Olympic fever: How sport is keeping kids in school in Cambodia

We’re captivated by it; the fun, the loud noise, the colour! The Olympics can bring nations together and promote a sense of unity and togetherness that makes us all want to celebrate in our defeats and triumphs. That’s the really positive impact that sports can have on the world. At SeeBeyondBorders we see that sports can have a huge impact on children’s futures.

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In Cambodia there is often limited access to quality education for children and nearly half of children do not complete primary school. SeeBeyondBorders is addressing this through a range of programmes including our flagship work Teach the Teacher and more recently through our supporting focus areas, ‘Better Schools’ and ‘Getting to School’. One of the key components of Getting to School is the sports programme because we know that creating a fun educational environment will not only get children into school but keep them there in the long term.

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What’s even better about using sports as a tool for education is that it also brings the community together to help the children learn. Sports has the power to inspire and motivate everybody. SeeBeyondBorders trains teachers to create fun sports activities, like track and field and basic gymnastic skills like hula hoping and bar work that will stimulate and engage students. We also work with parents and others in the local communities to encourage them come on board as Assistant Coaches so that everyone feels a part of the project. By adding the sports element to the children’s schooling and involving their parents and community we’re seeing fewer drop outs; with a 4% reduction in school absences in the last school year, and much happier students.

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Hing Meing is from very poor family in Bavel. She has to look after her brothers and sisters as well as going to school and would often end up missing classes because she wasn’t engaged and inspired. Thanks to SeeBeyondBorders she’s had a chance to play sports with friends and this is helping to keep her coming back to all of her lessons.

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In the last school year alone SeeBeyondBorders;

  • Introduced sport to 14 schools
  • Trained 70 school teachers in three districts
  • 154 members of the community as Assistant Coaches

One of our trained Assistant Coaches, Thom Toi, sums up our work with the community perfectly for us;

“It is our role to support the school and it will be strengthened from our involvement. The school does not belong to one person, but to everybody and it is important for the community to be involved.”

And what better way to do that through sports!

You can find out more about our work promoting sports in schools here

Find out how you can get involved in our work www.seebeyondborders.org 

 

Let Louise Linton’s public humiliation be a warning to gap year volunteers everywhere

Tegan Rogers

It’s worrying that the ‘White Saviour’ trope is still being peddled by the likes of The Telegraph. But as those looking to ‘do good works in faraway places’ are finding more and more organisations willing to indulge their voluntourism fantasies, it’s worth looking deeper at the ethical implications.

The existence of White Saviour Barbie, the Humanitarians of Tinder, or any of these brilliant aid parodies, shows that, happily, many people now recognise that any volunteering opportunity in a developing country should be cautiously analysed, thoroughly researched, and accompanied by a hefty dose of personal responsibility. Also, that it’s never okay to use a human being as a prop in your profile picture. Then an article like this one by Louise Linton comes along and sets us all back a couple of decades.

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Others have already rightfully pointed out that the historical inaccuracies in this memoir are unacceptable. It seems that this writer’s passage of self-discovery would not have been nearly as readable without a few embellishments to the facts.

But my gripe lies less with Linton herself (laughably misguided as she is) than with The Telegraph for peddling such nonsense. I’m tempted just to tweet this hilarious spoof article and get back to work, but what troubles me is the implication that many people – intelligent people, like The Telegraph’s commissioning editor – still haven’t grasped just how damaging the ‘White Saviour’ trope really is. See, when you give ideas like this one such a prominent platform, it lends them credibility. Somebody might actually pick up The Telegraph and think that this sort of behaviour is okay.

For those of you who have missed the debate about darker side of voluntourism, let me explain to you why it isn’t.

1. By its nature, Voluntoursim promotes an unequal power balance between the ‘helper’ and the ‘helped’.

Organisations that offer voluntourism opportunities are selling the idea that you, privileged Westerner, can make a positive difference to this poor, less fortunate person/ community’s life. Often, voluntourists aren’t expected to analyse the relationship much beyond that.

A telling quote from Linton’s article is the bit where she writes: “Needing my own escape and hoping to continue my mother’s mission to do good works in faraway places, I’d accepted a position in Zambia. It was the most remote country on the list I was given and the one most in need.”

You see, Zambia’s history, culture and local capacity are less important than the perceived ‘exoticism’ and ‘neediness’ of this country in the eyes of voluntourist Lou. How do you think the people at the receiving end of this ‘help’ feel about this suppression of all other aspects of their identities?

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2. Voluntourism is usually a transaction – and buyers want to get their money’s worth.

If you go on a package holiday and the swimming pool is dirty or the food is substandard, you’re likely to demand a refund or write a petulant comment on TripAdvisor. Organisations that sell voluntourism experiences for a fee have recognised that there’s a lucrative market in capitalising on the Westerner’s desire to ‘do good works in faraway places’ (see also, The White Man’s Burden, a poem that really shouldn’t be warranting reference any more).

But in doing so, these organisations are entering into a transaction comparable with the package holiday provider, but one with far more uncomfortable implications. What does “getting your money’s worth” entail here? An authentic insight into the neediness of this country or community? An irrefutable sense that what you’ve done has really made a difference? Those are the sorts of expectations that lead organisations to take voluntourists on grisly ‘poverty parades’ where the local people are expected to perform as obsequious beneficiaries.

On the flipside, it can mean organisations feel obliged to provide their voluntourists with a relatively luxurious experience, providing ‘Western-style’ food and accommodation. Not only is this money spent on expensive services that could otherwise be channeled into, you know, the actual work this organisation is supposed to be doing, but there’s something less than noble about the idea of bounded face-time with the people you’re allegedly helping, with their strange foreign foods and habits. I once sat by a pool in a luxury hotel in Cambodia, overhearing two gap year voluntourists, sunbathing and complaining about how much they missed chips and jacket potatoes. Tell me, what’s wrong with this picture?

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3. It’s almost impossible to make a lasting impact as a voluntourist.

It’s a struggle trying to find meaningful projects for volunteers when they’re only visiting for a few weeks at a time (more of our own experiences of that later). Often, the best option is a nice and simple construction project – come over for two weeks and build a school/ church/ library, and the results speak for themselves. Everyone’s happy, right? Except even basic construction requires some level of ability (have you ever tried laying bricks in a straight line?), and did that community really want said school, church or library in the first place, which, when all is said and done, is just an empty building needing maintenence, staffing and resources? There are far too many testimonials floating about on the internet recalling trained construction workers going in after hours and re-doing the building work completed by volunteers earlier in the day.

And what about teaching? There is an absolute glut of organisations offering the chance to teach children English in underdeveloped and remote locations – the only qualification needed being that you can actually speak English. Sure, the kids get to practice their language skills with a well-wishing Westerner. But with a constant revolving door of new teachers, each with their own ideas about the ‘difference’ they want to make, and almost none possessing any formal teacher training or lesson plan guidance, what is the real impact? At best the children will learn at a far slower and less efficient pace than they would with a proper education, and at worst… well, they may be taught conflicting or unhelpful information; they may form attachments to volunteers who then abandon them; those with behavioural or learning difficulties may never receive the ongoing support they need – and so the list goes on. What development organisations need to provide is sustainability, and by definition voluntourism cannot support that.

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4. Worse still, voluntoursim can often exacerbate poverty, exploitation and inequality.

More often than not, activities like construction and teaching can be very well performed by members of the local population. As we’ve just discussed, voluntourism projects often deny vocational opportunities to the local community in favour of unskilled, unsustainable voluntourists, who pay the organisation money to perpetuate the cycle.

But there’s an even darker side to this industry. When poverty or degradation is the draw-card, unscrupulous people are going to step up to supply what’s in demand. Horror stories abound of children snatched from parents to populate fake ‘orphanages’, of sham schools controlled by shady ‘businessmen’. Remember that scene in Slumdog Millionaire when the kids have their eyes burnt out to make them more pitiful beggars? I’m talking about that, but on an industrial scale. The cruel irony is that it’s always going to be the most vulnerable who are the ultimate victims in this gruesome charade.

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So what to do? Explaining these risks, especially as a representative of a development organisation myself, is in itself a bit of a minefield. What I’m certainly not advocating is that all would-be volunteers stay at home and forget all about their desires to help people. It’s certainly not hopeless, and we certainly shouldn’t feel bad about wanting something more than the world of instant gratification, self-centredness, and have-it-all greed that as affluent Westerners we’re taught to pursue.

However, if you feel that nagging urge to look beyond your worldly comforts, be realistic. This is as much about you and your fulfilment as it is about whoever you might encounter on your journey. You have a responsibility to research the opportunity as much as possible. If you’re planning on taking a volunteering trip, be wary of organisations that charge a fee. Ask yourself what is the transaction here. Ask the organisation questions about the long term sustainability of their work. Look at other ways you can help to address the root causes of the problems in that context, rather than just providing a very temporary band-aid. Are there advocacy groups you could support who are effectively lobbying governments or corporations to redress the inequalities you see?

At SeeBeyondBorders, we’ve been grappling with these issues for years. In fact, SeeBeyondBorders is one of the few non-profit organisations that rarely turns away a volunteer who wants to help. But our approach has always been to invest in skills-based volunteering where it’s needed. We have a long term volunteering program, where qualified individuals with particular skill sets, such as finance, communications or project management, can come to Cambodia for six months or more and provide these ‘back office’ functions in the field, participating in project activities (like school sports days or health demonstration workshops) where they’re needed. But far from taking jobs from local people, the volunteers have mentored local staff in their particular area of expertise so that eventually all the international staff will be led by the Cambodian team.

We also run a ‘project team’ programme, which is our attempt to provide a worthy option in the voluntourism market. This is where we host groups of volunteers for a couple of weeks at a time, either qualified primary school teachers or members of staff from our corporate partner organisations. The former are invited to participate in our annual teacher workshops, where teachers from Western schools can share ideas with teachers in Cambodia.

The latter we invite to participate in – you guessed it – construction or maintenance activities. Crucially though, we implement a year round program under our Better Schools focus area, where the school staff, students, their parents, and members of the local community are able to contribute to a School Development Plan – their vision for the school and a wish list of all the improvements they’d like to see. The project team activities could involve anything from building a fence around the school, repairing a toilet block, or painting a mural, but importantly, these activities are always determined by the local community, who come out to help too – whether or not there are foreign volunteers to support.

We still ask ourselves everyday if there’s a better way to be implementing our programs, or to channel the positive energy of our supporters more effectively towards the complex reforms that are so desperately needed in Cambodia’s education system. With a growing tourism industry in Cambodia, there’s no shortage of well-wishers who could be easily persuaded to avoid the common mistakes that only perpetuate the shocking levels of inequality. We hope that by always putting first the needs and wishes of the people our organisation was set up to serve – Cambodian teachers and students – that we’re at least on the right track.

Photos:

Main http://www.thinkchildsafe.org/thinkbeforevisiting/
Pic 2: https://www.instagram.com/p/BDLlkaaMfQC/?taken-by=barbiesavior&hl=en
Pic 2: https://www.buzzfeed.com/genamourbarrett/how-my-dream-gap-year-in-europe-turned-into-a-nightmare?utm_term=.cbGZo3795#.maOW3r01P
Pic 3: http://theplanetd.com/images/pepy2.jpg
Pic 4: http://screenmusings.org/SlumdogMillionaire/images/Slumdog-Millionaire-0194.jpg

Sports in schools: Not just child’s play

Setting up for a sports carnival is a lot of fun, but can involve a fair amount of work! Luckily during our recent sports carnival in Bavel parents and members of the community were on hand to support the smooth running of the morning’s activities.

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Our sports carnivals are part of our Sports Program, designed to increase sport in school and provide fun learning environments for students.  Through structured weekly sports lessons, children are shown that school can be active, fun and involve laughter.  We provide opportunities to learn new skills, and build positive associations with learning which supports our aim to increase attendance.  Students are far more likely to attend school when they feel connected, and sport is shown to be one way to achieve this.

The sports carnival goes one step further than the weekly sports lessons, involving a whole morning of sport and competition.  Divided into teams the students compete in hurdles, sprinting and sack races.

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By taking part in sport, children learn to develop self-confidence, motivate themselves and lead active lifestyles.

Using sport as part of an approach to encourage attendance in school is widely used around the world, in both developed and developing countries.  Sports-based programs in school have shown to improve learning performance of children, encouraging school attendance and a desire to succeed academically (UNICEF).

What makes the SeeBeyondBorders’ Sport Program unique is the emphasis on the community’s role. We support teachers by training them to deliver structured sports lessons, and engage community members as Assistant Coaches. We also encourage community members and parents to attend sports lessons and sports carnivals.

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In 2015 we trained 70 teachers and 146 assistant coaches to deliver effective sports lessons. In addition, 110 community members were involved in our sports program, either through the sports carnival or regular sports lessons. So far in 2016, 65 teachers and 135 assistant coaches have been involved in and engaged with the program.

Sport is seen as a powerful tool in promoting development and bringing people and communities together. We see the community involvement in our sports program as vital to its longevity and ultimately wish to see the program running without the support of SeeBeyondBorders’ staff in the future.

“Sport programs seek to empower participants and communities by engaging them in the design and delivery of activities, building local capacity, adhering to generally accepted principles of transparency and accountability, and pursuing sustainability through collaboration, partnerships and coordinated action.” (United Nations, Sport for Development and Peace).

Our recent sports carnival in Bavel provided an opportunity to speak to one of the Assistant Coaches involved in the sports program. Toi Tum has four children and two grandchildren.

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“I enjoy being involved in the sports activities, and helping to support the school. I like that SeeBeyondBorders helps to spread information, and ensures we can come and see our children learn and helps us to solve the challenges we face together.  We have a responsibility to help the school and it will be strengthened by our involvement. The school doesn’t belong to just one person, it belongs to everyone.”

“I have been an assistant coach for 18 months now and enjoy helping the teacher with the sports lessons. Bringing enjoyable activities to school is really important. I think it is good to make school fun, so that children will attend.”

To see more from the recent sports carnival in Bavel check out our latest short video below.

Conditional Cash Payments: How such a simple intervention can dramatically improve a child’s chances

Savong is still in primary school, but as the eldest of six children his mother often looks to him to help support his family when his father is away at work. I met Savong at his school in Ek Phnom district, and afterwards he took us to his house – just a shack by Western standards – where we met his mother and siblings. Cramped under this makeshift shelter – sheets of corrugated iron held up by planks of wood, with fabric strung up to section off a sleeping area – Savong’s mother Sam welcomed us in and began to explain their situation.

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Savong outside his home with his younger brother

“My family is suffering because we do not have enough food. It is difficult to earn enough money to support my children,” she told us, cradling her youngest child in her arms.

Often in situations such as these, the older children have no choice but to work in order to earn some extra cash for the family. Also common in North Western parts of Cambodia – where Ek Phnom is situated – is for families to pack up and move to the Thai border, where they can earn more money in the farming and service industries. Both options are disastrous for a child’s education – at best forcing them to miss extended periods of school, and at worst forcing them to drop out entirely. SeeBeyondBorders’ Conditional Cash Payments Program (CCP) provides families like Savong’s with support to help them keep sending their children to school.

Savong has been receiving CCP support for nearly a year, and the result has been positive. SeeBeyondBorders has provided his family with a small cash payment (which averages at 41GBP or 83AUD per year for one student) on the condition that his attendance at school improves.[1] “It is easier now to come to school,” Savong told us. “I have bought books, pens and clothes for school.”

Sam too is grateful for the support that CCP provides. She says that she’d like Savong to stay in school and eventually become a teacher himself, although “he likes painting and he wants to become an artist. When he has free time, he always paints at home.” Whatever Savong chooses to do in future, a solid education will give him a fair start in life.

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Savong’s mother Sam holding her baby daughter

Organisations such as UNESCO and the World Bank have widely evidenced the effectiveness of Conditional Cash Transfers as a way of tangibly addressing poverty. UNESCO reported in 2015 that cash transfers have helped to ensure equitable access to education in Cambodia, while a 2009 World Bank report concluded that cash transfers have generally been successful in reducing poverty and encouraging parents to invest in the health and education of their children.

More broadly, over the past two decades there has been a noticeable shift towards cash transfers as the intervention of choice for aid and development organisations, in recognition of the fact that it respects the agency and rights of the recipient. As a 2013 article from The Economist puts it: “For decades, it was thought that the poor needed almost everything done for them and that experts knew best what this was. Few people would trust anyone to spend $1,000 responsibly… From around 2000, a different idea started to catch on: governments [and organisations] gave poor households small stipends to spend as they wished—on condition that their children went to school or visited a doctor regularly… Households can absorb a surprising amount of cash and put it to good use.”

Over the past two decades there has been a noticeable shift towards cash transfers as the intervention of choice for aid and development organisations, in recognition of the fact that it respects the agency and rights of the recipient.

At SeeBeyondBorders, the evidence for CCP’s effectiveness has also been compelling. The program was only introduced in early 2015; another aspect of our Getting to School focus area, which aims to raise attendance levels by addressing the causes of absenteeism. (As well as CCP, we hold community health workshops to tackle preventable illnesses; we provide supplementary lessons to help students who have fallen behind in class catch up with their peers; and we help teachers deliver sports lessons to make school a more fun and appealing place to be.) In addition to Ek Phnom, we introduced CCP to schools in Bavel and Angkor Thom district – 9 schools in total, reaching 190 students. Already we have seen the attendance levels of those students selected to receive CCP support increase from an average of 79% to 93%.

For some children, the solution to their poor attendance levels is even more simple than a cash transfer. Dara[1] attends the same school as Savong in Ek Phnom, and was also identified by the CCP Committee as at risk of dropping out due to extremely low attendance levels. The Committee, made up of teachers from the school, supported by SeeBeyondBorders staff, personally visit all of those families identified as underprivileged, to assess their circumstances and ensure the CCP goes to the most vulnerable.

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Savong and Dara at their school in Ek Phnom

When they visited Dara’s family the cause of her absenteeism was immediately clear. Situated off a narrow dusty track in rural Battambang province, it took Dara almost an hour each way to walk to school. With just one bicycle as the family’s only means of transport, Dara was able to cycle to school on the days that her mother stayed at home – but often her mother needed the bicycle to travel to the market to earn their income. The CCP Committee recommended that SeeBeyondBorders provide Dara with a bicycle, on the condition that her attendance improves and that she take responsibility for its maintenance.

“I like the CCP committee because it helps me to go to school,” Dara said. “Now it is just a few minutes [to get to school]. I hope that the CCP will continue because I like to study.”

Dara’s family are in a similarly precarious situation to Savong’s. Technically homeless, they have constructed a one-room property beside a relative’s house, itself not much more than a raised platform with a roof to protect its inhabitants from the rain. As we spoke to Dara’s mother, her husband was busy repairing fishing nets round the back of the building, which he uses to catch fish from the river.

She described to us her situation. “Typically I spend my mornings doing housework, and looking after my son [Dara’s younger brother, who is four years old]. In the afternoons I prepare the fish sausage to be sold in the market.” She refers to a common snack in Cambodia, produced by mincing fish and packaging the paste in small plastic tubes. Tied together into strings of ten or twenty, fish sausage is a common sight at market stalls in Cambodia. But for her afternoons of fiddly and repetitive work, Dara’s mother can only hope to fetch around 2,000 riel (or 50 cents) for every 100 sold.

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Dara’s mother at home in rural Battambang province

“Before I was concerned I needed to find money to buy Dara a bicycle,” she told us. “I am very happy that Dara is able to use the bicycle from SeeBeyondBorders to go to school.”

Back at the school, we had a chance to meet the members of the CCP Committee who identify these families most at risk. The job, they explain, is not without challenges: all of the children who attend the school are from families that would be considered ‘low income’, and those who do receive CCP can sometimes be the target of some jealousy.

“We have been able to help 10 children so far [at this school], but so many more could use help.” CC

The Cambodian Ministry of Planning has taken steps to gather data on poverty levels through their Identification of Poor Households Program (IDPoor). Three categorisations enable comparable countrywide data on household incomes and assets, with IDPoor Level 1 households being the most impoverished. Anecdotally these families are described as those with little or no assets to speak of. The CCP Committee starts by undertaking their own assessment of those families categorised as IDPoor Level 1.

One member of the CCP Committee described to us the difficult decisions they face. “I am very happy to be part of the committee, but here we have many more poor students. We have been able to help 10 children so far [at this school], but so many more could use help. Our staff visited 50 families and we chose the 10 that we felt were most vulnerable. Some of the others [for example] had IDPoor cards but they do have homes and motorcycles. It is very difficult.”

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These two girls, who attend the same school as Savong and Dara, also receive CCP support. Both of their parents have gone to work at the Thai border and have left them in the care of their grandparents. Their teacher, who is also a CCP Committee member, can be seen here in the background.

With so many families in Cambodia living in poverty, it is easy to see why education is not prioritised. The first year of CCP has shown us that such a simple intervention can incentivise families to support their children’s education. But with limited funding at present, SeeBeyondBorders has to ensure that CCP support is only targeted towards the most vulnerable few, even though many more are desperately in need of help. With the help of our supporters and partners, we hope to scale up CCP, helping more underprivileged families to send their children to school. And with our Teach the Teacher and Better Schools focus areas, we intend to give them the best education we can when they are at school.

Please help us continue to strengthen our work by donating here. 83AUD is all it costs on average to support a child’s education for one year through our CCP program. While this is just one small aspect of what SeeBeyondBorders is doing to help rebuild Cambodia’s education system, it goes to show how much your support counts.

 

[1] Name has been changed

[1] The payment is delivered in two instalments, and while the payment is not required to be returned if the conditions aren’t met, it does affect eligibility for future support.

Maths camp success

In April, a two day Maths Camp came to the Bavel district in Cambodia, facilitated and supported by SeeBeyondBorders’ staff.

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As part of SeeBeyondBorders’ Getting to School focus area, the Maths Camp (also known as our Supplementary Lessons Program), is part of a suite of programs designed to address the root causes of low attendance at school. Children with a history of poor attendance are far more likely to fall behind, become disengaged and drop out of school altogether, creating a vicious circle which is hard to break.  By providing interactive, intensive and engaging additional lessons for those who are at risk of dropping out, SeeBeyondBorders aims to support these children and help them to stay in school for longer.

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Our first Supplementary Lessons started back in 2015 taking the form of a two day Maths Camp, where 29 students from grades 2 and 3 participated in interactive activities to improve understanding of maths concepts.  End of year results showed that in grade 2, 11 out of the 14 students who attended these supplementary lessons passed the test with an average score of 72%. In grade 3, 14 out of the 15 students who attended passed the test with an average score of 79% – an above average score for their year group.

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Due to the success, we were delighted to be able to bring the Supplementary Lessons Program to Bavel this year.  In April 2016, 28 students were selected with the help of the school community as those most at risk of dropping out and who would benefit from additional support. In addition, 4 representative teachers from 3 different schools in the Bavel district attended. The two day Maths Camp included various interactive activities taking the form of group, pair and individual work, all using concrete materials to support learning.

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Various elements are vital to ensure the success of these supplementary lessons.  Due to the small class sizes students benefit from more one-on-one teacher time and are able to learn with students of a similar level.  Class sizes in Cambodian rural schools can often reach over 40 students to one teacher, which can lead to a broadening attainment gap between those students who have difficulty understanding or keeping up with lessons and those who easily grasp the concepts.  Providing opportunities for students to learn in small groups, as well as with others at a similar level, increases confidence and engagement, and lessons are far more interactive as a result.   

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 “We often see students who are not engaged normally in class become more active in these lessons. They are also far more likely to work together.”  Sophen, SeeBeyondBorders Education Program Coordinator commented.

By the end of the Maths Camp the students were able to complete standard maths problems and algorithms appropriate for their grade. All attending students completed a pre and post-test which allowed the teachers and SeeBeyondBorders facilitators to gage the success of the lessons. In grade 2, the pre-test showed a 0% pass rate, compared to an 85% pass rate in post test results. In grade 3, 33% of students passed the pre-test, increasing to 69% in the post test result.  

Increasing attainment and attendance of students is an important focus of this program. But a secondary, and equally important, goal is to provide teachers with practical understanding of how to both identify individual student needs and use appropriate strategies to support them.  Various techniques are used during these lessons providing teachers attending a ‘live workshop’ to witness these strategies in action.

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Khen Pharin is a grade 2 teacher within the Bavel district. Three of her students were selected and attended the maths camp, where she was also in attendance. She commented on how much she had learnt about various strategies, classroom management, using resources and how to identify specific student needs.

Math Camp is really fun and helps slower learners to catch up on their math lessons. I also learnt a lot from math camp because it felt like a brilliant demonstration workshop that was taught by professional and skillful teachers. It gave me a good opportunity to observe and see clearly how SeeBeyondBorders staff apply all different concepts and activities”. Khen Pharin commented after the two day Maths Camp.

Check out our video below of the recent maths camp in action, and some of the techniques used.

 

 

Bringing new meaning to Maths concepts

Over the last three days in Ek Phnom district our senior mentors have been leading a series of multiplication and division workshops to strengthen understanding for our teachers within these key areas.

Attended by 11 teachers, the workshop has been facilitated by 4 senior mentors. They have been providing practical sessions on teaching multiplication and division, guidance on using SeeBeyondBorders resource manuals in-line with government issued text books, and how to use concrete materials to aid learning in the classroom. Ensuring that teachers are able to not just understand these concepts, but to effectively teach them and pass on this knowledge, is vital to bring quality education to the schools within our program.

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Sophen, our Teach the Teacher Program Manager, spoke about the recent multiplication and division workshop, which he attended to provide support and ensure its smooth running:

“Our senior mentors have capacity and a high understanding of the concepts used. They have been trained to be facilitators in these workshops so new teachers are supported and able to learn. It also provides modelling for the teachers to understand good teaching practice and styles. Teachers believe in the SeeBeyondBorders model and workshop, so it makes it run smoothly and very well. I am very proud to watch how the senior mentors have provided technical knowledge and training to the teachers in these workshops.”

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Sophen and his team of mentor development co-ordinators have provided in-depth training for our senior mentors to be able to facilitate these workshops, the first where the senior mentors are themselves leading these sessions. Empowering teachers to develop themselves and support others is at the heart of SeeBeyondBorders’ work, and ensures our programs are led by those at the very center of education in Cambodia.

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Solida has attended both the previous addition and subtraction workshop and the most recent multiplication and division workshop at Prek Norin School. She has been a teacher for one year and has been on the SeeBeyondBorders Teach the Teacher program since she graduated from Provincial teacher training college:

“I think the SeeBeyondBorders workshops are very good. I have learnt a lot about methodology and strategy and how to use resources properly. I have also learnt how to get my students more involved in lessons. Before I didn’t really learn deeply about maths concepts, but now I can break down the concept and teach maths with a detailed explanation for my students.”

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Our senior mentors’ ability to deliver these workshops is a fundamental part of the Teach the Teacher model, and vital in ensuring the continued sustainability of our programs. The senior mentors bring much needed support, advice and guidance to new teachers, and bring a deeper understanding of teaching strategies. Through this cascade of knowledge we are able to ensure teachers have the confidence and skills to deliver classes which are engaging, practical, and effective, and to provide quality learning for the next generation of Cambodian children.

Forward-thinking Principal improves his school

Forward-thinking Principal and his team innovate and improve their school and have no plans to stop here!

On 17 March 2016, SeeBeyondBorders visited Prek Norin primary school to discuss the changes that have been made since the new Principal took on the role a year and a half ago. Prek Norin is in Ek Phnom district and has 19 staff and 530 students.

Moa Sokhouen, previously a secretary in the school office, became Principal of Prek Norin in October 2014. Since then, he and his team have worked hard to improve both the quality of teaching and the school environment, much of which has been with the support and encouragement of SeeBeyondBorders.

Already, walking through the school, the improvements – as well as the ongoing efforts – are clear to see. There is a new building currently under construction (with government support) which will house kindergarten, there is a newly expanded play area (formerly a rice field – one rice field remains) and there is a colourful area with painted swans and plants (some of which are cleverly constructed into maths symbols), which we later discover is the bio-garden. The paths are littered with brightly painted car tyres, and there is a large cage which collects plastic bottles, clearly highlighting the efforts made to recycle at this school.

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Prek Norin and its grounds look clean, tidy and colourful – and this, the Principal says, encourages the children to respect it more. SeeBeyondBorders has helped with fixing a roof, adding doors and painting the classrooms, and last month sent a corporate project team in to help with concreting two classroom floors – a task that took place on condition that the Principal would create an enlarged play area – which after 150 trucks of soil delivered to the school is almost complete. Additionally, Prek Norin is enrolled in SeeBeyondBorders’ Teach the Teacher program and has three mentor teachers supporting seven mentees and also benefits from SeeBeyondBorders’ sports program. Moa Sokhouen is grateful and happy with SeeBeyondBorders’ help – what he likes particularly is that we don’t set rules, but provide help and support for example suggesting teaching methodologies and providing workshops for new teachers.

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It is clear that a lot of effort has already gone into improving the school and it is encouraging to hear that the Principal and his team have no plans to stop here. Current initiatives include a charity box which raises money to help the less wealthy students with resources for school (such as books and pens), and a suggestions box for students to leave a message if they are not happy about something – a recent complaint has been that their marks haven’t been high enough! The school also promotes honesty among the students – if they find a ‘lost’ item they are encouraged to hand it into a teacher. When the owner of the item is found the two children (finder and owner) are united in front of the other students so that the owner can receive thanks and the finder be publicly commended for their honesty. Other future ideas include building a statue of a prominent figure (such as a Buddha), planting more flowers in maths formula shapes, adding a school information board, a water station where the children can wash and clean their hands, thus improving hygiene.

One of the key things Moa Sokhouen seems to get right is communication and engagement – with parents, students and the community – an area SeeBeyondBorders encourages and helps schools with as necessary. One initiative that will be commencing on a monthly basis is meeting the parents of both under-performing/commonly absent and over-performing students, to understand why the former might be struggling at school and with the latter, to encourage the parents to keep supporting their children. This is not common practice in Cambodia. His strong relationship with the Buddhist community, in particular the monks, has led to the monks coming into school each Thursday to teach life skills, part of the MOEYS (Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport) curriculum. The presence of the monks, says Moa Sokhouen, also improves the behaviour of the children. The increasing support of the community over the past year and half can also be attributed to his Moa Sokhouen open and transparent communication with them. He meets often with the village chief and if there is something he wants to do at the school he always checks with the community; he is sure to outline what it is, why it is needed and a breakdown of the costs. What’s more he is open to discussing ideas further. The community supported the school and School Support Committee with the soil project financially and this is in no doubt down to the open communication he had with them in advance. It is no wonder the engagement has improved!

But Moa Sokhouen admits there are challenges, especially as he is still relatively new in the position. He feels he could benefit from more leadership training and moreover, he knows there is a lot more work to be done at the school.

Prek Norin is a great example of the initiatives that can be implemented to improve the quality of teaching and the general school environment. Moa Sokhouen and his team are a great inspiration and we look forward to continuing to support them and seeing what other plans they have up their sleeves!

Celebrating International Women’s Day

People throughout the world today will celebrate International Women’s Day, a day to highlight the huge accomplishments women have made in society, but also to bring to the forefront some of the pertinent issues women still face.

Women and girls are an essential part of building healthy, educated and sustainable communities. But they are far too often over-looked. Globally, around 57 million children are not attending school, and girls make up 31 million of this number. Cambodia is making huge strides to ensure that girls and boys have an equal opportunity to access primary education, with UNICEF data suggesting that the net enrolment ratio for boys and girls is now 95%. Despite the improvements in recent years in access to education, the quality of education and dropout rates for both boys and girls is still an issue. Drop out rate data from three districts in which SeeBeyondBorders works suggests that the gender divide is far more complex than the global argument suggests, with data suggesting that girls have in fact a lower absentee rate. An average taken from three of the four districts that SeeBeyondBorders works in indicates that girls’ absenteeism over a four month period from November 2015 to February 2016 was 5.9% compared to 7.8% of boys. This compares to an average of 9% across the country, suggesting the work that SeeBeyondBorders does to decrease both boys and girls rates of absenteeism is better than the country average.

The following individual stories of achievement celebrate some of the many women who work with SeeBeyondBorders to increase access to quality education for boys and girls, ensure schools are a safe and fun place for all, increase community involvement in school development initiatives and reduce absenteeism. All of these women work tirelessly to improve education in Cambodia, and to provide the very best for the next generation.

Vasna engaging students

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Ms. Vasna has been part of the SeeBeyondBorders teaching program for three years in Bavel. Before joining the SeeBeyondBorders’ program, she found it really hard to engage students during classroom sessions. “I didn’t know how to start a lesson and could not identify specific concepts or use concrete materials in lessons,” she told us. After participating in five training courses, being provided with materials from SeeBeyondBorders as well as receiving regular support visits from her mentor, she is now more confident in managing her classroom. I am more confident in teaching mathematics now because I can breakdown concepts, use concrete materials to introduce abstract concepts, and I find that it has really helped my students learn easier.”

Champa supporting sports lessons in Bavel

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Mrs. Khut Champa is an assistant coach at Khum Bavel Primary School in Bavel district.   As part of our aim to increase student attendance and provide greater opportunities for parent involvement in school activities, Champa supports our sports program helping teachers with lesson planning and facilitation. Champa believes she has developed a great deal in the last year in sports coordination skills, sports capacity and cooperation with both teachers and students. “I enjoy the sport program more this year than last year because now I understand a lot about sport concepts and activities that can make me feel confident to support sport lessons with teachers. Teachers welcome me and we work well together,” said Champa.

Savein supporting school development

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In February 2016, SeeBeyondBorders conducted a School Development Planning workshop in Bavel.  These workshops help guide the school management team, teachers, and the community to create a vision for what the future of their school and their children’s education could be.  From their feedback, around 95% of parents said that this was the first time that they had been involved with the school to give their opinions about how they would like the school to develop. Savein is a mother of four children and has been involved in the School Development Team for 2 years. “This is the first time that I have been involved in making a school vision and school development plan, even though I have been a member of the school support committee for quite a long time. This workshop has given parents an opportunity to talk and share their ideas about their dreams for the school. I believe that everyone will help to implement this plan in order to make our school develop” said Savein.

Samoeuy planning Improved classes

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Ms. Samoeuy teaches a combination grade 1&2 class the Puok district. Like many other teachers in the district, she teaches and does farming work outside school hours. She has found in the past that she does not have enough time for planning lessons. As a result of SeeBeyondBorders’ Teach the Teacher program she has been provided with math workshops, resource books, materials as well as regular mentoring sessions. Samoeuy now feels she can teach with more confidence and can provide clear concepts of the lesson to her students. She said, “I am happy to collaborate with SeeBeyondBorders because I have gained a lot of knowledge, resources and assistance from my mentor to teach with concrete materials and lesson planning”. The mentoring system is very useful to her because her mentor supports her in the classroom, providing constructive feedback and specific teaching strategies. “I would like to thank SeeBeyondBorders for providing me a lot of knowledge and strategies to teach,” she remarked.

Sayoeurn receiving recognition

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Sayoeurn has been a mentor for three years in the Angkor Thom district and was among 14 mentors who received an award at the Krou Laor Awards last year. The Krou Laor awards operates in conjunction with SeeBeyondBorders Teach the Teacher Core Program, to recognise outstanding progression and motivate teachers to continue to strive for improved teaching skills. Sayoeurn received a bronze award at the ceremony in October last year, demonstrating how far her teaching and mentoring skills have come in two years of work with SeeBeyondBorders.

Kimlen supporting communities with SeeBeyondBorders

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Kimlen has been a Community Liaison Coordinator for SeeBeyondBorders since February 2015. She is responsible for supporting community members, families and parents become more involved in school activities and engage in making decisions about the future of their school. She supports families, and works with both the wider community and school, to increase enrolment and participation, and decrease absenteeism. Her work, and the work of all our SeeBeyondBorders team, is vital to ensuring there is a direct and lasting link between SeeBeyondBorders and the community, to ensure long-lasting ownership of school activities and involvement in their child’s education.  Kimlen spoke recently about why she works for SeeBeyondBorders; “I want to help the education system and I like the way that SeeBeyondBorders values the community’s involvement, and engages them to support and develop the school and community.”

These stories are just a few examples of the contribution women who work with SeeBeyondBorders are making- as  Schools Principals, teachers, mentors, assistant coaches, and as mothers and members of the community. These women are all dedicated to improving the standards of teaching and creating a fun and safe environment in their own schools, to provide more children with the opportunity of a quality education.  Without the equal contribution of these women, the improvements in educational outcomes that SeeBeyondBorders achieves would not be possible.

 

Farewell Kristian

Kristian has recently spent three months in the role of Monitoring and Evaluation Volunteer in our office in Battambang.

Today we say a sad farewell to Kristian as he departs for a well-deserved break in Mexico, before returning to Cambodia to begin teaching at one of Battambang’s universities.

Kristian has worked closely with our leadership team and has successfully updated all of our monitoring and evaluation documentation so that we can be sure that the results of the work that we are doing is captured as efficiently as possible.  This has involved digging around to find documents, amending countless bits of paperwork and asking numerous questions. Thank you Kristian for generously giving us three months of your time and for your patience in collecting everything we need for this important aspect of our work.

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It has been a pleasure to work alongside someone so dedicated and professional, who was always more than happy to get stuck in with any manual labour required! We often found him in his element when supporting our project teams with concreting tasks!

Thank you and good luck from everyone in the SeeBeyondBorders team.

Reflections from SHAPE Australia: Health and Sport

Alex from the SHAPE Australia here describes the second part of their project team week, comprising of health workshops and a sports carnival in some of the schools supported by the work of SeeBeyondBorders.

“After an afternoon of making 180 ‘soap-on-a-ropes’ and with the concreting work over we were all greatly looking forward to our fourth day’s program involving health education at another school in the SBB supported district. On today’s agenda was working with the community to educate the students on washing hands and cleaning teeth. We saw this as a pivotal part of a holistic approach to education in general, along with the maths and English programs, as these are important life skills that will improve their future and reduce the burden on the local health systems.

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All children at the school were incredibly well behaved and enjoyed every moment of watching us do the demonstrations, and then doing it themselves. What alarmed us so much was before we began the teeth brushing demonstration we asked a few questions such as; why we brush our teeth, how many times we should brush them and if their teeth hurt. They all knew that they needed to brush 2 to 3 times a day but at the same time a large percentage said that their teeth hurt as obviously they didn’t have the resources such as brushes and tooth paste. Looking around at some of the older community members, many with missing teeth, we were determined to end this cycle and saw this as an important part of the SBB program.

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With an early finish we headed to a local restaurant and were treated to some delicious local dishes of fried chicken, rice and vegetables. After a quick snooze we were again headed to one of the best culinary experiences in Battambang; Jaan Bai. This restaurant was actually started by a well-known Sydney-sider who has a few popular eateries back home.

After a good night’s rest we were up and ready at the usual 6:30am to begin a day we were looking forward to from the start of the project; sports carnival. We headed out to another new school which included years 1, 2 and 3. We arrived to a very excited group of about 90 students all dressed in the uniforms of their favourite soccer team and a handful of community members keen to help.

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There were three different activities, hurdles, running and a sack race and we were divided into 3 different teams. It was invigorating and inspiring to see the huge smiles on the students’ faces and the sportsmanship as they cheered on their schoolmates from the sidelines after their race.

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The final race was a relay with all 90 students lined up in their group colours. First, second and third were awarded a game changing 30, 20 and 10 points. At the end of the replay all points were added up by the children and put up on a white board. With a loud roar of 30 kids the yellow team was awarded first place. Blue awarded second and red was given third. However, the real winner of the day was again education and the greater picture of community involvement, health and making coming to school appealing to all parties.

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This saw the end of our program and our time in Battambang. We had some lunch in town and said out goodbyes to the local SBB team members such as Kea, Sophen and Reasmey. It was sad to say goodbye to these wonderful and inspiring Khmer locals who want to be a catalyst and part of the change in Cambodia to make it a better place for the current and future generations which SBB embodies.

Out next destination was a bit of R&R in Siem Reap, a very popular tourist destination and the home of the UNESCO listed and ancient wonder of the world; Angkor Wat. In contrast to Battambang we were greeted to a town of restaurants, pubs, clubs, 5 star hotels and plenty of backpackers. A night out in ‘Pub Street’ turned out to be a temptation despite the early wake up of 5am to cycle to see sunrise at Angkor Wat.

As the alarm went off at 4:30am we put on our new SBB bike shirts and rode in the dark towards the temples. Despite losing a few people from a flat tyre along the way (we were saved by a tuk tuk!) we made it to Angkor Wat just in time to see the magical sunrise over the massive stone structure and man-made moat surrounding the temple.

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After a quick coffee we headed off into the jungle on the back routes to explore the other temples. Some found it hard to keep up with the very fit Ed (CEO and Founder of SBB) but we all made it together at the temples in the end. One of the first temples visited was the one made famous is Tomb Raider with large stone pillars and walls being wrapped by serpentine roots of trees giving a surreal feeling and wonderment of what this place would have looked like in its peak.

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A few more kilometres were cycled and more temples were explored. It was great to get off the beaten track and see more of the local surrounds.

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A very sore group of us made it back to the hotel in the afternoon and after a much needed siesta we headed out for our last dinner in Cambodia. An amazing local feed was had along with a trip to the night market to bargain some souvenirs for ourselves and loved ones.

The next morning saw another emotional goodbye to Ed, Kate and Sarah as we hopped on the bus to the airport for our flight to Singapore then Sydney.

I believe all members of the group will come away from this trip with a new appreciation of how lucky we are including a larger sense of humanity and a greater understanding of the issues people face in developing nations such as Cambodia. We also developed the up most respect and admiration for the SBB team including the founders Ed and Kate who are relentless in their efforts for change and education. We were all left that without a single doubt our money we raised in our golf days were going to an excellent cause and look forward to continuing on our partnership including passing on the good word of SBB to any other parties we may deal with in the future.

Again, a massive thank you to Ed, Kate, Penny, Sarah, Christian, Kea, Sophen and Reasmey for an unforgettable trip. Another big thank you also goes out to the other SHAPE team members involved in golf days and the subcontractors who donated money to this wonderful cause.

We all wish the very best to the SBB team and the people of Cambodia being helped by this fantastic organisation.”

Words by Alex Pickering, SHAPE Australia project team

 

 

 

Reflections from our February project team : SHAPE Australia

This week we are delighted to have been joined by a project team from SHAPE Australia.  They have been working tirelessly alongside our staff and the community in a number of schools to support the implementation of our programs. In this blog they explain their own experiences and explore some of the complex issues they’ve faced while working alongside our team here in Cambodia.

“Our first day began with an early start for a bike ride around the outskirts of Phnom Penh. First stop was a silk factory and some local snacks then on to see the sights and sounds of the quaint countryside.

The next day put us into a more sombre mood with a trip out to the killing fields, an area most synonymous with the devastating regime of Pol Pot. This was a highly sobering moment for us all and we have now become a conduit of the atrocities that happened during the late 70s in Cambodia while the world turned a blind eye. We have come to realise the important part we all must play to ensure history is never repeated.

After our time in Phonm Penh we travelled directly to Battambang, our main residence of the trip to help with the SeeBeyondBorders team and their Better Facilities program (part of their Better Schools focus area).

We were excited for work to begin and another early start led to mixing concrete at 7am. Our task was to help restore an area to be used for the students’ sports lessons and, given that this particular day was a public holiday in Cambodia, we were greeted with a huge number of supporters from the community. Great team work ensued, despite the language and construction knowledge barriers, and happily for all involved we completed at lunch. We were then treated to a community cooked local smorgasbord of rice, curry and vegetables. We felt proud to have ensured the sports area was now a more suitable environment for both play and learning.

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With the extra time off we headed back into town for some much needed rest until it was time for our daily reflection in the afternoon about the days’ work and lessons learnt.

The next day our alarms woke our peaceful sleep at 6am and after a little struggle, we managed to roll out of the comfort of our air conditioned rooms to another school under the SBB program. The mood was jubilant with little knowledge of what waited for us in the 4 classroom building at the school. Two of these four classrooms along with a full strip of corridor and some steps needed a complete overhaul of re-concreting.

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All I can say is thank god for the diesel powered cement mixer waiting for us at the work area! Concrete conga lines were formed passing bucket after bucket into the respective classrooms. Other jobs included keeping the mixer supplied with materials such as sand, cement and aggregate and scooping the concrete out from the tub to pass to the line.

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Once the rooms were fully concreted including a section of the corridor and steps it was 3pm and we were ushered to the third class room to inspect the repairs we were to complete. This is where the construction experts in some of the group’s members clashed with the “Cambodian way” regarding the levels of the prep work ready for the new concrete. After tensions were cooled and we were by the pool in a more relaxed frame of mind a reflection session was had. This lead to a very deep and informative conversation later that night with Ed (founder and CEO of SBB) which put certain moments of the afternoon in perspective along with some tools to tackle these issues the next day.

With a fresh outlook and a good night sleep we arrived at the same school the following day. The work required included some minor repairs to a cracked slab in the fourth and last classroom while some others engaged in art projects with some of the students. We left that afternoon with a renewed sense of hope for the future longevity of our work and the possibility of some of our expertise being passed onto the local community.

After that mornings work and our previous night’s reflection we realised that this is one of the most important parts of our involvement here; to experience the local conditions, engage with the community and appreciate the myriad layers of challenges not just that SBB face but the locals as well.

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Tomorrow we begin our non-construction related activities which include Heath and Sport which will hopefully give our backs a break!”

Perspectives from our January 2016 Project Team part 4: Art

Art teacher Crystal joined the January 2016 group as a Project Team volunteer. She and four others visited our target schools to take part in Getting to School and Better Schools projects while the others attended teaching workshops. Here she shares her thoughts from the experience.

One of the perks of being on the SBB Project Team is being able to visit a different school each day and see the differences between them. The information provided by SBB prior to our visits has allowed us to see variations in teacher to student ratios, dropout and absence rates, and the socioeconomic makeup of schools around Battambang and Siem Reap. There are also differences that are more immediately obvious, such as the size and presentation of the campus, the school’s facilities (or lack thereof) and whether or not the students are accustomed to seeing ‘Barangs’ (the Khmer word for foreigners).

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One constant in the schools we have visited has been the community support. Each time we arrived at a school, there were a group of parents, grandparents, community members and teachers waiting to contribute to the work that needed to be done. On many occasions, the Khmer community members took the lead and the Project Team assisted them in whatever small way we could. It was great to see the Khmers placing importance on the education of their children and volunteering their valuable time to make the school a safer, cleaner, more attractive or more appealing place for the children to be. This also demonstrated to me the role of these projects in achieving SBB’s teaching and education focused goals, as the first step is often getting the students to want to come to school.

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As a Visual Arts teacher, I have found the art-based activities completed by the Project Team and Khmer community members to be particularly memorable. After drawing the outline for a mural on the toilet block at HS Kbal Thnoul school one afternoon (under direct scrutiny from a crowd of young students watching my every move) it was great to see a group of willing community members waiting at the school the next morning ready to paint it. While I mixed paint colours, the Khmer women patiently waited for me to hand them a brush and point to an area which they should paint. The Barangs and Khmers worked side by side (and under and over each other) in order to paint their designated sections with the aim of making the toilet block a more appealing place for students to go. Judging by the crowd of student spectators who literally watched the paint dry, I think we may have succeeded.

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The art visioning workshop that the Project Team were involved in at PH Knach Romeas was an inspiration. The group of Khmer parents and community members who were waiting for us at the school was larger than anticipated, which was a wonderful surprise. The intention of the workshop was to involve the community in the school by creating a shared vision of their goals for their students. Art was used as a means of communication as it allowed parents who were illiterate to express themselves in an inclusive forum. SBB Project Manager Reasmey Cheut excelled (as usual) in engaging the 50 or so Khmer adults who had piled in to the single classroom.

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When they were asked to draw their child, it became obvious that some of the community members in attendance were not accustomed to holding pens, and may never have had cause to draw before. They did not let this stop them though, and each drew something that represented their child in some way. Next, they were asked to draw what they wanted for their child at school. This was a humbling experience, as the Khmers’ priorities for their children included things like the ability to read and write, having access to clean water, healthy food, safety at school (no cows!) and safety on the road when school was over for the day. Links between school and home were discussed in terms of what the community could do to achieve the vision that they had for their children at home as well as at school.

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As a gesture of commitment to working toward the shared vision that the Khmers had discussed, each community member was asked to place their handprint on to a painting of a tree. This artwork would be hung in the school, and could be referred to in future meetings of the school community as a visual reminder of the commitment they had made. Painting the hands of some of the elderly Khmers so they could print it, and thinking to myself what those hands had been through, is a memory that will stay with me forever.

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At Prolit School I had the privilege of holding a brief art lesson with some grade 3 students. Even though we didn’t have any specific art supplies, and the kids thought that my cartoon animals looked funny, they seemed to enjoy the experience almost as much as I did. All of the students tried hard to follow my demonstrations and they ended up with some great drawings!

Being a part of the SBB Project Team has been a fantastic experience. Shane, Mitch, Libby and Hugh were excellent team mates who were great company and hard workers. The same can be said for the SBB staff Ed, Kate, Sarah, Penny, Tegan, Christian, Victoria and of course Reasmey and Phath. There aren’t enough words for how thankful I am to the people at SBB for all of the organisation and support they have provided in making the January 2016 trip one of the best things I have ever done. It has been an experience I will never forget, and one which I hope to have again in the future.

Perspectives from our January 2016 Project Team part 3: Food

As part of the four days of teaching workshops and mentoring, we had a picnic lunch where we shared food from Australia and Cambodia. The Australians had organized to bring with them some delicious treats with an Aussie flavor to share with the local teachers and they had done the same so we could sit down and share a cross-nation meal together.

As we prepared the Australian picnic you could see Peanut Butter, Vegemite and Nutella along with tins of tuna, cheese and Saladas and packets of chips. The dessert side of the Australian selection was full of Caramello Koalas, Fantails and Milo and I must say the Cambodian food looked far more healthier, leading us to explain this is not what we ate for every meal!

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The local teachers shared favorite rice, vegetable, pork and egg dishes, which were delicious along with boiled chilli wrapped in fish. An amazing dip with a hint of chili was spread over Saladas and enjoyed. There were a few dishes many Australians were reluctant to go near such as the cockroaches, grasshoppers and rat. With some trepidation these dishes were tried with mixed reactions (I’m told the rat tasted a lot like chicken…..) but always followed by a polite smile. Some people claimed to enjoy the grasshoppers while others were relieved when they demonstrated how to pull the head, legs and wings off before eating it.

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The Australian dishes were met with the same trepidation from the Khmer people as they reluctantly tried cheese and dry biscuits. Although they didn’t like the cheese, many went back for seconds of the peanut butter and politely ate the peanut butter and Nutella Salada sandwich. A quick demonstration was needed after one teacher tried to put a large tablespoon of vegemite on their biscuit and I think they were relieved we took most of it away after tasting it!

It was certainly a highlight of the day watching the faces of the Khmer people trying food that seems so strange to them and the looks of pride as we tasted their local delicacies. And it is safe to say I won’t be bringing out the grasshoppers at my next barbecue!

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Perspectives from our January 2016 Project Team Part 2: Courage

SeeBeyondBorders’ annual January ‘Teach the Teacher’ trip commenced on 8th January with seven teachers and five project team members joining SeeBeyondBorders for two weeks in Cambodia. In her second blog for us teacher Mel shares her thoughts.

When we all met in Battambang to run through the orientation for what would happen over the next few days for the teaching and project teams, Ed shared the vision and values of SeeBeyondBorders. The values of transition, sustainability, integrity, efficiency, knowledge and courage had already been seen in our first few days in Cambodia with SeeBeyondBorders but as we spent the first day in schools I was really taken by the courage shown by so many.

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Firstly the project and teaching groups who have so courageously come together to share their knowledge and learn more about Cambodia. As we travelled out to the school for the first time we weren’t really sure what to expect and were all feeling nervous about how the lessons we would model would go. It takes a lot of courage to be in a classroom, modeling to people who don’t speak the same language in a country many of us have never been in before but everyone was supportive and understanding and took the risk to share their ideas with the Khmer teachers.

Secondly, the courage shown by the mentors and teachers who will spend the next few days inviting us into their lessons and conversations. For anyone to take risks in their learning and be open to taking on feedback about their teaching is certainly courageous and I was amazed at how welcoming the teachers were. They are so open to making changes and trying to improve their practice and although it is unnerving to teach in front of others, they were happy to take the risk to learn more. Even as the day drew to close, they continued to push themselves and question their teaching. And when we played different warm up games they were eager to join in regardless of the fact they had not done it before.

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The staff who supported us from SeeBeyondBorders were so courageous in inviting us in to stand with them in supporting their group of mentors and teachers. For a group of people who are so good at what they do wanting to continue learning and sharing is wonderful. They had a difficult day of working their normal job as well as translating and explaining what was happening to us must have created more worry for them but they took it in their stride and did an amazing job.

As our first day came to an end it was evident in our reflection time that stories of courage continued through the day, and was even shown in how honest we were through reflection. As we looked back at the courage shown throughout the day it was empowering to know that no one was happy to stand back, but rather everyone was willing to take a risk to improve themselves and the education in Cambodia.

News from the January 2016 team

SeeBeyondBorders’ annual January ‘Teach the Teacher’ trip commenced on 8th January with seven teachers and five project team members joining SeeBeyondBorders for two weeks in Cambodia. In the first blog post, teacher Mel shares her first impressions.

The January 2016 team started filtering into Phnom Penh from Friday morning. Mixed emotions of eagerness, anxiety and excitement filled the hotel lobby as we all met for our first meal. Chatter was aplenty as we got to know each other, sharing our experiences and what had brought us to Cambodia.

It is obvious we all have a thirst to get to know more about Cambodia and its people, something we got to do on our cycling trip around Koh Dach, a nearby island. We stopped at a local silk shop and spoke to a confident and proud woman explaining her family silk business. She shared with us her persistence in trying to learn English to improve her family’s business and enjoyed the opportunity to practise. I could see a proud smile when she shared how her younger sister is now studying English and she can be there to help her. The importance of learning to her and her family shone through and she was only too happy to teach us how to make a scarf.

We’ve also had the opportunity to wander around Phnom Penh, visiting markets and taking in the different sights such as the Royal Palace and Wot Phnom, all building our context of Cambodia and helping us to understand life for Cambodians. As well as learning the basic hello and thank you in Khmer!

A beautiful cruise at sunset gave us a great opportunity to share the experiences we’d already had as well as talk about the expectations of our upcoming workshops and projects. We also got to observe life on the river banks as people went about their daily chores and moved about, as well as seeing an amazing sunset over the Palace.

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The first couple of days in Phnom Penh have been so important for us to not only get to know the people we will work with in the next couple of weeks but also to get a context into the country we are guests in. We all come from different experiences arriving in the country, some first time visitors and others who have completed this project before and this is evident in our first reflection, which was a great opportunity to see the trip through different perspectives.

With many more experiences and reflections to come we look forward to our trip to Battambang.

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Tell a better story – tell the whole story

Individuals do not necessarily need to be defined by their relation to us. Instead they can be referred to, for example, as students, as teachers; people with meaningful lives outside of their connection to us. They are legitimate in their own right. In that, some common ground is found on which to build a partnership.

When effective communications and good development come together

‘‘Bob can’t do anything about his problems so we have to mobilise people that can change the world for him’’

The video above produced by Bond (2015) presents what we so often see in development campaigns in a tongue-in-cheek manner. Replacing the position so often taken up by an unnamed ‘third-world child’ or ‘powerless woman’ with a man lacking a date highlights a ridiculous narrative that has come to be accepted and moreover, expected.

The stories that development organisations tell through their communications is important. Of course it is the main passage through which support and donations are garnered. However, what’s more important than the money raised is how communications can begin to reduce the distance between donors and communities that charities work with, whilst affording agency and dignity to both parties and together working out how best to move forward.

Smaller NGOs are often greeted with caution when it comes to accountability as they have to deal with less scrutiny from the media compared to their larger counterparts. Despite this, as a smaller organisation, SeeBeyondBorders and others are free from being at the mercy of the terms and conditions stipulated by different stakeholders, especially high-profile donors, so have more flexibility in challenging the status-quo. We have a unique opportunity to move away from the normalised, repetitive narrative of passive poverty. There is no magic formula but there are some steps that can be taken…

The stories that we share should be whole – they should have a beginning, middle and end. This is the first step to challenging the sentiment that poverty is simply a way of life. If our audience understands how poverty is created and the social justice that we are seeking, they are more likely to support our efforts and have more of a nuanced, three-dimensional understanding of the communities we aim to serve.

Currently, many campaigns are missing the ‘beginning’: poverty simply exists. If poverty is continually looked upon as ordinary or natural, then it is difficult to address real causes and feasible solutions. However, when challenging this, we need to realise that we are seeking to undo a subconscious logic that has existed for as long as charity. Therefore we cannot expect thin, conscious messages to be able to contradict this sentiment sufficiently. Undeniably, emotive stories that evoke moral judgement drives action. This may be why ‘poverty porn’ has worked for so long to bring in donations. Support fuelled by pity is not something we are interested in – although surely the impassioned response we are hoping for would be much more effectively provoked if we discussed the underlying causes of poverty, such as a colonial legacy that ensures global power remains severely unequal? This issue is something that would require much more space than this blog post to dissect justly, however, a more honest approach to communications could be useful for both better development and communications. We shouldn’t assume our audience is afraid of the truth, or incapable of understanding it.

The ‘middle’ of the stories is the present – currently this is dominated by the reductive, over simplistic story discussed in the last post. The ‘end’ is more complicated than it first seems, as again there are no honest, simple answers for how we can end poverty. When discussing this, care needs to be taken to ensure it does not feel like a ‘spin’ to the audience. While communications showing progress is often well-received, acontextual hope has proven to be non-effective in harbouring support.  Last week, it was highlighted that support can decrease when quick fixes sold by organisations do not materialise.  What’s more, even if organisations manage to keep their support base, a lot of time and money must go into the re-education of supporters regarding the complexities of poverty and aid and then we risk losing supporters once more as they are likely to become confused and disappointed.

It’s all very well suggesting that the whole of a story needs to be told. But how do we go about this? Some important aspects include language used and the voice that is employed in communications campaigns or outputs. As much as possible, the communities we aim to support should give their own accounts in their own words as put forth by the European NGO Code of Conduct. NGOs should aim to provide a platform for these voices rather than speaking for, or becoming their voice.

When referring to the individuals we work with, Crack (2013) suggests that the term ‘beneficiary’ should be completely rescinded as it subtly declares that the organisations in question are inherently doing good. It favours their interests and interpretations and dwarfs the need to provide evidence that their activities are achieving favourable goals. Such assumed positivity supports neo-colonial rhetoric, reinforcing the superior, paternalistic position of the often Western NGO or charity. Different terms have been proposed by different groups, such as ‘‘primary stakeholder’’ to reflect to the organisation who they are most accountable to and who their legitimacy is dependent on. Another proposal has been ‘‘people in the world’s poorest places’’ (The Narrative Project, 2014) so not to stigmatise with the label of being naturally poor – poverty is something that can happen to anyone. However, this still makes poverty seem like a natural accident. Alternatively, individuals do not necessarily need to be defined by their relation to us. Instead as seen in SeeBeyondBorders’ work, they can be referred to, for example, as students, as teachers; people with meaningful lives outside of their connection to us. They are legitimate in their own right. Referring to members of the community that we serve in this way has the added benefit of making them relatable to potential supporters and donors. They too are teachers, they too are students. In that, some common ground is found on which to build a partnership.

This partnership is necessary for sustainable, effective engagement and allows for two-way learning to commence. It also shows that shared values exist, that though two groups of people may be geographically distant from one another they are not completely removed from one another. It has been suggested that communications that articulate shared values are likely to also increase support. Furthermore, an effective partnership means that all of the individual voices within a community are heard. Multiple stories need to be listened to and shared rather than extrapolating from a minority. Large groups of people are generally not homogenous and to depict the communities that we work with like this is to deprive them of their individuality and strengthens the division between donors and communities we aim to support.

Lastly, the images we utilise have immense power. Images are usually the means most employed by communications teams. We have seen how ‘poverty porn’ aims to shock the audience so the whole stories do not have to be told and questions are not raised. Whilst images that evoke pity tend to increase support, as previously highlighted, they do little to advance the thought that communities we seek to serve are active, independent equals with their own agency. In fact, although such images can increase support, it is a support that is fleeting that can dissipate as soon as the next ‘‘victim’’ emerges (Ignatief, 1998). Recent studies have put forth that the best images to use in communications show potential, progress and empowerment. Simple, intuitive measures should be taken to ensure images captured are done so with dignity and respect such as asking the subjects permission, ensuring eye contact with the camera and avoiding images that may fuel negative stereotypes and prejudice should be avoided.

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Sreyno, who SeeBeyondBorders supports through the Conditional Cash Payment Program looks straight at the camera, completely aware of what is happening and happy to be there.

What is clear from the discussions in this series is that the road to ‘good’ development in any case, is not straightforward; the road to ‘good’ development with simultaneous ‘good’ communications even less so. At SeeBeyondBorders we try to reflect on everything we do and why we do it – this is not the end of the story. We are trying to incorporate these ideas into all of our own communications, so follow our progress and please do join the conversation by sharing your feedback…

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Ignatieff, M. (1998). The Stories We Tell, Television and Humanitarian Aid. In Moore, J. (Ed.), Hard Choices. Moral Dilemmas in Humanitarian Intervention, (pp.287-302). USA: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc.