EASEL School was founded in 2014 by Sokleng In in a small, rural village near Poipet, Cambodia, a city on the Thai border.
Education is a serious issue for children in such villages, as government-funded public schools are often inaccessible or prohibitively expensive. Not only must students provide their own uniforms, books, and school supplies, they are often required to pay various fees to the teachers. The wage provided to teachers by the government is so low that they are forced to seek additional sources of income in order to support their families, charging students to participate in classes or withholding tutoring necessary to pass exams unless compensated. Teachers often also take second jobs and thus their presence at school can be intermittent, particularly at remote, rural schools in villages such this one. During the rainy season roads in the countryside become almost impassible, which further exacerbates the problem, as does a lack of oversight by officials in charge of education and rampant corruption at all levels of Cambodian government.
Poverty and a lack of economic opportunities force many villagers to daily cross the Thai border and work as day labourers, often in rice fields or on construction sites, leaving their children in the care of elderly relatives. Other migrants venture further into Thailand, generally via labour brokers, where they can obtain work in hospitality or construction, but are at high risk of becoming victims of human trafficking. Even children are at risk of being trafficked, as they are often pressured by their parents to drop out of school around the sixth or seventh grades in order to work and help support their families.
Prior to founding EASEL, Leng worked with an NGO called Freedom Stones, which provided educational support and vocational training for students in middle school over a three-year period. Research conducted by Freedom Stones revealed that there was a significant demand in the village for affordable education, and particularly English and computer skills, so vital to a future in an increasingly globalized economy and a country steadily (albeit slowly) developing.
When Freedom Stones ceased operations, Leng founded EASEL in order to continue the educational and economic support for students in the village. As EASEL began providing English and computer training to youth, it soon became evident that there were two groups of students in the village in need of support – the many unsupervised primary-student-age children in the village attending public school only intermediately, if at all, and secondary-school students at high risk of dropping out. Easel initially planned to serve approximately 20 primary students and 10 secondary students; however, when the school held an official enrollment day, more than 150 children and youth arrived, illustrating the powerful need and demand in the community.
EASEL now supports both primary and secondary students, providing daytime classes for kindergarten through grade three with full-time teachers, who are currently university students. For secondary students, there are three English classes and three computer classes each evening. Select secondary students teach the primary students basic English and computer skills in exchange for a nominal salary that enables them to pay for secondary school fees. Employing secondary students as teachers builds their leadership capacity and establishes them as role models for younger students, helping to reinforce the value of education.