Classes are in full swing at BEA as we come to the end of September. Since the first few weeks are always hectic, we don't give out supplies right away since there are often a few students who have to drop out because of conflicts with public school or their part-time jobs. Also, we usually add a few more students to the class lists if there are any available seats. Nevertheless, the BEA kids were excited to finally get their textbooks and school supplies for the 2013-14 school year. Since we've increased our student body to 140 students this year, supplies were more expensive this year at $1500 US. However, that's only $10 US for each student for the entire year!
Getting good quality supplies for the BEA kids is quite the challenge. This is my fourth year getting supplies, so I've developed a few contacts at the local bookstores that give us an NGO discount and recommend supplies that will last through wear and tear. Although you can get some supplies an incredibly cheap prices, they're not always the best option because they are of poor quality - meaning than the pens are difficult to hold or stop working after a few scribbles. My favorite was the correction fluid that I got for the 2010-11 school year that didn't even cover up mistakes after using one-third of the bottle! Now, I test every single supply before I even consider buying it for the BEA kids. Fortunately, the book store owners are happy to deliver all of our supplies for us. However, buying supplies from the market entail loading everything up on my motorbike and balancing them while I drive back to BEA. Until now, I've yet to drop a single thing while driving (or have an accident)! My most recent "accomplishment" was balancing 50 books in front of me with a bag full of 150 drinking cups and a birthday cake for our school assistant!
In addition, we buy all of our supplies from local Cambodian supplier so that our donor money goes back into the local economy rather than out of the country. This is the main reason why we discouraged supply donation from overseas. In most cases, they would never reach the school because of the unreliable postal system and it would cost us a fortune to accept deliveries sent by ship. This would entail a trip to the port in Phnom Penh, paying the storage fees and import taxes, and shipping the supplies back to Siem Reap. The cost of just getting the supplies back to Siem Reap would cover all of our local supplies bought in Siem Reap for the entire year!
Many are surprised to learn that notebooks are relatively cheap at $1.30 US for a good quality one, and the supply that we have plenty of at the school since we buy all we need at the start of the school year. Also, we need to make sure that all the notebooks are the same so that all students get the same type of notebook in order to avoid jealousy, especially if one student gets better supplies than another. We tend to choose notebooks with cartoon characters on them or those with solid colors. Surprisingly, there are often notebooks with images that are inappropriate for the BEA kids.
The most expensive supplies that we purchase throughout the year are ink cartridges and large bottles of anti-bacterial hand soap. Although these are often not the first things that people would like to donate, they are the most essential for the school. We're still using the $70 US printer we first purchased back in 2010, but since then, we've spent hundreds of dollars on ink cartridges. At $15 US for one black cartridge and $17 for a color one, we spend about $80 per month on these cartridges. Ink that we need for printing out daily lesson handouts, teacher-training manuals, accounting spreadsheets, monthly pay stubs, and the hundreds of other administrative documents needed to run a school. The anti-bacterial hand soap is needed to keep our kids healthy and to stop the spread of colds and other illnesses and encourage cleanliness at BEA. As soon as the BEA kids enter the front door, they're required to wash their hands before they go into the classroom. Keeping 140 sets of hands clean every day takes a lot of this soap!!!
Nevertheless, the BEA kids were so excited to get their supplies. For all our students, this is the first time in their lives that they've gotten a full-set of school supplies. They don't have the money to pay for any of these supplies since their families make less than $2.00 a day. "Supply day" is always a special, and memorable, day for them with lots of smiles!
The Bayon English Academy (BEA) is an accredited NGO school that provides underprivileged youth with quality English language education with professional teachers in a safe, clean environment in Siem Reap, Cambodia.