I just finished a picnic lunch in the countryside outside Siem Reap. I am sitting under a tree next to a Buddhist temple. Two sad, dirt covered dogs gaze at me while a puppy jumps playfully at the table hoping for some scraps. He gets them. My guide says, “There’s a school a short walk away. Let’s visit the classroom.”
If I tried to pop into a classroom in the USA unannounced, I’d likely be arrested. So I am a little concerned. I say, “Are you sure we can just walk into a classroom?” He says, “Yes. They will love it.” So we walk on.
As I approach the school yard, I notice that some children are outside, some inside. I hear excited murmurs. When we get to the classroom I don’t see a teacher anywhere. To my surprise, there are children seated at the desks.
We enter and most of the children jump up and run towards us. They see cameras and want photos taken. Many keep flashing peace signs, so much so that it makes it difficult to get a good shot without having fingers in front of someone’s face. There is so much movement, it’s also difficult to focus. Clearly this is the highlight of their day.
A few children sit at their place, looking shy and reserved. I take one of the shy girl’s photos. She smiles when I show her image to her. Other children surround me so they too can see her image. Now everyone wants to see their image in my camera.
This goes on for at least ten minutes before the teacher arrives. We wish her a good day and leave, the children waving at us as we make a quiet getaway.
There are schools all over the countryside. Most, but not all, children attend. It’s easy to see who attends by the fact the children wear uniforms. As I walk through other parts of this rural area, I see children who appear to be school age, but are helping tend livestock or work in the fields. The literacy rate in rural areas is about 74% compared to urban areas, which is about 90%.