On September 27th, 28th, and 29th, several of the English Teacher Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) from Takeo and Kampot provinces, and their Cambodian teacher counterparts, invited 50 high school aged boys for a three-day Camp BREW (Boys Respecting Empowered Women). It’s a camp focusing on topics related to health, career planning, gender issues, and community engagement. These are topics generally misunderstood or overlooked in the public schools. Camp BREW allows attendees to be exposed to and discuss these topics in a safe environment, while they gain knowledge and skills in areas needed to succeed after graduation. It also allows a rare opportunity for Cambodian students from different provinces to meet and exchange ideas on how to better their communities. There is a similar all girls event put on by PCVs called Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World).
I was invited to teach a health related section at the camp. One of my secondary projects here is working with several other health volunteers to create a series of curriculum toolkits containing lessons on health topics. This was a great opportunity for me to pilot several of these lessons.
I presented on substance abuse, in particular alcohol use, a topic I consider very important here in Cambodia, and completely overlooked in the schools. 54% of Cambodians report having used alcohol in the last 30 days and men are 10 times more likely than women to heavily use alcohol. Cambodia currently has no minimum drinking age, and although they do have a blood alcohol limit for driving, it is not enforced. Alcohol is uncontrolled and can be obtained any place and by any one regardless of age. The only barrier to obtaining alcohol in Cambodia is money. There is tremendous peer pressure to drink alcohol, especially amongst men, which usually manifests in the form of binge drinking. A common phrase in Cambodia is “Drink to get drunk, and if you are not getting drunk, then why drink?”
With the help of a wonderful teacher Sokhom Kourn as my translator, my presentation began with a quick basic anatomy and physiology lesson explaining how alcohol is processed and its effects on the body.
Then, I led a discussion on the consequences of intoxication. We explored the ways that alcohol can affect many aspects of our lives such as financially, our health through harm to our health through disease as well as through accidents and increased risk for sexually transmitted diseases, and socially through our relationships including increased domestic violence.
I had the students play a spoon game. In this game, they close their eyes and spin 10 or 20 times to get dizzy. Then I ask them to walk a straight line balancing an egg on a spoon. The idea is to illustrate how alcohol alters our consciousness and coordination preventing us from doing tasks we normally can do effortlessly. The boys loved this, and they easily made the connection on their own to driving drunk. Road accidents are the number one killer in Cambodia, and alcohol accounts for more than half of traffic fatalities.
My presentation concluded with having the boys write a list of all the things they think they are good at. Anything could be on their list. Then I divided the boys into smaller groups, and had them create lists of things that they could do better together as a group. After the groups presented their lists, I guided them to see that as individuals, they have many strengths, and as a group, they have even greater strength to accomplish things in their lives. The intent was to foster greater confidence and self esteem, two qualities important to combating peer pressure. We finished with a discussion of peer pressure and its role in the abuse of alcohol.
Other topics covered in sessions over the course of the camp were study skills, reproductive health and sexually transmitted diseases, domestic violence prevention and prostitution, what it means to be a man, playing sports, and how to plan for your future.
The camp culminated in a field trip to the southern Cambodian beach town Kep.
Here we purchased 30 Kilograms of fresh blue crabs and had them cooked up for us along with fresh fish squid, and shrimp for a seafood smorgasbord. Many of the students had never seen the ocean let alone eaten this kind of food. They were all thrilled.
So were the teachers.
After lunch, we played soccer on the beach and swam in the ocean.
… and of course took a nap.