Teachers and students gathered at Chroy Changva High School on Monday morning, but it wasn’t to kick off the academic year with an opening ceremony as planned.
Floodwaters have been pooling at the low-lying school over the last few weeks, and despite recent efforts to pump the grounds dry, water sat stagnant at mid-calf level Monday. The opening ceremony was cancelled as a result.
“Students cannot stand in that,” said Vang Hak, a 33-year-old math teacher, gesturing toward trees in the middle of the courtyard with their trunks submerged in opaque, brown water.
He added that he doesn’t think school will open until after the Pchum Ben holidays in mid-October.
Some of the school’s 1,000-plus students rolled up their pants, kicked off their shoes and waded their way toward their classrooms. Others congregated at the school’s edge, eyeing the water from a safe distance. No one seemed particularly surprised.
“I have seen five years of floodwaters,” said Ok Vannarith, a 37-year-old French teacher. “But this year is the worst because they have filled in a lake nearby,” he said, pointing to land behind the school where a large brick building is being erected on what was once a lake.
Empty plots of land along Tonle Bassac Road, which runs around the perimeter of Chroy Changva peninsula, stand newly filled with sand.
Chroy Changva commune chief Pich Saroeun acknowledged that the flooding was largely due to nearby lakes being filled in by developers, but he said it couldn’t be prevented.
“It is their right because the land belongs to them,” he said. “I suggest that the school get its own pumping machine,” he added.
Meas Nguok, deputy director of the municipal department of education, said the municipality is currently helping to pump water off the school grounds.
“It is not a serious situation,” he said, adding that he is optimistic classes will be held as usual on Tuesday.
The high school’s director, who declined to give his name, said the commune temporarily provided a pumping machine which the school has had to pay $600 to fuel since Sept 22, when they began pumping the water.
Standing at the edge of the murky water on Monday morning, Koeung Thyda, 18, said she was initially just disappointed at not being able to join her friends at school. But now, her concern has grown more substantial.
“I am worried that I won’t be able to complete my lessons. I am grade 12,” she said, adding that she wants to go to university to study business management upon graduation.
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association, said Monday that flooding has caused delays in the past, but that this year he expects a large number of schools nationwide to be affected.
“This year is very bad,” he said, adding that he is concerned students’ education will be compromised as a result.