Impressions of my first visit to a British school

My name is Pov[1]. I have been working in the education sector in Cambodia for almost 15 years, in various positions (teacher, school principal, district education officer) in public institutions and several education-related NGOs. I’ve now been working with SeeBeyondBorders for more than 4 years, and it is this work of which I am the most proud.

I have a dream of a better quality education for Cambodian children and ultimately a better society economy and orders. However, I was not clear what an internationally recognized quality standard of education looked like until I recently visited Orrell Holgate Primary School for two days.

My colleague Reasmey and I were very privileged to visit the UK for two weeks in September 2017. With support from our great friend Sarah Reynolds (UK Country Manager for SeeBeyondBorders) and many other generous people, we managed to see many cities and interesting places. I was keen to observe ways people live, children learn and parents engage in education, therefore, the visit to Orrell Holgate Primary School in Wigan (near Manchester) was a highlight of the trip.

We stayed at Sarah’s sister’s house not far from the school, so we walked there easily. Though it was wet and cold outside, we felt excellent inside with a very warm welcome from Mrs Gail Worrall, the school’s head teacher, as well as all other school staff and students. Mrs Worrall showed us around, introduced us to the school development plan, and the deputy head teacher explained the process of curriculum design and we saw examples of actual lessons delivery.  Teachers explained us how they engage children from different backgrounds and how to track learning progress of individual students. Everyone answered loads of questions from us.

 Reasmey with class           Pov with class

We were very impressed with the high quality of the following:

  1. Management of consistencies: school leadership, teachers, students and parents implement activities written in the school development plan systematically with strong ownership.
  2. Challenging and lifelong learning environment: students do a lot of research. We did some brief presentations about Cambodia to classes in years 2-6. I was very surprised when I saw some research reports written by year 2 students, and they were very brave standing up and asking me many questions.
  3. Ambitious expectations of students: during the House assembly, some students told the audience they want to become internationally famous as a footballer, lawyer, etc.
  4. Teaching quality: teachers use interactive activities, engage all students actively in every lesson. Through regular tracking, they know their students clearly and then try the best to fulfill individual need of students. Moreover, all teachers are so enthusiastic about professional development.
  5. Variety learning equipment: one teacher, one teaching assistant, smart board and lots of teaching materials were there for every class of about 30 students. No doubt that the government put huge investment in education there.
  6. Community Engagement: I just could not believe it that many parents with regular jobs turn on board at school every Friday. This takes creativeness to run the meeting and conversation with those parents for sure.

I’ve tried not to compare Holgate School and schools in Cambodia in details but I can witness that they are completely different in many, many ways except birth intelligence. Children anywhere in the world are born very similar but receive different opportunities to grow up and learn.

Having visited Holgate School, Reasmey and I are even more committed to bring better opportunities for Cambodian children through the work we do at SeeBeyondBorders.

[1]Pov Pheung is Country Manager of SeeBeyondBorders in Cambodia
Advertisements

Cambodia’s poor human capital scores reflect ongoing problems in education

A report released this week shows Cambodia has improved its ranking on the Global Human Capital Index, but at the same time, has fallen behind countries in the region with whom it is usually compared. The report also emphasizes that broad-based improvements in education are critical to sustainable, inclusive growth.

The Global Human Capital Report 2017 released by the World Economic Forum, ranks 130 countries on how well they are developing their human capital, and allocates a score on a scale from 0 (worst) to 100 (best) across four thematic dimensions to capture the full human capital potential profile of a country.

The report points out that human capital is critical to economic success.  “How nations develop their human capital can be a more important determinant of their long-term success than virtually any other factor.”

In 2017, Cambodia ranked 92 out of 130 countries, up from 100 in 2016. However, its neighbours are showing much greater improvements.  Myanmar’s ranking of 90 this year was up from 109 in 2016, while Laos jumped from 106 last year to be ahead of Cambodia at 84 in 2017. Other near neighbours, Thailand and Vietnam, are substantially ahead of the Kingdom on this index.

Capture2

In addition, while Cambodia achieved an 8-place improvement in its Human Capital Index ranking (100 in 2016 to 92 in 2017), in absolute terms, the situation is less positive.  On a scale (from 0 – worst, to 100 – best) used to assess each country’s performance, Cambodia lost ground, dropping from 58.9 in 2016 to 57.3 in 2107.  At the same time, its neighbour, Myanmar, improved from 56.6 in 2016 to 57.7 in 2017.

Quality of Cambodian education

The Report includes figures for the quality of educational institutions based on The World Economic Forum’s Executive Opinion Survey that captures the opinion of business leaders around the world on a range of topics for which conventional hard data is unavailable or unreliable. The figure for quality of primary schools represent business leader’s perceptions on the level of excellence of primary schools in their country of residence.

On this qualitative measure of quality, the result for Cambodian primary schools was low.  On a scale of 1 (poor) to 7 (excellent) Cambodian primary education was rated 3.1 (ranked 100 of 130 countries).

Capture1

What’s the answer?

In future, Cambodia’s economic growth will be constrained without increased investment in human capital – it’s people.  The Kingdom’s low Human Capital Index ranking shows the Government needs to invest more in education to address poor standards of education, particularly in rural areas where more than 2 million Cambodian children attend school.

In a comment that should be noted by education authorities in Cambodia and other developing countries, the Report points out that picking winners in the education stakes is not an effective strategy.  “All too often however, human potential is not realized, held back either by inequality or an unrealistic and outdated faith on the part of policymakers that investment in small sub sections of highly skilled labour alone can drive sustainable, inclusive growth.”

The work of SeeBeyondBorders and other NGOs, along with reforms being rolled out as part of the national education reforms, should improve education standards in Cambodia, and help to improve Cambodia’s standing in future.  However, systemic change in the quality of public education is required to deliver significant improvements.

Teacher quality is recognised as the single most important factor in learning outcomes, and SeeBeyondBorders is the only NGO in Cambodia supporting teachers to train their peers, effecting systemic change and promoting sustainability.

 

PHOTO:  Teachers at a SeeBeyondBorders’ workshop receive training in mathematics concepts and teaching skills

tna partners with SeeBeyondBorders to support sustainable, quality teaching

We’re excited to announce a partnership with tna solutions who is generously funding the transition phase of SeeBeyondBorders’ Quality Teaching program in Angkor Thom district near Siem Reap, Cambodia.

“This is a critical stage of our Quality Teaching program,” says Ed Shuttleworth, CEO of SeeBeyondBorders.  “After successfully training and mentoring teachers in Angkor Thom for 3 years, we are entering a transition phase that involves supporting teachers to take responsibility for their own professional development.  The tna grant will cover all direct program costs and support 54 teachers and 26 mentors, and will benefit almost 2,000 students in grades 1-3.”

tna solutions is an Australian supplier of a full line of processing and packaging solutions, with operations in 30 countries worldwide.  In 2002, tna established a foundation committed to sharing its success with those less fortunate.  The foundation has supported over 200 charities across 30 countries in range of projects, focused on assisting the poorest of the poor, prioritising children and concentrating on providing education, shelter, food, healthcare and relief work.

The slogan for the tna foundation is …
We will continue to share our success with the poorest of the poor – in particular children

Dave Everett, tna foundation manager says, “We’re excited to be able to support the work of SeeBeyondBorders.  tna builds partnerships with organisations to ensure donations are used in the most effective and efficient ways as well as making sure this support goes to the people it is intended for.  We’re impressed with SeeBeyondBorders’ teacher training methodology, and strong commitment to sustainability.”

The teachers in Angkor Thom district have been working with SeeBeyondBorders for the past three years. During that time, they’ve achieved significant improvement in conceptual and technical knowledge in both mathematics and general pedagogy, and have gained increased confidence in their own abilities.  A recent blog provides more detail on the achievements of teachers in Angkor Thom.

During the forthcoming transition program, teachers will take responsibility for their own professional development, and newly selected senior mentors will facilitate training sessions to benefit a wider pool of teachers in the district.

The program activities will improve quality of teaching and improved learning outcomes for students and will help SeeBeyondBorders to progress towards its vision: to empower a generation of Cambodian children through education.

 

Photo: Some of the fabulous teachers in Angkor Thom district

Community celebrates increased health awareness

Gala health day in a small rural school celebrates programs introduced by SeeBeyondBorders to improve school and community health practices and reduce absenteeism.

Last week we joined health day celebrations in one of the schools with whom we work in Ek Phnom district of Battambang Province (north west Cambodia).  The objective was to spread the message about good health practices throughout the community.

Along with members of the wider community, the school was celebrating successful adoption of health practices, as part of SeeBeyondBorders’ Getting to School Program.  Illness is a major cause of absenteeism in rural Cambodian schools, and SeeBeyondBorders conducts programs with school children, teachers and parents to promote good health and sanitation, particularly hand washing and teeth cleaning.

The gala day began with a parade around the village by more than 300 school children who spread the health message with signs and loud speakers.  Later, they presented role plays to demonstrate the benefits of health and sanitation habits, and sang songs in celebration of good health.

The school principal explained the health program provided by SeeBeyondBorders aimed to educate and encourage children and their parents to wash hands and clean teeth, and to motivate students, parents and the whole community to increase their focus on child health.

The day was captured by Radio Free Asia, and broadcast on Tuesday evening.  View the video here.

Australian Government funding helps SeeBeyondBorders expand education programs in Cambodia

SeeBeyondBorders achieved a milestone last month with the announcement of accreditation from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT). This is the beginning of a partnership with the Australian Government that will help us expand our highly successful education programs in Cambodia.

Our approach in Cambodia is unique! 

SeeBeyondBorders provides in-service training in rural schools to address the poor state of teacher quality in Cambodia, and improve the educational outcomes for Cambodian children.  Run by Cambodian teachers, our approach provides ongoing mentoring to ensure sustainable development of teaching skills.

SeeBeyondBorders is the only organisation supporting teachers to train their peers, with Cambodian teachers providing training to help upgrade knowledge and skills, but more importantly, ongoing one-to-one mentoring over several years, to consolidate learning and build sustainable ongoing teaching quality.

In a recent blog, we reported on some of the great results being achieved by teachers in our program in Angkor Thom district in Siem Reap province.

How ANCP will help

SeeBeyondBorders receives support from the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).  ANCP funding will enable SeeBeyondBorders to expand programs in Cambodia that are having such a significant impact on teacher quality in the districts in which we work.

ANCP funds will support projects vital to enhancing teacher quality, including a program to transition our teacher training program to teachers and Cambodian education authorities in Bavel and Angkor Thom districts, and implementation of new core in-service teacher training programs in Ek Phnom district and another district near Siem Reap. There’s also support for capacity building to enable SeeBeyondBorders to continue its transition to Cambodian leadership and management.

Recognition of our approach

The ANCP is an Australian Government initiative that supports the development activities of accredited Australian Non-Government Organisations (NGOs).  Only accredited NGOs are eligible to receive ANCP funding, and any organisation seeking funding must undergo a due diligence process and assessment of the outcomes of their development activities.

The rigorous accreditation process aims to provide the Government and Australian public with confidence the Australian Government is funding professional, well managed, community based organisations that are capable of delivering quality development outcomes.

ANCP accreditation recognises the soundness of SeeBeyondBorders’ governance, financial management, child protection, and monitoring and evaluation processes.

For more information about our programs, click here.

Building connections between children in Australia and Cambodia

For the second year, SeeBeyondBorders joined Mosman Public School as one of two local charities for their annual fundraising event, Mini-Mos Community Fun Run and Fair held in June. But this relationship between SeeBeyondBorders and Mini-Mos is not just about fundraising, its about building educational links between Australia and Cambodia.

The Mini-Mos is the longest running community fun run in Australia. With over 3,000 runners, it is the major fundraising activity for Mosman Public School, and also supports Raise Foundation and SeeBeyondBorders.

This is an important annual fundraiser for SeeBeyondBorders, and we really appreciate the support from staff, students and parents at Mosman Public School. The $17,156.11 raised this year will go straight to help young children in Cambodian primary schools.

Petra at MinoMos2

Petra Kremer receives the cheque from Mosman Primary School

But as well as the fundraising, every year we work with the school to provide some educational elements. Last year all the Mosman Public School students made maths-bags for the kids in Cambodia. This year, they coloured books to be used in a new Literacy Program to be launched in Cambodia later this year. (The photo above shows some of the coloured books already being used by children in Cambodia.)

Petra Kremer, a SeeBeyondBorders volunteer (and also a mum of two kids at Mosman Public School), spoke about the work of SeeBeyondBorders at a school assembly. She showed a video about Reasmey, a young boy at a small rural school in northern Cambodia. In the video (A Day in the Life of a Cambodian Student), Reasmey and a teacher talked about the school, and showed their library to show the urgent need for literacy books.

This was a great opportunity for Mosman children to learn more of the life and experiences of children going to school in another part of the world, and it was great to see the Mosman students take such a keen interest in Reasmey’s life at school.

Next year will be our third year in this partnership. We are looking forward to it already.

Thankyou Mini-Mos!

SeeBeyondBorders recognised with Australian Government accreditation

SeeBeyondBorders is proud to have received accreditation from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT), and to now be supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).  The ANCP is an Australian Government initiative that supports the development activities of accredited Australian Non-Government Organisations (NGOs).

Only accredited NGOs are eligible to receive ANCP funding, and any organisation seeking funding must undergo a rigorous due diligence process and assessment of the outcomes of their development activities.

Pov Pheung, SeeBeyondBorders Country Manager in Cambodia, says, “This is a great breakthrough for our team and a credit to their professionalism.  It’s hugely encouraging that an in-depth review of our program approaches and organisation has been recognised with this accreditation.

Since its establishment in 2009, SeeBeyondBorders has been committed to building sustainable operations in Cambodia, with full transparency.  ANCP accreditation is recognition of the soundness of our governance, financial management, child protection, and monitoring and evaluation processes.”

SeeBeyondBorders provides in-service training in rural schools in north west Cambodia.  Run by Cambodian teachers, our approach provides ongoing mentoring to ensure sustainable development of teaching skills.  The effectiveness of this model was recognised when SeeBeyondBorders received a UNESCO award in 2016 for improving teaching quality.  A critical feature of our programs is partnerships with local communities to improve school facilities, encourage children to come to school and value education.

Support from the Australian Government will enable SeeBeyondBorders to expand programs in Cambodia designed to improve teacher quality and enhance education outcomes for children.

For more information about our programs, click here.

The dramatic progress we’re seeing for education in Cambodia

In 2014, the teachers in the Angkor Thom district who SeeBeyondBorders started working with, received a score of zero on their baseline evaluation tests that look at their teaching capabilities. Zero.

In three years, 100% of the teachers who completed the program improved to a minimum score of two (out of a possible four) across all skill sets. Let us explain why these numbers matter and the drastic changes that have occurred in three years, and how it was done!

A score of zero means a teacher could not yet:

  1. Break down the concept of addition and identify the essential understanding a student must have
  2. State the intended purpose of a lesson
  3. Plan a lesson using a basic lesson plan
  4. Use a teaching resource book to find learning objectives and activities to teach
  5. Model activities and set clear guidelines for student behavior

Imagine teaching mathematics to a classroom of 40 students without being able to break down the concept of addition. It’s easy to quickly understand that in order to improve Cambodia in a systematic way, the quality of teaching must be improved

Graph Teacher Scales2

Here’s how how we’re doing it:

  • Teacher workshops accompanied by a comprehensive manual and resource packs for targeted professional development
  • One-to-one mentor support to consistently reinforce learnings

Now, with a score of two, the teachers can:

  1. Break down the concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and identify the current understanding of the concept, plus address misunderstanding by selecting appropriate activities to build students’ knowledge
  2. State the intended purpose of each lesson and how the activities help achieve that purpose, plus select teaching strategies to achieve that purpose
  3. Plan a lesson using a basic outline, and also include questions to ask the students and identify ways in which the students can reflect on their learning
  4. Use (with minimal assistance) the teacher resource book appropriately
  5. Observe and listen to students to understand their level of understanding, and otherwise manage a classroom appropriately
  6. Work productively with their mentor

There are 50 teachers in Angkor Thom who completed this program. Each of their classes has an average of 40 students, meaning each year these teachers could now improve the education of about 2,000 students. And that’s just in one year! Over the course of 10 years, this one program could affect approximately 20,000 students’ futures,  those students children’s futures and children’s children’s futures, for generations to come!

Angkor Thom isn’t the only district we work in, and we see similar, amazing results in all of our districts. We’re excited to report on more results as we get them.

The only thing standing in the way of a greater impact is money. Consider making a donation today: http://www.seebeyondborders.org/get_involved/donate/

 

How to fight Cambodia’s money-making orphanage business

One out of every 350 Cambodian children lives in an orphanage, despite the fact that almost 80 percent of them have a living mother or father, according to an April 17th article in The Phnom Penh Post.

Why?

Poverty-stricken parents in Cambodia sell their children, or place their children in orphanages under false pretences. They believe their child will receive an education and have a better quality of life in an institution. The orphanages then put the children on display for “voluntourism,” a phenomenon where well-intentioned travellers volunteer with the orphanage for a short time and donate money. Thus, turning the orphanage into a money-making business, with the children being their product.

The same article states that almost 40 percent of institutions have never been inspected by the Ministry of Social Affairs, and 12 percent are unregistered, making the children susceptible to neglect and other safety risks.

At SeeBeyondBorders, we work with families to give them the resources they need to keep their children in schools in their communities, and prevent them from having to make the cruel choice of sending their children to an institution. 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 having their child thrive at home with their family or sending them away in hopes of having a better future.

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%.

To give a family hope and send a child to school, make a $60 donation: http://bit.ly/2mVJjGw

How to get employees excited about Corporate Social Responsibility

In addition to giving back, one of the best things about a Corporate Social Responsibility program is the benefits it allows companies to offer to its employees. It’s a great opportunity for companies to provide team building, increased employee engagement and morale, and more meaning to their everyday lives.

There is a fine balance between having meaningful impact and having fun. Without both, companies may find it difficult to recruit employees to participate in their CSR committee or charity projects.

This week we heard from our friends at SHAPE Australia. They recently finished a presentation to their company about the trip they took from Cambodia. In case you missed it, SHAPE sent 10 volunteers to Cambodia in February to see first-hand what their company’s donation is doing for the people in Cambodia.

A presentation like this one, especially with an fun, upbeat video was a great way to show the rest of their company what they achieved in Cambodia with SeeBeyondBorders (and all the fun they had!) to inspire the rest of the company to participate. Follow up presentations like this one are crucial to recruit employees internally to your CSR program, and we’re so glad SHAPE shared it with us… check it out!

http://bit.ly/2mRbTwI


Thank you, SHAPE for including SeeBeyondBorders in your Corporate Social Responsibility efforts! Learn more about Corporate Sponsorship on our website: http://bit.ly/2kIUtx0

Corporate Giving: How one company raised money to improve education in Cambodia (and to travel to Cambodia!)

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.

save the date (1)

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

 

 

 

 

The Storm Markers: How Can We Do Our Part to Prevent Human Trafficking

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.  

Image result for the storm makers pbs

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 their 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. 

Image may contain: 5 people, indoor

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%.

To give a family hope and send a child to school, make a $60 donation: http://bit.ly/2mVJjGw

Workplace volunteering: looking beyond the traditional charity partnership

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.

Integrity sells

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.

Aimia’s experience

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.

Aimia 2
The Aimia team in Cambodia

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.

To find out more about our corporate partnerships and overseas volunteering or sabbatical opportunities, please visit www.seebeyondborders.org or email info@seebeyondborders.org.

“The trip of a lifetime!” Final reflections from the SHAPE Project Team

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.

shape-team-wearing-t-shirt-they-bough-at-market-on-their-last-night
The SHAPE team in the T-shirts they bought at the local market

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.

concreting-daisy-chain
The famous ‘daisy chain’

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!

ben-teaching-hand-washing-during-health-day
Ben showing the children how to wash their hands properly during the health day

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

 

Go team, go! Carnival Day in Cambodia

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.

sports-1

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.”

sports-3

Thank you, SHAPE for including SeeBeyondBorders in your Corporate Social Responsibility efforts! Learn more about Corporate Sponsorship on our website: http://bit.ly/2kIUtx0

Concreting in the Cambodian Sun

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.

concret-before
The classroom before, with an unsafe and uneven floor

concreting-after
The classroom after, with a freshly concreted floor

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

See a video of the project! https://www.facebook.com/SeeBeyondBorders/videos/10153660615437325/