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.

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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.”

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

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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.

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The classroom before, with an unsafe and uneven floor

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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/

Good Food, Good Mood: A shared meal with the Rohalsoung Kert School Community

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.

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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.

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Thank you, SHAPE for including SeeBeyondBorders in your Corporate Social Responsibility efforts! Learn more about Corporate Sponsorship on our website:

http://bit.ly/2kIUtx0

SHAPE volunteers touch down in Phnom Penh

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.

New locations and new schools. Our volunteer teacher visit continues in Siem Reap

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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

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The journey continues in Angkor Thom district where SeeBeyondBorders has worked since 2014.

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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.
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“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.
You can support teachers and children in Cambodia. Visit www.seebeyondborders.org

Sports, health, art and more inspiring workshops. Our volunteer teacher journey continues

img_2539Over 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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.”

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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.”

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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.”

To find out more visit: www.seebeyondborders.org

How did our teacher volunteers find their first full day of workshops?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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/

‘Teach the Teacher’ team from Australia prepare to work in Battambang

We continue to follow the journey of our wonderful group of teachers from Australia who are with us for two weeks to support the work of SeeBeyondBorders.

Angela joins us again to tell us what the team have been up to during their first few days in Battambang, Cambodia’s second largest city.

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We spent our first day in the city getting to know our surroundings. We visited Battambang’s famous bamboo train and explored the local markets before we got down to business.

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We were all so excited to get to grips with SeeBeyondBorders ‘Teach the Teacher’ programme. We headed to the office to meet with Reasmey, SeeBeyondBorders ‘Getting to School’ programme manager to prepare for the sport and health days ahead.

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.
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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.

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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.

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Find out how the teachers got on in the next instalment of our blog next week…

Volunteer with SeeBeyondBorders www.seebeyondborders.org

 

 

 

 

 

“Teach the Teacher’ international volunteers arrive in Cambodia.

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.

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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

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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.
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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.

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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.

Day 3: A poem for Cambodia

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It’s hard to express words about the Killing Fields and Toul Sleng and so we wanted to share a poem about our experience…

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.

Fighting Gender inequality with Education

23038789990_811fd8a725_o (1).jpgGender 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.[1] 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.[2] 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. [3] 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.

‘Gender Socialisation’

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.’[4] 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.[5] 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.

[1] ‘Global Education Monitoring Report: Gender Review, Creating Sustainable Futures for All’, p.10

[2] http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/themes/education/

[3] Karam, A, ‘Education as the pathway towards gender equality’ in the UN Chronicle, (Vol. 50 No. 4, 2013) https://unchronicle.un.org/article/education-pathway-towards-gender-equality

[4] https://www.unicef.org/earlychildhood/index_40749.html

[5] Bell, S, ‘Keeping girls on schedule: perceptions of periods in the kingdom’ in The Phnom Penh Post, (2016), http://www.phnompenhpost.com/post-weekend/keeping-girls-schedule-perceptions-periods-kingdom

Final reflections from our amazing Aimia volunteers

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 team explores Siem Reap

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

Week 2: From one world to another…

Aimia continued their community outreach in two different schools over two days before travelling to Siem Reap, where they will visit more schools and explore another district. Sarah from the team has shared her thoughts with us here.

‘We all travelled to Kouk Dong primary school ready to play some sports with the children. The four sports included sack racing, hurdles, running and relay. The children were all split up into three groups, red, blue and yellow, before becoming extremely competitive. The children loved the sports, and were able to engage with us. After this, Reasmey kindly took us to some local places to allow us to really immerse ourselves within the Cambodian culture. We visited a rice paper farm, and then a Pagoda, which ended the day nicely.

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Another reflection ensued, and today, out of all days, seemed to be everyone’s favourite. Despite arriving at a school which had very little space to carry out the sports activities, we managed to make it work. I feel like I am slowly changing my perspective on both SeeBeyondBorders and my broader understanding of Cambodia. I am slowly learning to stop looking at SeeBeyondBorders through a business lens, and look at the values that are being implemented to enable long-term change.

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Another early morning, which is slowly starting to take its toll. People are emotionally and physically drained, partly because of the heat but also because of the effort this requires. Nevertheless, we travelled to Rohalsoung Primary School for a health activity day. This consists of teaching children proper hygiene techniques, from brushing their teeth to washing their hands.

We set up three stations, one for hand-washing, the other for teeth-brushing, and the last for height and weight measurements. Many of the children had never held a toothbrush before, despite being between the ages of 5 and 10. One child went up to an elder and pointed at his missing teeth, before saying something in Khmer. The locals laughed: I imagine we can all guess what he said!picture2

The height and weight data is recorded to determine how many children are stunted and underweight. SeeBeyondBorders will share this data with a health center or NGO who can help underweight children.

After a busy morning, we spent the afternoon taking in some local attractions and sites of cultural and historical significance. We went to Phnom Sampeau, known for its ‘bat caves’ (a spectacular sight when the bats fly out of the caves en masse at sunset), but also for its darker history. During the Pol Pot regime, the Khmer Rouge killed and buried people in the caves, a truly horrific story.

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The following day we kayaked down the Sangker river in Battambang, where we met laughing children, to fisherman, as well as a lot of rubbish!

We travelled to Siem Reap later that day and were greeted by an entirely different world. Large hotel complexes, lots of tourists and extremely western bars.’

Check back for more updates from the team’s experiences in Siem Reap.

One week down: drawing, digging and duck-duck-goose!

The second in our series of blog posts from Aimia, the team share their perspectives on their first week in Cambodia, helping to deliver our programs in Battambang. The group supported with a number of community outreach activities as well as school repairs and improvement works as part of our Better Schools program.

The next three days consisted of community outreach in three different schools: Sdey Krom, Sdey Leur and Prek Norin. As part of our School Development Program, the activities undertaken by the project team were agreed in advance by the school and members of the local community, based on their needs. A mixture of physical labour and artistic talents were thus on display.

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On the 22nd, the team travelled to Sdey Krom primary school, located 15 kilometers outside of Battambang, where they were greeted by 100 students, ready for their art activity. Gabrielle from the project team shares her thoughts.

‘Reasmey, an employee at SeeBeyondBorders, greeted us with a big smile at the school. Pastels and water colour butterflies were the first task for the kids. These children had never used water colour before, making it a very exciting activity for them. Once finished, the butterflies were all framed and hung on the wall. Our day at the school was topped off with several games, including duck-duck goose and even some singing.

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After a busy day, we all reflected on the day’s activities. The Aimia group shared their reflections, noting how much fun the children had, and how sports and games had helped them to bridge cultural and language boundaries. Some said they had found the experience very humbling.

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The day after, we all travelled to Sdey Leur primary school ready to lay concrete in two classrooms and create a walkway. We all introduced ourselves and started. We finished concreting the classroom two hours ahead of time, a feat that the SeeBeyondBorders staff were very impressed with. We then had lunch with the local community, who had cooked us an amazing meal: a mixture of fresh water fish, vegetables and rice.

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Another day, another reflection session. This time we discussed how important community involvement is with the school, and how creating something tangible was very rewarding, especially as the school had been built in 1994.

On the 24th, we squeezed into the back of a van to Prek Norin primary school. Three activities were awaiting us, including painting toilets, repairing student’s desks and creating a walkway with grit and mud. The school and local community had prioritized these three tasks, and were ready and waiting for Aimia to arrive and help them with the realization of these projects. We split into three groups and everyone carried out their respective tasks. The children even came to help! Another amazing community lunch was organized, which gave us a chance to regain some strength. After another long afternoon finishing our tasks, we all returned to the hotel before heading towards the Battambang circus. It was seriously impressive!’

Check back soon for more updates from the Aimia team!

AIMIA’S arrival in Cambodia – the start of an eye-opening experience

 

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This week SeeBeyondBorders welcomed a project team from the UK and Canada to Cambodia. The team from our corporate partner Aimia arrived in Cambodia on Friday 19th of November, after spending the past year raising a whopping £20,462.49 through several great charity events. Their first few days have been exciting, tiring and eye opening, as they arrived in Phnom Penh and took in the sights of the capital city, then made their way over to Battambang to visit SeeBeyondBorders’ programs.

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Sarah from the project team joins tells us what the team have made of their first few days.

“On the first day we really took our time to get used to the city and explore the various temples around Phnom Penh. It’s a complete culture change, there’s endless traffic in the city, cables hanging from electricity poles and searing heat. We looked forward to a good night sleep after travelling.

“On our second day we rode along the Mekong River.  We took in the many roadside villages and experienced Cambodian kindness as everyone greeted with us waves and smiles. We stopped at a silk shop where we ate fresh fruit and watched silk weaving.

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“We had time at the end of the day to reflect on our experiences in Cambodia so far. Some of the group have visited the country before and could definitely see that there had been rapid growth in Phnom Penh, but wondered if the same could be said for outside of the city. We’re keen to find out what the poorer villages in the countryside are going to be like in comparison”

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“Day three was full of contrasts.  We travelled to Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields in a brightly coloured bus, despite the gloom that lay ahead. Naturally, some of us were worried about the morning visits, although we know that these experiences are essential in order to understand the impact of Cambodia’s past on its current day development. A tour guide took us round the Tuol Sleng prison, explaining the horrors which took place in this school before recounting her personal story. Our visit to the killing field left us with very few words.

After an eye-opening morning, we made the journey to our next stop in Battambang where we’ll be until Sunday, engaging with the schools where SeeBeyondBorders works, and communities in the surrounding area.

Watch this space for more…

SeeBeyondBorders celebrates the work of outstanding teachers

img_8666In 2012 a third of Grade 2 students in Cambodia could not read a single word (USAID). The work of teachers is fundamental to progress in Cambodia. Primary schools in Cambodia now boast a 98% net enrolment rate, and substantially increased literacy rates. As a way to mark this progress, every year SeeBeyondBorders celebrates the achievement of teachers, throughout the four districts in which it works.

Through a ceremony we call Krou Laor, which means ‘good teacher’, SeeBeyondBorders acknowledges the importance of teachers as agents of change. SeeBeyondBorders provides these teachers with support and training, but their commitment to self-development so that they can provide their students with a quality education is of their own doing. On the 31st of October and 1st of November, SeeBeyondBorders hosted two awards ceremonies to commemorate and celebrate the achievements of teachers in the Puok and Angor Thom districts.

The awards are broken down into three categories: bronze, silver and gold. In 2016, 63% of teachers or mentors were awarded bronze or above, highlighting the excellent quality of teachers in the schools in which SeeBeyondBorders works. A teacher who achieves gold must have high student test results, a high level of commitment to professional development, and a low level of student absence throughout the year .

On the first day, 17 teachers and mentors from the Puok district were welcomed to collect their awards. Choeung Chet won a Krou Laor award in Puok district. He recognises the pressures facing Cambodian families with little income, and tries to solve this problem by talking to the parents within the community and stressing the importance of education. The issue, he says, is that people ‘live from hand to mouth’, meaning they are unable to make long-term plans. He wants to help people to understand that education teaches ‘knowledge and skills which help the community in the long-term.’

A second ceremony was held in Angkor Thom district for 63 teachers and mentors. Sak Uddom achieved gold for his progress as a teacher, in spite of the numerous challenges contributing to high absenteeism in his school, and little access to resources to assist his teaching. According to surveys, 80% of children who have dropped out of primary school have said that they did so “to contribute to the household income”, because they “must help with household chores”, because they “don’t want to study” or because they “did not do well in school” (Mekong Economic Research Network). The importance of quality teachers is essential in changing mindsets within the community and encouraging children to attend school regularly.

Through our ‘Teach the Teacher’ program, SeeBeyondBorders has trained 523 teachers, and helped some 27,000 students. By celebrating teaching progress, we are motivating teachers, families and communities to strive for a brighter future for Cambodian children.