Meaningful Conversations: Day 2 at SV

What is the curve that sets everything straight? - Phyllis Diller

Smile Village'18 Journal 

Day 2: 3 June 18

After a comfortable sleep (thank you, mosquito nets), we woke up fresh, rested, and ready to start our first morning here at SV. Our team was pleasantly surprised by the Western-style breakfast served by our friendly cooks in the community hall. We were even more delighted when Mr Ratha introduced us to our translators, who are PSE graduates. Their English proficiency astonished us - they were really fluent despite having learnt the language for only 3 years! The digital literacy team first talked to the translators to understand the computer lessons conducted at PSE, before engaging the current students at the school to find out about their current level of digital education, interests, as well as aspirations in life. The boys highlighted that they wanted to go into engineering, electronics and mechanics while the girls aspired to work in the service sector, and mentioned front desk jobs or tour guides when asked about their ideal professions.

Meanwhile, the arts team taught the children how to throw the frisbee. The children picked up the throwing and catching skills really quickly, and before long, frisbees were whizzing through the air. Since the skills could be taught through demonstration, language was not a barrier in this activity. This allowed us to play comfortably with the children.

Before lunch, we met up with the local residents’ committee to find out more about the concerns and vision of the community. The committee agreed on the most pressing concern within the community which was that most families living in the village are debt-ridden and so their key concern is to pay off their debts. This need for money may lead the residents to turn to scavenging, which is a lucrative trade here in the region, even though it does not guarantee a sustainable income due to its ad-hoc nature. In the committee’s opinion, this was a poor alternative to taking up regular jobs (which are in fact readily available) because these jobs would guarantee a steady flow of income. The conundrum lies in the fact that regular jobs do not pay as well as scavenging in the short term, and so families are reluctant to look for and maintain regular jobs.

In addition, the children’s education is often neglected while the adults in the family are busy clearing their debts. Apart from sending the children to school on the schoolbus, some parents are not very involved in their children’s schooling matters. They may not know about their children’s homework, the subjects they study, or even the grade they are in. The committee is currently coming up with ways in order to motivate parents to prioritise the children’s education, and have shared some of their rough plans with us.

Another concern of the committee is the cleanliness and infrastructure. Some issues include rusting staircases and dripping roof flashings. However, upon analysis, Mr Ratha stated that the root cause of the problem was the lack of funds leading to inferior materials used to construct the buildings. In the area of enterprise, Mr Ratha proposes to have external entrepreneurs guide the enterprises in developing a product with a decent market demand and yet easy to manufacture.

Concluding the dialogue, Mr Ratha shared his hopes that SV will become a big enterprise, with home-based business and a residents’ committee that steps up to be part of the managing team, even in the absence of STEP and PSE.

In the afternoon, the Digital Literacy team engaged the older children in a lesson on emailing, with the aid of 4 brand new Lenovo tablets. Content covered include forwarding, replying, formatting, and attaching of pictures on emails. The children were excited to have the lessons, and even requested that we hold these lessons everyday after school, with emphasis on learning English through conversation. As this was a need that the community felt strongly about, we will be considering how we can make adjustments to our plans so that we may better serve the Smile Village community.