anlong veng, Oddar Meanchey province – At age 13, Phoeun Khmao says the sum of his education under the Khmer Rouge was learning how to lay traps of sharpened bamboo to kill enemy soldiers in the jungle.
Now, eight months after Anlong Veng came under government control, Phoeun Khmao wants to learn something new: how to read and write. Instead of preparing for a life of guerrilla warfare, he wants to study in a school—a type of building he has never been inside.
“I want to be able to write my name,” the teen-ager said. “But I have no teacher who can teach me.”
Phoeun Khmao is not alone. Most of the children in this former Khmer Rouge stronghold have grown up without formal education, said Poy Roeun, deputy governor of the newly declared Anlong Veng district.
Getting children access to school is a priority that Anlong Veng leaders last week vowed to address.
“The barrier for us is that schools are not built yet. But we can not wait because the children are growing up too fast,” Poy Roeun said at his home in Anlong Veng. “We will start to look for a big private house that can be used as classrooms for students.”
The Anlong Veng district now has only one school. The three-story building sits in the center Anlong Veng town and now has 322 students. But the school is too far from most children’s homes for them to attend.
Anlong Veng officials hope to improve the situation with government and foreign aid.
Last month Britain pledged $240,000 in aid for a UN Development Program/Carere2 project already planned for Anlong Veng. Some of the money will probably go to building schools, a UN official said last month.
And the government is helping to train teachers for Anlong Veng, Poy Roeun said. Already, there are enough teachers trained in Siem Reap for the five new Anlong Veng communes, and they are to move to the area soon.
Many people here, including Phoeun Khmao, blame the area’s former hard-line leader, Ta Mok, for the children’s lack of education. Now residents say they are eager to establish a formal education system.
“The Ta Mok time is over, so we need proper schools,” Poy Roeun said.
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