Leadership Network members visit thriving charity schools in Indonesia and Cambodia

For the first time since COVID, Christey West and fellow network member Johanna Peek travelled to Indonesia and Cambodia to visit charity schools they support through their non-profit Just Peoples. In this article, Christey reports back on the trip and what makes the schools so important to the local communities they serve. The trip was supported by a grant from the Leadership Network Travel Fund.
Christey and Johanna smiling at the camera from a tuk tuk

Johanna Peek (left) and Christey West

Starting in Indonesia, we visited two of five preschools we help to fund on Batam Island. The schools were established in 2009 by an Indonesian woman called Rahayu, who was working on Batam to support Indonesian survivors of human trafficking returning from Singapore.

People come from all over Indonesia to work in Batam's many factories and they set up makeshift, informal settlements in the process.

Given that most residents are transient, diverse and without strong roots in Batam, Rahayu noticed the communities were full of people without bonds to each other, which increased danger levels and isolation.

She saw many children picking up rubbish to sell to support their parents who hadn't been able to find work in the factories, and couldn't afford to send them to school. So Rahayu set up five preschools in various slum communities on Batam Island to offer the children an education, and stop them falling through the cracks.

Watch some snippets of footage from Christey and Jo's school visits in Indonesia and Cambodia

A beautiful and unintended effect of the schools was they ended up bringing community members together. Education became a focal point for families to get to know each other, have a shared purpose, and eventually form deep connections.

As we walked through the first settlement and approached the school, we heard lively music playing and lots of laughter. The students were performing traditional dance while their parents clapped along. The classroom inside was vibrant and covered in the students' art.

We then noticed Anastasia, one of the first teachers whose salaries we fundraised for, singing along while helping the kids remember their moves. We had a tearful moment as we reunited with Anastasia after so many years. All the teachers were so kind and clearly invested in their students' growth.

Experiencing the warmth and joy of the school really brought home the hope it represents for all the families involved, and how it's become so much more than 'just' education.

Christey posing in a colourful classroom full of kids, teachers and decorations

Christey: "A beautiful and unintended effect of the schools was they ended up bringing community members together."

The next stop was Cambodia - like Indonesia, it was our first time back in five years!

The people who run the school we support in Siem Reap have done an incredible job getting it up and running again after the long Covid lockdown, which devastated the tourism industry on which the locals depend on to survive.

The teachers invited us to assist in English lessons. Not that they needed us - the teachers were energised and the students were all so engaged with their work. It was a such a joy to see kids so focussed and motivated to absorb everything they're learning.

Then Srey Mao and her team in the kitchen cooked the kids sweet potato, pumpkin and sago soup with coconut milk for lunch. It was filling, healthy and truly delicious (we got a plate too!). Students receive daily hearty lunches which are usually the only meals they get that day.

We also caught up with Sophorn who is the community counsellor/mentor/social worker and every other kind of support families need to navigate extreme poverty, floods, addiction, violence, trafficking and so on.

He explained with personal stories how the families have suffered during Covid but also how the school’s dedication to these people has seen them through the worst times.

Despite the extreme challenges this community faces, Srey Mao, Sophorn and the rest of the team do whatever it takes to set them on the path to safety and happiness. And they're extremely good at what they do!

We are so grateful to the Asia New Zealand Foundation, and the Leadership Network Advisory Board, for enabling us to visit these community-transforming schools again and reminding us why we back Rahayu, Srey Mao and Sophorn in their missions to eliminate poverty in their communities.

Christey and Johanna's trip was supported by a grant from the Leadership Network Travel Fund.