it all end with you handing them over or do you still take an interest in how they are doing?

“Of course, we constantly monitor how things are progressing. We cooperated closely while constructing the buildings and educating the teachers and the cooperation did not end with the handing-over ceremony, we are still in close touch with the local authorities and still keeping a close eye on the progress made.”

Kindergarten in Trapeing Chrab,  photo: archive of Czech Embassy in Cambodia

Are there opportunities for Czech volunteers in development projects such as this?

“Sure, there may be opportunities for young volunteers. They would have to apply via the programs UN volunteers or EU aid volunteers which are both accessible to young people from the Czech Republic.”

You co-financed this project with Japan. Is it a common practice for countries to work together in assisting small-scale local development projects like this one?

“The project was co-funded by the Japanese Embassy in Cambodia and also by the French Development Agency. For projects like this it is always useful if donors cooperate because with more funds we can make a bigger impact.”

Where does Czech development aid go in Cambodia?

Kindergarten in Andong Chimeun,  photo: archive of Czech Embassy in Cambodia
“There are several specific development aid projects in Cambodia – in addition to small-scale local projects such as this one –there are projects funded by the Czech Development Agency – bilateral projects - like sending teachers to Cambodian universities, or so-called B2B projects which are focused on involving Czech entrepreneurs in development cooperation and supporting the development of the private sector in third countries.”

Give me an example of the local development projects that the embassy handles.

“Well, last year it was the kindergartens that we just spoke about. Then there was another project in which we supported access to water and sanitation in a primary school and the year before we supported the distribution of clean drinking water to villages very far from Phnom Penh.”

Do you get requests from the locals for help or do you find these projects yourselves?

“The Czech Republic as a bilateral donor can only act on a request from our Cambodian partners, which are generally the local authorities. So we always consult the needs of Cambodia with the local authorities. The way it works is that the local authorities must first identify their needs and the challenges they face and then they submit a proposal or project to the Embassy of the Czech Republic. So we are always in touch with our partners and let us say that we identify the problems together with them.”

I know that the King of Cambodia studied here and knows a great deal about this country, but what about the general public. Do people know anything about the Czech Republic and if so, what?

“Most people know about the former Czechoslovakia. That is what you always hear from them – Czechoslovakia. Some people remember the Czech and Slovak doctors who were active in the country in the 1980s and they remember Czech glass and those who studied at Czech and Slovak universities remember Czech beer. As concerns the younger generation – especially those interested in football –all of them know the name Petr Čech.”

You have been in Cambodia for two and a half years now. How has your time in the country enriched you?

“Well, living in a foreign country is always enriching. But I would say that Cambodia is a very specific case, given the fast developing environment, on the one hand and the really rich culture and traditions, on the other. But what is really typical for Cambodia and what you as a person living here or even as a tourist immediately notice is the frank kindness of the Cambodian people.”

Kindergarten in Trapeing Chrab,  photo: archive of Czech Embassy in Cambodia