Daycare “Graduates” Take First Steps

“Taking these young children out of the horrors of the garbage dump, away from the abuse or neglect of their home lives, was just the first step. The longer term mission was always to prepare them for a formal education. Today is a special day for CCF. The bridge from daycare to entering the school system has opened-and it works.” Scott Neeson, Founder of CCF

One day last week perhaps the most excited place in all of Phnom Penh, maybe all of Cambodia, was the site of the CCF Community Center, which stands almost in the shadow of the old dump, well within smelling distance of its stench and the eye-stinging reach of its smoke. But on that morning neither smoke nor smell were in the air – it was too full of School!

For this was Day One, and CCF’s First Day at School project was underway with CCF’s 31 most junior graduates, the first cohort from our Daycare scheme, readying to go into Cambodia’s school system.

And what a morning. Maybe you’ve had the experience of readying one kid, or two, three even for Day One. Try to imagine doing the same for 31 – ‘herding cats’ is just one of the descriptors that comes to mind. And it just doesn’t do the pink and blue and white frenzy justice. It comes nowhere near capturing the enormous grins, the friend-hugging exhilaration, the sheer joy of 31 clean and crisp children on the edge of doing the previously unthinkable and, for their families, the once utterly unattainable – going to school as regular, permanent students.

And it all ran well, flawlessly in fact. The kids all arrived and assembled on time. Clean and fully CCF-equipped with their pencils and crayons, books and bags and bottles and, joy of joys, their wondrously received very own pink packs, they swirled around the tuk-tuks which, equally efficiently, had arrived to ferry them to their new adventure. Boarding took seconds. The wait for the engines to start seemed to take a year. And then, it was done. Rattling and swaying, the tuk-tuks took their waving, grinning, joyful cargoes on their way, through the gates and round the corner – to school. And for a few moments it was quiet and there was a chance to realize what had just happened.

The 31 children who made up that laughing cargo had shown that being born on a rubbish dump, or in an extremity of poverty, or spending the earliest years in abuse and neglect need not condemn a child to a hopeless, squalid life. It showed that CCF’s Daycare program was working. The program was never just about keeping the daycare children safe and away from the horrors of the dump, but to start and support them on their way to becoming good, educated, decent children; children who would have their own chance to develop their own skills and abilities and have as much opportunity as anyone else to become full and useful members of their own society. It is a program designed not just as a haven from distress but as a launchpad to the future.

And it’s not an exclusive program either for the 31 were not the only children to benefit from CCF’s launch pad that day. CCF’s commitment has always been not just to the children in its care, but to their families and their communities. So the First Day project stretched well beyond CCF’s walls and included many others; in most cases children whose applications to join CCF have had to be declined, mainly because of CCF’s current stretched-to-breaking point capacities. CCF registered these children, paid their school fees, bought their uniforms and books and ensured they got to school. They too, just like their tuk-tuk borne friends, are part of CCF’s wider circle of care.

For everyone in that circle, Day One is over now. It will not quickly be forgotten by those who took part, not least by the 31 smilers, their thrilled families and CCF’s own staff. For all involved it was a good day and, hugely enjoyable. But most importantly, for the kids, the 31, it was a great start to what should be a good, long and rewarding journey into the world of education.

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