At the end of February, we said goodbye to 10 volunteers from Australia who came to Cambodia on the trip of a lifetime. If you missed our previous blog posts about their trip, start here to learn how they volunteered in schools, ate with the local community, and took in the best sightseeing Cambodia has to offer. The trip was made possible through a fundraising event with their employer, SHAPE.
This opportunity is available to other companies who wish to fundraise and send volunteers to see first-hand where their donation is going. In this Q&A, we’ll learn from Mary Tsobanopoulos how the SHAPE volunteers fundraised, and how other companies can follow suit.
Can you give us a brief overview of your fundraising event?
Each year, SHAPE has our Charity Golf Day, which is held at The Metropolitan Golf Club in Melbourne, Australia. SHAPE staff and sponsoring subcontractors gather for a fun-filled day of golf to fundraise for the charities we support.
How do you advertise to participants?
The participants are the subcontractors we work with everyday, so we raise awareness about the event through email, our websites, and word of mouth. We use a flyer that is easy to share and provides all the details
How long in advance do you start planning for an event like this?
The event is held in November and we usually start planning in March. We also send a Save The Date email to our past supporters at the start of the year, so that they aware the event is happening well in advance.
Tell us about the planning committee. How many people are there? What are their roles?
The organising committee usually consists of six members; however, this year we will be welcoming more. The additional members will be providing more ideas and support towards raising funds and will have the opportunity to travel to Cambodia to work directly with the schools and children for five days. Each role consists of negotiating sponsorship packages with each subcontractor. Others will put forward ideas on future fundraising events and workshops, etc., and a few of us run the administration and marketing/promotional side of the event.
What are the ways in which fundraising benefits the company?
Fundraising helps us by 1) Boosting our brand’s presence, 2) Contributing to our social responsibility program, and 3) Improving staff engagement and morale, which drives business performance.
What advice would you give other companies considering an event like this one?
Great pieces of advice include:
Start planning early
Ask for advice from others
Communication is vital, including to internal and external parties
Know your audience
Thank you, Mary, for telling us about your golf tournament! We are grateful for SHAPE’s continued partnership.
As a corporate partner, SHAPE provides its employees with a unique experience to give back. We are aways looking for more companies to partner with. Learn more here: http://bit.ly/2kObOak
Over the weekend, PBS re-aired their 2015 film, The Storm Makers, which is described as a eye-opening look at the cycle of poverty, despair and greed that fuels human trafficking in Cambodia. Human trafficking in Cambodia works with a web of lies that prays on the starving and hopeless. Recruiters trick families in villages […]
Last week, PBS re-aired their 2015 film, The Storm Makers, which is described as an eye-opening look at the cycle of poverty, despair and greed that fuels human trafficking in Cambodia.
Human trafficking in Cambodia works with a web of lies that prays on the starving and hopeless. Recruiters trick families in villages into sending their daughters to work with what they describe as a legal business agency where she will receive a monthly salary to send home so her families can eat. Their daughters are instead sold through a string of agencies until they are bought as property in Malaysia and then enslaved. As a slave, they are abused, often raped, not paid, and sometimes never return home.
To understand the complexity of the human trafficking network, the film provides a chilling explanation by a human trafficker himself.
The re-airing of this film sparked conversation at the SeeBeyondBorders office and is a sober reminder of why the work we’re doing matters. One of our Cambodian staff members is familiar with these types of horrifying stories:
“The story in this video sounds very natural and sad. Actually, I have witnessed such cases with people from my community. Several girls (I’m sure they were below 18 when they left Cambodia the first time) from very, very poor family backgrounds were sent to work in Malaysia, hoping to save some money to feed their family. One was also hoping to save money for future businesses, which did not happen at all (her family spent all the money she had transferred from abroad). She came back home after working as a home-maid for three years, but the other girl never returned and no one knows if she is alive or dead. The lady who was fortunate to come back described that she was made to work many hours everyday and did not have enough to eat. She was given something, like drugs, so that she could stay awake, not get hungry, and was able to work in many houses each day.
Those families are now still living in poverty; the work of those sad ladies did not help change anything for the better at all. Her mental state was not proper when she first arrived. Neighbours said she was mad. ‘That’s life!’ is all people can say about their case.”
At SeeBeyondBorders, we don’t believe “that’s life.” Our work in schools and communities is giving families hope and keeping them from the desperation that would send their daughters away just to put food on the table. By getting a quality education, the daughters of families in the future can learn the skills they need to work and help provide for their families.
For the most vulnerable families, we designed our Conditional Cash Payment program to prevent parents from having to make the cruel choice between their child’s education and having enough money to feed their family. The payments work out at an average of $60 per child per year – such a small amount in a Western country – but for children from the very lowest income families in Cambodia, it could mean the difference between an education, and a childhood, or a life of forced labour.
This is part of our Getting to School program, which aims to address the barriers leading to absenteeism and low community engagement, and today we have increased attendance across the schools where we work to 92%, compared to a national average of 84%.
Nowadays, is it enough for companies to simply demonstrate their corporate social responsibility? Back in 2012, commentators were already declaring the traditional approach to CSR – a largely cosmetic “add-on”, kept at arms’ length from the rest of the business – as dead and obsolete. And accordingly there has been a growing trend in recent years for companies to adopt a ‘whole-business’ approach to CSR, looking beyond a financial relationship with a charity partner, and exploring ways to develop that relationship to mutually benefit both parties.
There is good reason for this, with businesses recognising the multiple rewards they will reap from investing in their reputation as a responsible employer. In a competitive market, integrity has become a marketing tool – as anyone who has watched the latest NatWest UK advert can plainly see. And the research is compelling: Edelman’s 2016 Trust Barometer showed that that 55% of people in the USA and 43% of people in the UK do not trust the companies they work for, with France, India, Australia and Mexico not far behind. The report goes on to state that 80% of the general public expect that businesses could both increase proﬁts and improve economic and social conditions in the communities in which they operate. Meanwhile, a recent survey by Environics International reveals how more than one in five consumers reported having either rewarded or punished companies based on their perceived social performance.
“A recent Deloitte report warns businesses to adjust their focus or lose a large proportion of their workforce – and recommends prioritising the sense of purpose around people.”
Companies failing to offer employees a sense of purpose can expect to lose out
So it goes without saying that a more sophisticated approach to CSR is not only good for business, but as a recruitment tool, it can set companies apart in the eyes of the talented staff they are hoping to attract. While much has been said and written about the so-called millennial generation’s fixation with ‘finding meaning’, a recent Deloitte report warns businesses to adjust their focus or lose a large proportion of their workforce: and recommends prioritising the sense of purpose around people rather than growth or profit maximization. With an integrated approach, CSR activities can attract, retain, and develop employees while fulfilling additional core purposes: often referred to as quadruple bottom line (people, profit, planet and purpose). And by looking beyond traditional charity partnerships, businesses are beginning to understand how the non-profit sector can offer so much more than just ‘greenwashing’.
Volunteering engages and develops staff: a win-win for businesses
Business In the Community has noted how more and more companies are using volunteering not only to engage and motivate their staff, but as a learning and development opportunity too. In just the last couple of years, the trend has rocketed: in 2016, 84% of businesses surveyed were using volunteering to engage and motivate staff compared to 73% in 2014, and 56% were using volunteering as a learning and development opportunity in 2016, compared to 39% in 2014.
Looking beyond borders
At SeeBeyondBorders, from the beginning we have implicitly understood how meaningful volunteering opportunities make good business sense. For us, with our operational focus in Cambodia and the majority of our supporters based in Australia or the UK, our starting point was to provide people with the opportunity to connect first hand with the issues we had set out to address. It has always been at the core of what we do to enabling people around the world to “see beyond borders” and understand the impact that a small act of generosity, delivered appropriately, can have for those less fortunate than themselves.
“At SeeBeyondBorders, from the beginning we have implicitly understood how meaningful volunteering opportunities make good business sense.”
Over the years, as we have started to build our relationships with corporate partners, we have come to understand that our volunteering opportunities can form a core part of the partnership, with far-ranging benefits to the companies, to SeeBeyondBorders, and most importantly, to the communities with whom we work in Cambodia.
The benefits of such an experience were apparent when we hosted a group of volunteers from Aimia in November 2016. Prior to this, the group of volunteers spent six months fundraising on our behalf. They characterised the fundraising aspect as a “great team-building” activity in itself, with a disparate group from different departments (and in one case, even a different country!) collaborating to raise an ambitious target of £20,000. Through film nights, marathons, bucket collections, and an impressive raffle and auction evening, the participants drew on all their talents, resources and contacts to reach their target, demonstrating incredible commitment, initiative and leadership.
When it came to the trip itself, the group were able to strengthen their bonds further as they worked together to help us implement our programmes across schools in North West Cambodia. We work in the more rural areas in Cambodia, where many teachers are underqualified and under-resourced. Over 50 per cent of the teachers in our programs have not completed high school. We aim to address the skills gap in the workforce and the barriers preventing children from accessing a quality education. We make sure our volunteers contribute to projects which provide useful and sustainable solutions to the challenges facing schools, teachers and children in Cambodia.
Every project team spends their one to two weeks contributing to projects that make schools safer, more healthy, and attractive places to be. This involved helping deliver health and sports lessons to children and their families, working with local communities to determine the best ways to improve the schools, and then putting some of those plans into action through good old fashioned manual labour!
After the trip, the Aimia team told us: “Thanks to the support we received back home, we have helped make a few Khmer parents and their children smile and made at least a small difference to their lives through SeeBeyondBorders’ programmes. What these guys do here is quite astounding. They see so much poverty but any improvement, however small, makes the effort worthwhile and gives continuous hope that bigger change can happen. Change most definitely starts with education.”
“SHAPE Australia have incorporated our volunteering experience into an annual team building exercise… a more cost-effective option that can actually also achieve further-reaching results.”
An ongoing partnership
Another partner, SHAPE Australia, have incorporated our volunteering experience into an annual team building exercise, and will shortly be sending a group of volunteers to join us in Cambodia for a third year running. With ‘corporate retreats’ and ‘team-building away days’ struggling to shake their associations with the worst of pre-recession excess, SHAPE’s approach shows how this more cost-effective option can actually also achieve further-reaching results.
Of course, we are still learning too, and we are looking at ways to further strengthen this offering – be that through skills-based volunteering opportunities or sabbaticals, or ongoing staff development activities after the trip has concluded. But if you are looking for ways to re-energise and engage your staff whilst enhancing your business, we would love you to join us on this journey.
If you’ve been following our posts over the last week, you’ll know a group of 10 volunteers from SHAPE came to volunteer in schools and see first-hand what their company’s donation is doing for the people in Cambodia. If you’ve ever wondered what it’d be like to join a project team, here is the most detailed account we’ve shared, courtesy of Ben Mahmoud from SHAPE.
Where do I start to describe the trip of a lifetime? After arriving at Phnom Penh airport, we were dropped straight into Cambodia’s atmosphere – the humidity and smokiness of the city hits you and you realise you’re in unfamiliar territory. After being politely greeted by our tuk tuk driver, we crossed people in the street who were quick to give a smile and a wave, and we began to understand how lovely the Cambodian people are.
On our first full day in Cambodia, we took a 15km bike ride around the villages surrounding Phnom Penh (for some of us, it was a long time since we’d been on a bike!). Along our bike journey, we experienced a few curious cows, stray dogs, waving local kids, and numerous boats on the river, big and small. We had the chance to meet a local man who showed us how silk is naturally produced, and how it is then run through a loom to create a garment, such as a scarf. We were also offered some local treats! After an exhausting day, we spent some time getting to know each other and team bonding while enjoying a boat cruise on the Mekong River.
“The stories we heard and the sights we witnessed provided a sober reminder of what happened. Nearly every Cambodian has a story of how this event impacted them.”
Sunday was an important day, as we learned more about the history of Cambodia, and came to fully understand and appreciate why our help is needed. We visited Choeung Ek, the site of a mass grave of people killed by the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh, a tragedy that only took place recently in the 1970s. The stories we heard and the sights we witnessed there provided a sober reminder of what happened – so many people lost their lives and so many more were affected. Cambodia still feels the repercussions to this day.
Afterwards, we visited another site, S21, which was once a school and then used as a torture and confinement building by the Khmer Rouge. These were just two of more than 300 similar sites throughout Cambodia. Nearly every Cambodian has a story of how this event impacted them.
After a sombre afternoon, we embarked on an eight hour bus ride to Battambang. Our luggage didn’t fit in the bus, so we needed a separate taxi to get there! The bus ride gave us a chance to learn more about each team member, which was the basis for creating strong bonds throughout our trip.
Upon arriving in Battambang, we realised immediately it would be an amazing city, and a comfortable vibe to settle into.
Monday was our first day volunteering at a school. We travelled to Ek Phnom, just outside Battambang. What a day! We were unsure about what to expect, but one thing was obvious based on the gravel and pile of sand: we’d be concreting. The community circle greetings and introductions were a great way to get to know the community members, and learn more about the school. We had the chance to do this at every school we visited before beginning activities. The concreting went better than we expected, and was a good way to give us a taste of what was yet to come. The community provided us with a delicious meal, and we all sat on the floor in a calm environment to share the food and reflect on our hard work that day.
In the afternoon, we all travelled to the SeeBeyondBorders office and did training for the upcoming health and sport days to help prepare us in advance. We also were given the task of creating soaps that were wrapped in stockings and hung with string… it doesn’t seem too hard until we realised we had to make almost 400!
That night, after washing off all the concrete dust, we went to go Phare Ponleu Selpak, a circus performed by young people who are training to learn skills like juggling and clowning. This was another good opportunity to participate in the Cambodian culture.
“Every person on the team, along with the community members, pulled together to absolutely smash out the concrete work! I don’t think we had ever sweated so much in our life.”
On Tuesday we took concreting to the next level and finished two classroom floors and a pathway at another school. This time we were in Bavel, another district near Battambang. Every person on the team, along with the community members, pulled together to absolutely smash out the concrete work! I don’t think we had ever sweated so much in our life.
The best thing to see was the “daisy chain”, where there was a long line of people passing buckets of concrete down the line to get to the location it needed to be. Who needs a concrete pump when you have the daisy chain method? Two team members also had the rewarding job of getting involved in the classroom activities and teaching the kids art.
At lunchtime, the community provided us with yet another delicious meal, and we provided some Aussie treats we bought from home. The Vegemite was probably the least favourite of the Cambodians, and the Tim Tams would have been a hit if they’re weren’t so melted from the Cambodia sun. However, it didn’t deter some Cambodian community members from using a spoon to eat the melted Tim Tams.
Wednesday was Health Day at another school in Bavel! We didn’t know what to expect as it was the first time we would be specifically interacting with the school kids. Some of us were nervous to interact with the children; however, the kids were so well-behaved and happy to see us that it made our work much easier. Who knew that washing your hands and brushing your teeth could be so fun?! In the afternoon, we travelled to another school to help paint a toilet block and create a small garden bed. We also got to witness a few of the kid’s impressive soccer skills. After every school we visited, as we had done with our introductions, we gathered in a circle again to say our goodbyes and thank yous.
In the evening we had dinner at a supposedly famous hole-in-the-wall restaurant, known as The Noodle Man. The general consensus in the group was that the noodles and dumplings were the best. Thinking about them now is making me hungry.
Thursday was much the same as the previous day with healthy day in the morning, and painting and gardening in the afternoon. After completing the health day activities, we played “Duck, Duck, Goose” (or chicken), and played “What’s the Time Mr. Wolf?” The kids absolutely loved it and the team members loved it even more.
That night a few of us travelled to the Battambang premier of Angelina Jolie’s new movie “First They Killed My Father,” a film adaptation of the book which tells the story of a young girl who survived the Khmer Rouge. Unfortunately, Angelina Jolie didn’t make an appearance. Hundreds if not thousands of people turned up to the outdoor cinema.
“The sports day was so much fun! The kids were full of energy. Some kids needed more encouragement than others, but that’s what made the process even more rewarding!”
Friday was our last day in Battambang and it was also sports day. Yet another fun day with the kids! Unfortunately, we also knew it was going to be the last day spent with the kids on this trip. The sports day was so much fun! The kids were full of energy. Some kids needed more encouragement than others, but that’s what made the process even more rewarding!
The kids were divided between red, blue and yellow teams, the events were hurdles, sack racing and running. All the kids did so well, but after these events the red team was winning by more than 40 points. The deciding round of the relay race was to determine the overall winner. It was a close race and the blue team came up from behind to win the relay and win the overall carnival.
Then, it was the adults’ turn to race with project team members alongside community members. The community members were so enthusiastic!
For lunch, we shared a local meal with our SeeBeyondBorders hosts and had some delicious Cambodian crispy chicken. The afternoon brought another bus ride – this time to Siem Reap. We packed our bags and got rid of the dirty boots and clothes. In Siem Reap, we’d get a chance to wind down and reflect over the week that was. It is a very lively city, with some coffee shops and restaurants reminding us of Australia. The night market was great to shop around and explore the lovely streets. Some of us even fed our feet to the fishes for a massage (or tickle torture as some would say).
The next morning some of us woke before dawn to witness the sunrise at Angkor Wat. The tranquillity and colours of the sunrise was great to see. We continued the day by exploring nearby temples and climbing a lot of stairs. These areas are flooded with tourists so the early start was a good idea even though we could have fallen asleep in the tuk tuk.
We wrapped our final day with free time to prepare ourselves to return to reality. During our final reflection session of the trip, we could tell that this experience has had a real impact, and has changed each and every one of us.
We cannot express enough our gratitude to the SeeBeyondBorders team for this experience, we could not fault anything even if we tried. Thank you, thank you, thank you to all of the team: you made this experience for us so memorable and we appreciate it immensely.
Thank you, SHAPE for including SeeBeyondBorders in your Corporate Social Responsibility efforts! Learn more about Corporate Sponsorship on our website: http://bit.ly/2kIUtx0
On 24 February 2017, in rural Cambodia, miles from the closest stop light and down a dirt road, hundreds of kids could be heard laughing and screaming with excitement as they tried to beat their classmates to the finish line.
It was carnival day at the students’ school. On this day, 10 Australian volunteers, sponsored by their employer SHAPE, witnessed something that happens on playgrounds all around the world: sports.
The beauty of the sports program is that it allows kids to be kids; to experience fun, competition, and healthy activities that are the same as those in developed countries, despite living in a country with poor school infrastructure and one that otherwise lacks resources, such as sports equipment.
Ben Mahmoud shared his experience with us:
“It was so much fun being involved in the sports carnival day, the kids at the school were very well behaved, filled with excitement and enthusiasm. It was great to see all the kids trying their very hardest and not giving up to get to the finish line, all the kids were encouraging each other!
Well done to all the Blue, Red and Yellow teams! There is definitely some future athletes in the bunch! It was fantastic the parents, teachers and community members were great support and so willing to help out and participate.”
Thank you, SHAPE for including SeeBeyondBorders in your Corporate Social Responsibility efforts! Learn more about Corporate Sponsorship on our website: http://bit.ly/2kIUtx0
The SHAPE team started off their week volunteering in Cambodia with two full days of concreting. As the warm months of March and April are fast approaching, the weather brought us some very hot days. There is no faster way to feel like you’ve accomplished something than spending nearly 20 hours in two days concreting alongside the local community in Cambodia, who are working hard to make conditions safer for their children.
The classrooms in this school were hazardous for the students, as the concrete was broken and crumbling. With help from SHAPE, SeeBeyondBorders initiated a day to invite community members to work alongside SHAPE volunteers to repair the broken floors. The showing from the community, and the teamwork among Australian and Khmer people, was remarkable. The two groups worked in the grueling sun for hours, not speaking the same language, but prepared to accomplish the same goal.
Both groups learned from one another. The SHAPE volunteers taught Khmer people how to improve their cement mixture. The Khmer people taught the SHAPE volunteers how to accomplish a huge task with limited resources.
The outcome of all the hard work paid off. The school now has two beautiful floors that are safe for the children to learn. And the teamwork and feeling of accomplishment shared among the Australians and Khmers will continue to inspire both groups as they head back to their daily lives.
Thank you, SHAPE for including SeeBeyondBorders in your Corporate Social Responsibility efforts! Learn more about Corporate Sponsorship on our website: http://bit.ly/2kIUtx0
The first stop on the SHAPE Project Team’s adventure in Cambodia was Phnom Penh, where they recovered from jet lag, prepped for the work ahead, and visited some local sites to learn about Cambodia’s dark history. The work the SHAPE Project Team is doing with SeeBeyondBorders to improve education in Cambodia will feel even more impactful after understanding the devastating impact of the Khmer Rouge regime on their education system.
Now in Battambang, the location of SeeBeyondBorders’ headquarters, the Project Team is visiting several schools in the surrounding districts. After an exhausting morning laying concrete, the Australian volunteers and the Khmer school communities cooled off over a shared a meal. Everyone brought their favorite grub from home to share.
We asked one of the volunteers, Ben Mahmoud, to share his experience of a meal consisting of words he doesn’t understand, but a shared language: food.
“Meeting with the people from the local community and sharing a meal after a hard day’s work was such a great experience, to be able to celebrate our accomplishments thus far.
Even though there is a language barrier we all share the same goal of creating a better future for the kids of the community.
The food was so good, really fresh and gave us a taste of what Cambodia has to offer. Thank you to the community people for all their efforts and hospitality.”
With renewed energy, the afternoon sun meant it was back to work to prepare for tomorrow’s sports day.
Thank you, SHAPE for including SeeBeyondBorders in your Corporate Social Responsibility efforts! Learn more about Corporate Sponsorship on our website:
SeeBeyondBorders is thrilled to welcome volunteers from our partners SHAPE to Cambodia!
As a corporate partner, SHAPE sent a group of well-deserving employees on a unique team building trip to see first-hand the impact their company’s contribution is having on education in Cambodia.
They will be helping to deliver our programs in schools across North West Cambodia, working alongside members of the local community to get a deep understanding of the challenges they face and the solutions SeeBeyondBorders offers.
On our blog we’ll share the volunteers’ experiences and hear stories directly from them as they help deliver our work and take on new experiences in the Kingdom of Wonder.
As they arrived in Phnom Penh over the weekend, the volunteers described feeling excited, welcomed, anxious about the journey ahead, humbled and awestruck by the beauty of the country. A real mixture of emotions!
Over the next week, we’ll be hearing more about their reflections on the trip in a series of posts on our blog – so check back soon for more updates.
Thank you, SHAPE for including SeeBeyondBorders in your Corporate Social Responsibility efforts! Learn more about Corporate Sponsorship on our website: http://bit.ly/2kIUtx0
Main image: Volunteers from the SHAPE Melbourne team on their first day in Phnom Penh.
We’ve continued to follow the group of eight Australian teachers as they made their way through Cambodia, got to grips with the education system and burrowed further into what makes the SeeBeyondBorders programme to special.
After a hectic week in Phnom Penh and Battambang our teacher team head into Siem Reap to work with the SeeBeyondBorders team in the Angkor Thom.
Mandy from the team told us she was thrilled they managed to fit in some sight-seeing at the incredible ‘Temples of Angkor’. A life-long dream for her and some of the others on the trip.
The team see the temples
The journey continues in Angkor Thom district where SeeBeyondBorders has worked since 2014.
Melissa from the team told us that the days spent in Angkor Thom were incredibly inspiring. She said:
“There is huge contrast between my life and the villages of Angkor Thom. Within minutes from the bustling town of Siem Reap there are villages with no electricity and limited facilities, so the hotel pool has become a little less inviting.
“The teachers in Angkor Thom were a little younger than last week and took a little longer to warm up. However the children running around the school buildings were just as inquisitive.
“The one thing that will stay with me forever is a conversation we had with our project manager: a highly intelligent, caring, family man with two children. He told us electricity had recently been connected to his village and he received his first ever bill. He wrote out the kW usage as an algebraic equation and said he can see for the first time there is a pattern. He then said he doesn’t want any other child to have to wait until they get to his age to understand patterning; the work we are doing is crucial.
“I am but a small part of the legacy that SeeBeyondBorders is creating in Cambodia. I am so humbled to be here.”
SeeBeyondBorders award-winning work is helping to work with teachers on news skills to enhance their teaching methods so children in Cambodia have access to a better quality of education.
Over the last week we have been following a group of eight wonderful teachers from Australia as they make their way through the SeeBeyondBorders annual volunteer teacher trip.
The teachers have remained upbeat in the heat; when confronted by challenging workshops and when struck down by illness. They are made of incredibly strong stuff. Throughout days eight and nine our team of staff help the teachers understand more about how all of our programmes fit together. As well as continuing to run ‘Teach the Teacher’ workshops they also join with health and fitness days as part of our ‘Getting to School’ programme. These programmes are vital in ensuring the children are healthy and happy. They aim to reduce the number of days that children need to take off school due to sickness by teaching basic hand-washing and teeth cleaning. They also aim to create an environment where learning is fun and isn’t just about being in the classroom.
Day 8 and 9
The team split into various groups to continue our workshops on patterning techniques and to help run the art visioning, sports and health days. There was a great turnout from the community.
Jenny from the group told us about her experiences.
“The day with the children and the sports carnival brought me closer to the familiar. Organising children, laughing with them, encouraging them and playing.
“The art visioning program was an absolute privilege to be a part of. Parents and grandparents sharing their stories and making connections through our love and care for our children and shared dreams about our children’s education and the future we want for them. Through drawing and art we worked with the SeeBeyondBorders team to foster deeper relationships with community in school life. Art the great equaliser.
“We touched each other through our stories, we guided tentative hands on canvasses of fabric and we put paint on hands that have raised and nurtured children to create a tree of painted hands.
“Today is a day I will never forget and I feel changed and more aware that at the end of the day we love our children and we just want them to feel cared for safe and happy.”
Out ‘Teach the Teacher’ workshops, teaching a number of mathematics techniques continued throughout the two days and the group were thrilled to get the feedback that they did from the teachers they were working with. The Khmer teachers they have spent the past few days with gave them amazing feedback.
They told us;
“Thanks for all your hard work to transfer skills and knowledge to us. I commit to take all what I learned here to teach my students. This will make my students quickly improve their knowledge and become smarter and smarter.”
The group told us; “We’re spending the next few days travelling to Siem Reap. We bid a very fond farewell to Battambang and a wonderful group. We’re going to be exploring the temples of Angkor and then working with a whole new group of schools where SeeBeyondBorders works.”
We’ve been following our group of Australian teachers as they embarked on their volunteer trip through Cambodia with SeeBeyonBorders. After acclimatising themselves to life in Cambodia and after some rigorous training with the team from SeeBeyondBorders they were ready to face their classroom challenges.
Melissa from the project team shares her initial thoughts from day seven and the first day of teacher workshops for the team.
The day started with a very formal opening ceremony where we were welcomed and made to feel very special. My team mate Joh and I ran our workshop for about 24 teachers with the help of Sophen and Reaksa, the Khmer facilitators who work at SeeBeyondBorders.
We were quite nervous, eager to communicate with the Khmer teachers and hoping they would find the day useful and enjoyable. The day was all about introducing the concept of patterns, how it leads to algebraic thinking and how to teach these concepts to young children.
This was their first experience with this mathematical concept. In between activities we taught and played games with the teachers such as the old favourite ‘Simon Says’. It was during these games that we all really started to relax. We laughed and enjoyed many jokes, all translated expertly for us.
The room was hot and noisy and we were often competing with babies, noisy children, dogs, tractors and trucks. Patterns were made with whatever concrete materials we could find, including sticks and stones. The rewards soon became apparent however and these unusual working conditions suddenly didn’t matter.
When we could see the teachers understand something new (that ‘lightbulb moment’) then language, experience, backgrounds and cultures were irrelevant. We were connected by smiles, bright eyes, nods, gestures and our common love of learning. There were new experiences for us all today such as brave Wendy eating a cricket and the Khmer teachers eating Tim Tams and Mint Slices.
After such a good start, we’re feeling energised and encouraged that this week will be beneficial for us all.”
To find out how you can get involved with SeeBeyondBorders visit http://www.seebeyondborders.org/get_involved/
On day five we spent the day in workshops, meetings the Cambodian staff and finalising our maths programme. We visited the school where we will be teaching. It’s so thrilling to be a small part of this phenomenal programme and to work with Cambodian mentors who are helping reshape the education system.
I asked the team to share how they were feeling about the first of the teaching sessions and it was great to hear that everyone shared my level of excitement. We of course felt a little nervous about the contributions we could really make but we do feel that being here and working with such an energetic team has made us feel more confident that what I do will genuinely support teacher learning.
We’re all so excited to hopefully inspire the teachers to enjoy teaching maths and to have fun ways to engage their students and we know that if it’s challenging we’ll have our fellow team members to rely on.
Find out how the teachers got on in the next instalment of our blog next week…
Over the next two weeks at SeeBeyondBorders we’re hosting a wonderful group from Australia as part of our annual two week volunteering experience. Qualified teachers will help to run our Teach the Teacher training workshops to strengthen the development of Cambodian teachers; and the other volunteers will get involved with school sports, health and community days, and help to improve school infrastructure as part of our Better Schools program.
Angela, from the group has been sharing the thoughts and feelings from their arrival in Cambodia.
Day 1: New friends and new surroundings
Facebook and email faces and voices finally became real to us all as we eventually all made it to the excitement of Phnom Penh. Instantly there was a friendly warmth between those who had just stepped off the plane, the early travellers already acclimatised to the chaos of Cambodia and Ed and Kate, who set up SeeBeyondBorders and were our inspiration to take this journey. It makes you realise that we all belong to the bigger family, teachers.
Day 2: A chance to explore and start to understand the culture of the city
Anticipation was felt amongst the group as we met for our first group cultural activity, the village bike tour. We all compared our lack of recent bike experience, mainly due to living in busy Aussie cities, but we were keen to once again find our cycling legs to explore some outer regions of Phnom Penh.
Phirun, our tour guide, introduced himself as Mr Smiley, and he lived up to his name. Coming from a rural family, Phirun had worked hard to get what education he could. Through local schooling, as a pagoda boy and by working as a construction worker, chicken boy and bike mechanic he was able to pay for private English lessons. Through his work as a bike mechanic he also conversed with tourists to improve his spoken language and now has ‘the best job in the world’ as a cycling tourist guide, and an outstanding one he is.
Leisurely, we cycled on the dirt and gravel roads of the village of Mekong island, past market stalls selling food, clothes, home wares and petrol in glass soft drinks bottles.
The contrast in dwellings, from river boats, shanties and modest homes, to the new and more ornate buildings painted in soft lime, sky blue and apricot, all coexisting harmoniously, highlighted the differences in socioeconomic status of the people. We learnt about the cham people, a displaced race, who now reside in several countries with Cambodia hosting more than any other country. At the village pagoda Phirun gave us an explanation of the some aspects of Buddism. Interestingly, some boys choose to become monks to get an education.
Cows, roosters, water buffalo and crops of corn gave the village a rural feel. The river was a hive of activity as fishing boats set up nets for the days haul. The ferry arrived at the river bank as the morning came to a close and the heat of the sun was intensifying. We had all achieved our first group activity together, and there was a real sense of achievement as we reflected on our experience as we travelled back to our hotel and prepare for our visit to the Killing Fields and Toul Sleng tomorrow.
I see dusty children’s clothes still intact, the killing tree with lovingly placed wrist bands and a mass grave of women and children.
I think of being a care free, safe, educated and healthy 8 year old Australian child in contrast to the fear, loneliness, helplessness and confusion of an 8 year old Kampochean child, I think of Chung.
I wonder what became of the children who survived, what would have become of those that didn’t and how could this be allowed to happen.
Sorrowful and heart broken.
I see a country with immense compassion and love of family.
I think we have so much to learn from people in Cambodia who have resilience and hope.
I wonder if the clutter of our daily lives and the demise of genuine humanity is what holds us back from greater empathy and support of others in need.
Vulnerability and strength
I see beautiful monarch butterflies respectfully dancing around the ground where so many bodies lay.
I think this dance is a sign of hope in such a hopeless place.
I wonder if we can dance as gracefully as the butterfly; learning to love, forgive and live.
I see a peaceful, green garden with hidden stories of fear and horror, there is something very different in the way this place feels.
I think about how a place of education can be turned into a place of torture and destruction of the human spirit.
I wonder if a race of people can ever truly recover…
Words can’t describe the tangled emotions I feel about this tragedy against Cambodia.
It’s a somber journey to Battambang but we’re keen to see where SeeBeyondBorders works.
Gender inequality is increasingly at the forefront of talks and forums in the development sector, but how can we evolve from simply discussing the ideas of gender inequality to actively implementing long-term change? The short answer is education. As of 2014, girls made up 53% of the 61 million of children out of school. 15% of the population is illiterate, and women account for 63% of these illiterate adults. Education can help. We all deserve the same playing field, whether it be while practicing a hobby or in the professional sphere.
A recent report commissioned by UNESCO, the ‘Global Education Monitoring Report’, explored the state of education across the globe, and the steps which need to be taken in order to achieve free, equal primary and secondary education for both boys and girls by 2030. Within this document, a gender review discussed the substantial progress that has been made within schools to tackle gender inequality. However, in order to achieve this goal, we must all double our efforts.
But why is education important to gender equality? Firstly, it will help fight gender stereotypes. Every day, women and girls are faced with barriers as to what they can and can’t do. Whether this is being a firefighter, or a CEO of a big corporation, women and girls are orientated away from these positions towards a more ‘suitable’ field. Education can help girls understand that a specific job or hobby does not need to be limited to gender.
Secondly, education provides literacy. Illiteracy is a form of insecurity, and often results in women and girls following a pathway defined by society around them. Literacy is an efficient way of improving gender equality as women and girls can learn, discuss and use evidence to fight for their everyday rights, whether this be property rights or basic human rights.
Thirdly, education substantially reduces the risk of early marriage and pregnancies. Girls with no education are three times more likely to marry by 18 compared to those with a primary and/or secondary education. The skills and knowledge acquired throughout the years of schooling can allow girls to make better informed decisions about their future. Additionally, as the NGO GirlsNotBrides argues, a girl in school reinforces the perception that she is still a child and too young to get married.
Primary education as a starting point
Despite the huge disparity in dropout rates between boys and girls going into secondary school, promoting equal education in primary school is a strong starting point to incentivize girls to carry on their school and develop their skills further. But, this means much more than simply having the same number of boys and girls in a classroom. Azza Karam argues that education should adopt a rights-based approach, as stressed by the post-2015 development agenda.  This means that the curriculum and the methods of teaching must be in line with human rights and promoting equity.
SeeBeyondBorders is not an NGO specifically targeting gender inequality, but serves as a perfect example of the power of education and the simple steps that can be taken within an education program to provide both quality education and gender equity simultaneously. SeeBeyondBorders is country specific and thus able to implement programs which are both pragmatic and relevant to Cambodia at a local level. By focusing its work on Cambodian education, SeeBeyondBorders has been able to develop its expertise and better understand gender inequality. SeeBeyondBorders’ Conditional Cash Payment (CCP) program, which provides vulnerable children with the possibility of attending school regularly, has been successful because of the organisation’s understanding as to why vulnerable children are not attending school. Whilst not specifically targeted at girls, 81 girls out of 191 cash payments were made in 2015. This allows children with limited resources (either a lack of financial support or transport to get to school) to attend school more regularly. By targeting these children, SeeBeyondBorders not only focuses on children who are near schools, but rather, allows all children to attend school.
Girls in poorer areas are those most likely to be forced into an early marriage, and work from a young age. We must therefore work in poorer areas, and not limit ourselves to the ‘easy’ option. Perhaps most importantly, SeeBeyondBorders prioritises teacher quality. This enables the children to have access to an excellent quality of education, empowering them further. By giving the teachers adequate training it allows them to develop their knowledge, and confidence to teach. They are thus provided with the teaching tools to teach in a gender sensitive manner and promote gender equality, whether this be through their teaching methods or their understanding of gender equality.
Primary education therefore serves as an ideal starting point to implement change in the long-term. Through a gender-aware approach and a focus on excellent teaching quality, both girls and boys will grow up with the notion of gender equity.
Perhaps the biggest struggle in fighting gender inequality is ‘gender socialisation’, a term coined by Oakley in the 1970s. UNICEF defines the term as a ’process by which people learn to behave in a certain way, as dictated by societal beliefs, values, attitudes and examples.’ An example of this is the perception of menstruation in Cambodia. A recent article in the Phnom Penh Post discussed the experience of one girl who received her information about periods from her mother. Menstruation is perceived as taboo and dirty, something which continues to restrict the behavior of women and girls. Many girls and women in Cambodia believe they are not allowed to swim during their period as this is said to spread disease, or shower regularly as it affects the beauty of their skin. Girls and women also have dietary requirements, to avoid menstruation being ‘blocked’.
Education is key to changing these negative perceptions of menstruation and can thus empower women to openly talk about periods without feeling ashamed. Additionally, studies carried out in East Asia showed that girls on their periods were more likely to miss school, often due to the unsanitary conditions they face, where about half of Cambodian schools lack a reliable water supply. SeeBeyondBorders is also trying to tackle this issue by renovating, and building gender specific toilet blocks, with locks and a constant water supply, to enable girls to safely use the bathroom in a clean environment.
Addressing these issues will be a long and difficult process. However, a good starting point is identifying key individuals in the community and work alongside them to spread the message about the importance of education and gender equality. SeeBeyondBorders works closely with community chiefs and teachers, to enable the community to understand the importance of education and its long-term benefits, not only for gender equality but development more broadly.
Whilst I do not pretend to have the answer to solving gender inequality, education is the variable I deem most able to bridge the gap between gender inequality in the long-term. Unfortunately, education is not given the attention it deserves and is continuously neglected by governments and humanitarian aid providers. However, progress is being made as the education community continues to stress the importance of education and its role within development. Most notably, education now has a stand-alone goal within the Sustainable Development Goals. It comprises subsections tackling issues such as gender equality, or promoting early child schooling. This was previously not the case as the Millennium Development Goals focused on primary education. Change begins with education, and if gender equity is ever to have a chance of being accomplished, quality education is the way forward. By providing children with quality education and by working alongside communities, we can promote gender equality and empower the girls of the next generation.
The AIMIA team made their last two visits to schools in the Siem Reap district. They carried out an art visioning program and a health day, to highlight the importance of education as an agent of change. AIMIA finished their volunteering work with some new perspectives on education and its impact.
We dedicated Thursday 1st of December to Peaksneng primary school and the art visioning program. More than 80 community members showed up, breaking the record previously set at Sonn Dann primary school. This is quite remarkable considering a lot of the community are prioritizing this event over work and their subsistence farming.
For one of the activities, we threw around a ball of wool, each holding a piece of string, as a means of introduction. This was a good game to enable us to communicate with each other despite the language barriers.
We then moved onto the art visioning activity. Many people in the community had never held a pen or a paintbrush before. They drew what they wanted their children’s future to look like and their view of a safe school.
Both these activities allowed the community members to think critically about education and how it can help their children’s goals to be achieved. As for the safety of the school, simple things such as stopping the cows from entering school grounds were mentioned, as well as building fences to prevent children from running out on to traffic. These are things that we don’t even consider at home: simple safety measures that we completely take for granted.
Gabrielle, James H and I made the most of being in close contact with the community and heard about some heartbreaking stories of the impact of the Pol Pot regime on their families’ lives.
The following day we went to Sras primary school and helped facilitate a day of health activities. The day was broken down, like in Rohalsoung Kert primary school in Battambang, between health and weight measuring, teeth-cleaning and handwashing. Unlike last week, this school was in a much poorer district and seeing these children without any shoes, dirty uniforms and headlice was eye opening. Unfortunately, there is only so much one can do, and SeeBeyondBorders continues to support this school as best it can for the third year running.
Thank you to everyone for all their support. Both to those who supported us in the past year and the AIMIA team on the ground. The work of the SeeBeyondBorders team is also astounding, change whilst being a slow process is only possible one step at a time. Change most certainly begins with education.
The Aimia trip to Siem Reap kicked off with a visit to the temples of Angkor, followed by visits to four of our schools in the surrounding districts. Sarah shares her thoughts with us in this third blog.
‘We started our trip in Siem Reap with a visit to the Angkor Wat temples. Some decided to take tuk tuks, whilst otherwise chose bikes. After a slow start and a surprise flat tire, we made it in time for the sunrise. We cycled for a total of 10 hours, stopping at several of the main temples including Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm.
We then met up at the SeeBeyondBorders office in Siem Reap where we were greeted by Pov and the rest of the team. They described to us the area surrounding Siem Reap and the hardships people are facing on a daily basis. Children will often have to work in rice fields in order to provide the family with food, at the expense of schooling. SeeBeyondBorders are working towards changing this mentality and helping the community understand the importance of education and its long-term benefits.
On Day 11, Tuesday 29th of November, we travelled to Sonn Dann primary school to take part in ‘art visioning’ activities with the community. The aim of the art visioning exercise is to encourage the community to engage with the dreams they have for their children, using art to express their ideas so that even those who cannot read or write can take part. About 30 community members were invited, but much to our delight more people than expected showed up.
After a tasty community lunch, we painted some of the flower beds and planted some flowers around the school. This was part of the school’s plans to make their environment more attractive for both students and teachers.
On Wednesday 30th of November we visited Tropaing Kranh primary school, one and a half hours away by bus, tucked away in the jungle. The work ahead of us was more labour-intensive than the previous day, as we had to clear the school from overgrown bushes, and dig a trench to lay down some pipes for a new toilet. Here again, we worked alongside the community and managed to finish in time before our ride back home.’
Check back for the final instalment in this blog series as the Aimia team’s trip comes to an end.