Dr. Robert (Bob) Spires, recently hired by the School of Professional & Continuing Studies as assistant professor of education, serves on the board of an international charity called Love Without Boundaries (LWB). This summer he spent several weeks collaborating with the staff of LWB’s schools and programs in rural Cambodia.

These programs are located in Western Cambodia in villages along the border with Thailand, and many of the families send working-age adults to Thailand informally, without passports or other travel documentation. Many of the families in this region cannot afford to send their children to school, and children are often left unattended in villages while parents work.

In response, LWB established two Believe In Me Schools in rural villages. One of the school locations provides education for students in grades 1-3, and the other location provides education for students in grades preschool-6.

The teachers at these schools are all high school graduates, but they do not have formal teacher training. Spires collaborates with the teachers and administrative staff to provide training on effective teaching methods, achievement assessment design and data collection, and other program implementation logistical support.

Unlike government schools in Cambodia, the LWB Believe in Me Schools provide daily hot breakfast and lunch nutritional programs for the students, of particular importance because children in these villages face chronic malnourishment and stunted growth.

Spires, his wife Amy, and his daughter Jane Claire helped to collect height and weight data on the children alongside staff to monitor the impact of the nutrition program.

Over the past two years, Spires has assisted in transitioning the schools to the Cambodian government’s curriculum and the development of pre- and post-tests for students in each grade. Spires has also facilitated training of Cambodian teachers on trauma-informed teaching approaches.

In addition to primary education, LWB’s programs also include offering evening classes for middle- and secondary-age English language learners, and outreach by secondary students in more remote villages to teach primary students life skills, hygiene and basic literacy. Secondary students who participate in these programs qualify for university sponsorship, with 20 high school graduates from remote villages currently sponsored for full university tuition scholarships.

In addition to the school programs, Spires helped facilitate LWB’s educational daycare program called the Sibling School, which allows school-age students with infant and toddler siblings to attend  formal schooling while their little brothers and sisters receoved safe and nurturing care. The Sibling School employs local women, many grandmothers, as caregivers and provides a variety of engaging and educational toys along with nutritional formula or solid foods. The Sibling School also has a regularly scheduled activity routine, which Spires helped develop.

LWB is also one of the first charities to offer foster care to abandoned and trafficked children in the region, with 22 children currently being served and placed in local trusted and vetted families in the region.

Spires and his wife Amy assisted the LWB Cambodian staff in improving their case management approaches and developing data collection strategies on foster care cases.

Finally, while in Southeast Asia, Spires and LWB staff travelled to Thailand to meet with potential partner charities to discuss future collaborations on foster care partnerships.

Spires is currently conducting field research on the programs as well as the contextual factors impacting the region.