This year I challenge everyone I meet to nudge up your giving-level by a notch or two! Discover the joy of supporting a young student in Cambodia and helping them achieve their potential. Contact me – I don’t bite, I don’t heap sob stories onto you. But I do need your help.
Mitty Steele is an excellent insightful blogger, based in Phnom Penh and well worth following.
Mitty Steele is a Cambodian-American writer, photographer, and overall communications professional. She was born in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime and immigrated to the United States with her family when she was five years old.
Her blogs are beautifully written, and what I admire is how she digs underneath the surface to bring well-researched stories that also reflect on her own family background.
In this article Mitty examines the life of a teacher before – and after – the Pol Pot years, and shows why the current education system in Cambodia receives too little investment from the State. Well worth reading. The Great Divide: Life of a Teacher
A recent post about the cow/grass/chicken test got a big response and got me thinking about more of the differences between Khmer culture and western culture. A web search took me to a good American educational website (The Language Minority Assessment Project ) which explores cultural differences but in so doing puts the very sensible disclaimer that this is not an effort to over simplify or stereotype people, and that above all students in the classroom must still be treated and respected as individuals.
Their website is the outcome of the Language Minority Assessment Project, a Lesley University Center for Special Education action research initiative developed with teachers from the Lowell Public Schools in Massachusetts, and one of the objectives of the project was to enable teachers to distinguish between culturally driven behaviours versus what might be perceived as learning difficulties.
For example in the western, or particularly American tradition, verbal disagreement and debate is actively encouraged whereas in Cambodia as student might choose to remain silent rather than to disagree with a teacher.
The list of different cultural emphases above explains why group learning activities are popular in Cambodia – where the class is split into teams and students share the successes and challenges, rather than get singled out.
One way around some of these differences in outlook is to lace the school lessons with a lot of humour and laughter. When I tell tall-stories that are patently false (did I tell you how I swam all the way from New Zealand to Siem Reap?) the students are given license to park their respect for the teacher to one side. “You’re lying!” they’d jeer. And no matter how I embellished the story (the final swim across Tonle Sap lake, fending off the crocodiles,) the students knew they had permission to ‘rubbish’ the teacher. In this case the quest for social harmony trumps the rule of deference and respect.
Perhaps readers have other examples they would like to share.
By the way, if you don’t know me, my name is Duncan Stuart and I’m a New Zealand based writer and researcher and supporter of Savong’s School in Cambodia. I love to write and would love your company – how about clicking the “follow button.” Thanks!
We hope you had a great get together with friends and family over Christmas. At the SOC the children hosted a visit from Happy Sunshine home for children (based in Siem Reap) as well as the older students supported by Savong – and together they enjoyed a feast and a big Christmas Party. Photo by Buntheourn.
One of the delights of working with children in Cambodia is seeing them develop their skills at play. Many children are completely under-resourced in this department. They may be from families too poor to have toys, or too time-poor to give children the play time they really need. Children go through distinct stages of play development when they move from merely reacting to objects – to employing these objects in acts of imagination. Later children enjoy playing alone, but in groups, and still later – around age 6 or 8 – in groups. That simple game of Uno is actually a sophisticated interplay of intellect and social skills.
Of course children don’t just learn academically: play is a vital ingredient. But toys are not enough. Many adults think that somehow children will spontaneously “get it” when they see a pile of blocks. Actually they need to be shown – and getting on the floor, interacting with the child, and showing how blocks can be used to make things is the trigger: a simple trigger, that gets them going. In the photo above little Nuon seemed a bit lost in the play room. He was too young to play cards and he didn’t seem to get involved with the blocks. So I lay on the floor and together we made houses and vehicles and soon he was grabbing the wheels (a scarce commodity) to make his particular inventions.
I love those moments. Sometimes an educational advance is that simple: a few minutes of attention on a playroom floor.
Twilight on an old, less controlled NGO environment. Today there are new arrangements with Government Ministries designed to boost accountability.
When Savong first established his school in 2005 and childrens home in 2008 there were few restrictions or regulations. Back, ten years ago, anybody could set up an NGO, and for every ten good organisations that established themselves, with clear objectives and sound service delivery, there was perhaps one “cowboy” operation – some say more – that was established either as a money making venture (orphan tourism for example,) or with good intentions but seriously weak delivery. From a humanitarian agency point of view it was the wild west.
Well, the sun is setting on those days. Today Savong is in Phnom Penh on a business journey to see the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education, Youth & Sport (MOEYS) to process paperwork that both ministries are demanding of NGOs: the Memorandum of Understanding which forms, in simple terms, a contract between the NGO and (via the Government) the people of Cambodia. The MoUs spell out:
The objectives and purpose of the organisation
The resources and deliverables of that organisation
The organisation structure – a clear list of who is accountable
Three years’ worth of budgets
Evidence that the NGO is well supported and will continue to be supported.
What does the Government provide in exchange? Not resources exactly (they charge a fee to submit a MoU) but they do provide support for registered NGOs, and they also provide for foreign supporters a degree of genuine legitimacy. Our NGO has already been audited successfully as part of the process and the audit was an opportunity to share best practices.
Nobody loves paperwork, do they? But in this case Savong is genuinely excited by these dealing with Government. I suspect this is due to a sense of inclusivity that is being fostered by the Ministries who, by weaving independent NGOs into the social welfare fabric (and by shutting down the cowboys), are starting to put Cambodia on the track of having a more cohesive social policy. Cambodia benefits when the Government starts dealing with the front-line agencies.