Throw a pebble into a pond and there’s a ripple effect.
The ripple effect of the Bopha Project involve things like the football story, the clean water for communities surrounding schools and potential improvements for the school itself. But the pebble at the heart of it all is the girls: empowering Cambodian girls to reach better health, self awareness, improved education and fulfilled potential.
The education element of this trip really started back in our hotel in Siem Reap, when myself, Phea and Lyna met with our translator, Vita. It was only when I arrived in Cambodia that Phea told me that it had been practically impossible to find a translator to come and work with us at the jungle school.
“They say, it too hot and too far,” Phea explained. “They all want a LOT of money to travel to a remote school like this. Vita was the final person I asked. She heard about the project and instantly she said she would come. She didn’t want money. She just wanted to do it because it helped the girls.”
And this, my friends, is what Bopha School does.
It just attracts BRILLIANT, WONDERFUL human beings.
And Vita was just extraordinary. She works in a National Park around eight hours drive away from item Reap, yet had willingly come to help. She had no idea what the project was going to involve or who, and yet she came with an open mind and a willing heart. Alongside Vita, was Lyna - Phea’s wife - and also our Khmer Bopha Education lead. Last year my daughter Aysha had come out to volunteer with her friend Holly. This year, Lyna’s 12 year old daughter, Nariya was helping Us instead.
Basically, we’re a total girl gang!
Our first job was to stop at the school from last year, Sebabromok Miyasita Primary School. While the guys handed out the football kits, Vita, Lyna and myself had a meeting with one of the female teachers who had been present at last year’s educational delivery.
In March 2022, we had provided the school with a workshop for 25 girls aged 12-18. At the end of the workshop, each participant received a period kits (an upcycled rucksack that contained 6 reusable sanitary towels, journal, tracking sheets, a mesh bag to dry the sanitary towels discreetly as the cleaning and drying process is vital to keeping the products good, and finally a friendship bracelet).
It was great to catch up and find out what her thoughts and feedback were. Here’s a rough transcript of what we discussed.
Bethan: Does the teacher feel that what we did here last year helped the girls?
Miss Vita: Yes, the teacher says she feels it helped a lot. The biggest part for the girls was having the reusable sanitary products as they don’t have the money to buy them. They allow the family to save money and it is easy to keep them clean. Also the mesh bags to dry means that it helps the girls to look after the, as the taboo of periods creates much shame for them.
Bethan: Please can you ask the teacher what improvements we could make? How could we make the eductaion better for the girls?
Miss Vita: 9-11 year old girls could be included next time. They may not be old enough to have their period but she thinks it would be good for them to have more education about this so that when they are old enough, they will understand what is happening with their bodies.
Bethan: So, do you think a class for younger girls between the age of 8-12 and then a seperate class for the older girls?
Miss Vita: No, she thinks it is best to do one class and have the younger and older girls together.
Photo from left:
Vita, Bethan, teacher, Lyna. ❤
The next stop was Preah Trapang Primary School, a tiny 3 classroom wooden school (the third classroom was an overspill of desks outside) deep in the jungle. This is where we would be setting up camp, building the water project and delivering the education to the girls.
The first classroom appeared to be reception, year one age and possibly year two age kids, the middle classroom was year three to four and outside year five.
At our last school, there had been an issue getting the girls to attend the Bopha School Workshop due to it being tapioca season and parents wanting kids to stay home and help in the fields. Education for girls is undervalued here and so myself and the 2022 crew had had to go house to house and persuade the parents to let the children attend. The first day had been well attended, but the second day no one appeared, so I’d travelled to another school and delivered the second workshop there.
Based on that - and it being tapioca season again - I’d assumed that we would have a similar issue at this school, but on our arrival we were told by the teacher that he had fifty girls eager to attend our workshop. Thankfully I had enough workbooks, bags and product for 55 girls so this was great news.
Lyna, Vita and myself spent the afternoon unloading all of the period kit bags. These, like last year, have been upcycled from old cement bags and tyres and are stitched by polio disabled Cambodians. The only change to the bags this year was that we added a little Bopha School label.
We then added the sanitary products, 150 towels that had ben stitched by women here in Cambodia and another 95 that were hand stitched by Lesley Weeks from the UK.
Finally, Miss Vita and I wrote up the flip chart pages for the workshop and then we were pretty much ready to go. ❤
The next morning the girls turned up an hour early and assembled at their desks. We’d had to bring all of the desks out of the classrooms in order to accommodate the large number of participants. Many of the desks were damaged and the wood, split. (This is another thing I’d like to get some Bopha money to sort out. After all, who wants splinters in their legs when trying to get an education?!)
The workshop took around two hours. At the start of the programme I try to ascertain how many of the girls
a) know what a period is
b) what causes it to happen.
To do this, we have them imagine a scenario in which their little sister comes to them with blood in her pants. We ask the girls what they would say to their little sister about this. How would they explain what is happening to her. Finally we ask them what they’d suggest the little sister do to look after herself. The answers give a great insight into just how much knowledge the girls have on this subject.
This particular cohort had no knowledge. When showed the picture of the female reproductive system, they had no idea what it was.
By the end of the session they’d been taken through:
1. Female anatomy
2. Location of reproductive system
3. Names, function of explanation of each part of the female reproductive system
4. Puberty and hormonal changes
5. Why we have a period
6. The four stages of the 28 day hormonal cycle of a woman
7. Feelings, moods and mindsets they may experience during the 28 day cycle
8. Ways to look after themselves and self-care practices during the 4 stages of the cycle
9. Ways to catch the blood during their period (ie. Different products women and girls can use)
10. The period kit, what it contains and how to care for their sanitary products
The whole workshop is a team effort between myself, the translator and Lyna. It is interjected with our own stories and relayed experiences, demonstrating to the girls that we are all women and the menstrual cycle is part of a woman’s experience.
At the end of the workshop, we handed out the period kits to all of the girls.
At the start Of this post I mentioned throwing a pebble into a pool and the ripple effect.
That the Menstrual Education IS the pebble that Bopha School throws.
But do you want to know what the heart of this piece of education is?
It’s this moment, in the middle of the workshop where the girls close their eyes. They make a little triangle shape with their fingers and we show them how to place that on their belly so they can identify where their uterus is.
Then they visualise sending themselves and their bodies a whole load of love, goodness, respect and power.
And for me and Lyna and Vita, this is where we just felt really happy.
In our girl gang.
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