“We are preparing a show,” says Marta, the OBK coordinator. A smile escapes. It is difficult to contain it, very difficult: the show oversees one hundred and sixty tiny children who move without stopping, like lizard tails, everywhere.
This subprogram, known as OBK, is located in a PSE nursery, just a five-minute walk from the PSE Central, in the neighbourhood of Oberk Ka Orm —OBK, as it is known here—. It is not the only subprogram developed in a kindergarden, so it is in Sen Sok. That makes both centers have things in common, but without losing their own identity. What makes OBK different: is Neverland, with its eternally small children.
THE OBK GOBLINGS
Entering OBK is like arriving to Neverland, with its classrooms full of drawings and hearts hanging from the ceiling, the fruit murals decorating the walls, blue and green coloring it all out —there are blue tarps on the walls of the classrooms, which only have walls up to half a height, and a large green awning in the patio’s sky, all designed to shade all spaces— and their tiny children, like little goblins coming out of a magical place —although less magical than on the tales because these little goblins wear their dirty old clothes—, running and jumping everywhere . Yes: OBK children barely lift one meter off the ground. And here, almost all children are under six years old. They are the children who have attended day care during the school year and who, now, during the summer, continue to come thanks to the support of the School Continuity Program. They are even smaller than the children of Sen Sok, where the average age is five: Here in OBK, the average is four years.
“Sometimes, taking off their clothes to go to the shower is very complicated, it’s like they feel deprived of the only thing that protects them, as if they suddenly feel helpless.”
That makes OBK the subprogram with the youngest children, after Kindergarden, of all subprograms: that’s its sign of identity. And it is not little. The small school that is OBK, houses about one hundred and sixty children during the summer— in OBK there is only one shift that lasts all day —that most of them don´t lift a meter of the ground. One must bend down to see their faces well. And when you do, you smile. It is inevitable to smile. They are experts at wringing smiles, experts at stealing hearts.”OBK is the club of little whiners” says Paula, a monitor, “their natural talent is to cry until they can no more” and smiles. And when they cry, they cry without consolation, as it happens to those who do not want to bathe when bath time comes: although for most of the kids the bath is fun, there are children to which is a real drama. “Sometimes, taking their clothes off to go to the shower is very complicated” says a monitor “it is as if they feel deprived of the only thing that protects them, as if they suddenly feel helpless.” When that happens, they cry with real anguish, despite the mimes of the monitors, until the bath is over; nevertheless, immediately afterwards, they laugh enthusiastically with any game.
It’s true that they cry, how is it possible to be different? They are very small, but it is also true that they know how to put the most provocative faces, the most comical ones —some are real actors— and the sweetest ones in the world.
PLAYING IN NEVERLAND
Being so small complicates things a bit in OBK, but everything here is possible. “It is difficult to manage them,” says Marta, “it is almost impossible to keep them attentive in an activity for twenty-five minutes.” But the seven European monitors and the eight Cambodian monitors, all together, achieve it! On Mondays Tuesdays and Thursdays there are activities in the morning —organized for the seven groups of twenty children each, which are kept fixed throughout the month— where sometimes even classes of personalized yoga are included”. On Wednesdays, there is Gymkana and on Fridays the Olympics, adapted in this case to this public. What is clear is that achieving the goal of twenty-five minutes playing is, here, in OBK, a goal achieved.
“When the weekend comes, you do not want to leave. When the program ends, you just want to come back.”
It is also possible to make this place a little paradise for every child, and it is not easy, because here, as in other centers, every child has its own story. “We have not finished the program yet,” says Javi, a monitor “and we’ve already gotten almost all the kids laughing and having a good time.” This is the case of ten-year-old Mony coming to OBK with her brothers Chakry, of seven, and Vichaka, of two. “On the first day it was not possible to separate Mony from Vichaka, they both cried,” the monitors tell us. The obligation that parents impose on “older” children to care for their younger siblings generates a burden of responsibility and a sense of guilt arduous for the elderly that robs them of any possibility of feeling like children. And there are children like these in every center. “But we have already achieved that each of them,” they say referring to Mony and Vichaka, “remain in a group according to their age and each of them enjoy the activities that suit them.”
Only a few do not laugh yet: they are the ones who have the hardest stories behind. For these children, the need for care and attention is much greater and also the commitment that the monitors put in making them forget and laugh.
“We are preparing a show”
In the afternoons, after the meal and the nap the challenge of summoning the children to the activities continues. In the afternoons, there will be a fair, Gymkana or “one of three” —so they call the choice children make between watching a movie, making bracelets or reading stories—.
READ: NEW STORIES, STORIES AND MORE STORIES
The small library of Sen Sok has its replica here. And the fact that both centres are nurseries generates many points in common: Sen Sok and OBK each have a small library, a sacred space, with shelves full of stories, all scrambled, hiding fantastic stories.
There are spaces where children always sneak in when they want. There are always children, in any posture imaginable, reading a story or watching their drawings while they review with the fingertips the faces of their characters. And after the nap time – that incredibly quiet hour in such a large group of young children – the Cambodian monitors read stories. Then, everything becomes tight circles of children around small stories told in Cambodian. At that moment, the clocks stop. In some circles, children look at the drawings while listening, in others, the stories do not even have drawings, only letters and letters, so roughly the story, with only text and yet the children listen in amazement to the stories of the monitors. Wonderful
“We are preparing a show” says Marta. And a smile escapes. It is difficult to contain it, very difficult: the show will be represented by these small actors and led – and this is a great novelty – by the Cambodian monitors. Each of the Cambodian monitors have chosen their own function and in the afternoons, rehearse with the children. The act will be the last Friday of the program and the parents of the children are invited.
“We have grown up with the children. And the children have also changed: they have gone from considering us a figure who helps them and smile and play with them to consider us something much more exciting: their friends, someone dear. “
“We have everything,” say the monitors “we even have a Christmas song that the children are rehearsing.” Anyone cannot understand who has come up with the crazy idea of singing a Christmas song now, so far away from those dates and in the middle of this suffocating heat, but! Anything is possible! Others wanted to represent the Lion King, but here in Cambodia the Lion King story is not popular. Others, the story of PSE, a challenge in the hands of these tiny dolls. And poetry and songs. The party will be the last Friday of the program. It is the great gift of the children to their families. Here, everything can happen. But one thing is for sure: whatever comes out, it will turn out well.
THE SECRET OF OBK: GROWING TOGETHER
“In OBK we have all grown up, the monitors and the children,” says Javi, “we, the monitors, have gradually passed from being monitors who try to do their job well, to feel part of children’s lives; We have gone from struggling to make days perfect, to enjoy every day: that little change, is what has made every day precisely what we wanted: perfect.
“We have grown from the hand of the children,” he continues. “And the children have also changed: they have gone from considering us a figure who helps them and smile and play with them to consider us something much more exciting: their friends, someone dear. You notice in the way they smile at you, in the way they greet you when they arrive in the morning, in the way they teach you the games of the previous week and the way they laugh with you. Here at OBK, with these young children, the evolution has been incredible. Now there is a special relationship, different, that exists only when relationships are sincere. “That may be the secret of PSE, to which it constantly invites its spirit: to cross the barrier between give something and give yourself. That’s what makes PSE an “addictive” NGO: When the weekend comes, you do not want to leave. When the program ends, you just want to come back.