Originally posted at: http://www.karigradygrossman.com/wordpress/
Re-posted by permission of SSI
Written By Kari Grady Grossman, Director of Sustainable Schools International
We started in a school with 50 kids sitting on logs in a dilapidated dirt hut, in a village called Chrauk Tiek where no one had ever finished sixth grade. Five years since Sustainable Schools International was conceived to tackle the problem of sustainable rural education in Cambodia, we are now operating in five rural schools with over 2,000 primary and secondary students, and 28 Leadership Academy students from these very same villages in high school and college. The first college graduate is back in his village working and the second will be joining him this year. Most importantly, that first school at Chrauk Tiek is generating enough income to pay 25% of the school budget we provide, within the next five years we expect it to operate without us – in other words, our first Sustainable School.
We could never have gotten this far without the help of an amazing organization called Village Earth and it’s director, Dave Bartecchi. We’d struggled for several years with our vision of a sustainable school, often banging our heads against the wall as we confronted problem after problem with social conflict among the villagers, teachers, principals and students we were trying to help. We tried a community owned, low tech cooking fuel business to support the school and it failed. We found out that you can’t have a community business or any community owned institution without a coherent community. Since community ownership is a basic tenet of sustainability, this was a big obstacle to our mission.
In Cambodia, where 30 years of civil war have wreaked havoc on people’s honesty, trust and solidarity, we knew we had to start there in order to pull the community together, but we didn’t know how. After taking a community development course with Village Earth, we knew the theory of social change we had to apply, but the Cambodian staff struggled with how to dot it. Their work in the village faced complex challenges daily that felt overwhelming. We needed help that was specific to our situation.
So we went back to Village Earth and asked for a private workshop for our staff. With our Cambodian program director and our first college graduate from the village holed up in a room with Dave Bartecchi for a week, we peeled back the layers of the problems and examined them. We didn’t mess with academic theory because our Cambodian staff didn’t have the education to process it. Dave held that in his head and used it to guide us through questions for five straight days. At the beginning our problem tree looked like a vast web of roots and tentacles and by the end we had a neat and simple set of School Success Logic Models that everyone could understand.
Those Logic Models are great communication devices. They hang in every rural school where we work, in our Leadership Academy in Phnom Penh and have been shared numerous times with government education officials. We refer to them on a daily basis. They have made the way so much clearer for our staff it enables their decision making process to focus and spend money on things that really matter, in the order they are most effective. As a result they have now built a coherent team of parents, teachers, principals and students across multiple schools around the sustainable school vision. With this critical mass of, dare I say it – empowerment – our impact has begun to accelerate.
I highly recommend the Village Earth sustainable development workshop program to any organization that faces the social conflict we face, but be forewarned, it may make you more successful that you are ready for. Our new challenge is growing our organization to keep up with the demand for our school success program!