Khmer language version here
At Bay Damram Secondary School, fruits and vegetables are grown as part of the school’s initiative to help impoverished students and provide extra funding to develop their campus. Located in Banan district’s Bay Damram commune, the only road leading to the school is unpaved. And even though the scene seems dire, hope lies behind these walls.
Banan district, Battambang province – Pheng Vuthy, a teacher and school technical director, stands near a vegetable garden and instructs a student how to apply fertiliser.
Mr Vuthy says the school began a programme in 2015 to teach students how to grow vegetables and fruits. Since then, the school has planted morning glory, cabbage, garlic, chilli pepper, banana and mango crops.
“It is very beneficial to supporting our school. First, it allows students to have one more skill in their life – which is the skill to grow crops,” he says. “Second, we take the money from the vegetables we sell to buy rice and gas, and school equipment for poor students.”
In addition, Mr Vuthy says the school also uses the money, and money donated from donors, to upgrade and renovate the school when it is in need of fans, electrical wirings and computers.
Vuth Bela, a grade nine student and head of the school’s student council, says students are divided into groups and are given weekly schedules to tend to the crops.
“We help each other dig, prepare rows, water crops, apply fertiliser, while teachers help provide seeds for students to grow,” Ms Bela says. “Agriculture teachers also instruct us on how to plant and take care of crops.”
She says happily that the programme has successfully contributed to helping impoverished students continue their education, regardless of how insignificant contributions may seem.
“We previously helped impoverished students by providing clothes, books, pens, and bicycles for students who lived far away,” Ms Bela says. “But we haven’t helped this year because many impoverished students were forced to drop out of school.”
“Instead, this year the school has taken the money from selling vegetables to buy brooms, fans and rice for students,” she adds.
Seub Liza, a student who actively joins the vegetable growing programme, says what the school is doing inspires students, increases solidarity and teaches agriculture.
“I am proud and happy to help grow and tend to vegetables and fruits – I can contribute to helping poor students because some students want to learn but are unable to travel to school,” Ms Liza says. “So when the school is able to provide bicycles, impoverished students are happy to study with their classmates.”
Aside from earning income from growing and selling crops, the school fines students for breaking rules. A student who litters or dyes their hair is fined about $0.75. According to the school, the fines are used to purchase books.
Jin Jenny, 15, says growing crops also promotes a clean environment.
“Growing fruits and vegetables helps provide money for the school and students, but it also helps the environment to be green,” Ms Jenny says. “We grow using natural fertilisers, without chemicals that can affect the health of consumers.”
Reth Sarem, a resident of Bay Damran commune, says she often buys vegetables from the students because of the quality.
“I buy morning glory from this school at 2,000 riel [$0.50] per kilogram because it is organic – I see the students grow and harvest almost every day,” Ms Sarem says. “I hear the money goes to buy books and pens for impoverished students.”
“That’s why I buy vegetables here almost every day,” she adds. “The vegetables are organic, and I can help poor children.”
Ms Sarem says teaching students on how to grow crops will teach students about agriculture and help prevent students who are unable to buy school supplies from dropping out.
“If other schools can be like this, then I think it’s good because it can help provide knowledge and make the school green,” she says.
Yi Songky, acting director of the provincial education, youth and sport department, says national and sub-national education officials have encouraged schools to utilise their empty spaces to grow crops or trees.
“The Education Ministry is encouraging this work, and the provincial department is also looking at schools that have land to potentially do agriculture work,” Mr Songky says. “We are helping to prepare for a vegetable growing programme, so what Bay Damram Secondary School is doing has been right.”
“This will encourage students to learn agriculture skills,” he says.
“Some schools will need to share with each other because they may not be able to grow crops on a larger scale,” Mr Songky adds. “But, those who are able can sell their crops at the market for profit.”
In 2011, the Education Ministry approved the publication of a document called the “Curriculum of Basic Life Skills” to teach students on agriculture, small-scale handicraft and providing service. The move was made to help improve the living condition of impoverished families.
The Curriculum of Basic Life Skills enables students to increase their knowledge on agricultural tools, equipment and techniques. It also teaches students how to raise animals and prevent disease among livestock. Additionally, it teaches how to store agriculture products, and ways to ensure safety.
“This study will make students love agriculture work and inspire them to participate in preserving the environment,” the document says. “It will also help them understand the impact of using chemical fertilisers and how poisonous they are to human health.”
According to the Education Ministry, the Kingdom has nearly 13,000 public schools, including more than 4,000 kindergardens, 7,000 primary schools, 1,200 secondary schools and 500 high schools.
Back at Bay Damram Secondary School, Mr Vuthy says he is planning to expand the programme when there is additional funding from donors and civil society organisations.
He says one day fish and chickens will be raised alongside of growing crops.
Mr Vuthy says schools with empty spaces are encouraged to plant crops and raise animals in order to help students.