Over the 2 years I have been working at my Cambodian health center / hospital, I’ve been working with Kanith teaching him computer skills. Kanith is a trained nurse, but his primary job here is accountant and financial officer.
I have helped him learn to use the program Excel, which he already knew quite a bit about, helped him create bi-lingual budget documents because the Ministry of Health is pushing use more English, and learn other programs including the Ministry of Health’s new online reporting program. The Internet here is generally known about, but not actually used much or understood by most of the people in this community. It is more commonly used and understood in the city amongst people that have more education, money, and better access. I helped Kanith learn how to use a web browser, and helped him set up and learn how to use an email account.
Facebook is probably the most commonly known about use of the Internet. I am always being asked if I, “layng Facebook”, which directly translated means, play Facebook. Of course, most people here do not have computers and seem to only have a cursory understanding of what Facebook even is. There are many that have smartphones with Internet access, but again most do not use it or truly understand what it can do. It is kind of interesting to see the technology so far ahead of its use. Never the less, everyone wants to “layng Facebook” because, it’s the thing to do, and it brings a higher level of social status if you can afford to have it.
The health center / hospital is currently deep into a self-directed local fundraising effort securing funds to build a wall around the facility. Today, Kanith asked me to help him by taking some photos and posting them on the Facebook account that we set up for him some time ago. He wanted to reach out to possible supporters.
So today, I took some photos and taught Kanith a little bit about how to make social media work for him. We made a gallery of the images and posted them to his Facebook wall reaching out to his small on line community asking them to financially support the project.
If you would like to see and “like” Kanith’s post, you can find it on his Facebook Wall here.
The writing on this wall memorializes who made a donation to the project and how much they gave. As of today, the wall has been 40 % funded, entirely by community contributions and the effort of the staff.
A few months ago, I asked you for support to help me build a library for the high school students of my Cambodian community. I am so pleased to say that so many of you came through for them. Through generous donations, the library room has been fully renovated and stocked with a large selection of books and educational materials.
Thanks SO MUCH to those of you that donated to the grant!
In addition to your support, I reached out to the network of resources I have built while here in Cambodia. I called the US Navy Seabees once again. A team came over the course of 4 Saturdays and worked along side the faculty and students of the high school. They moved all the old furniture out, cleaned and painted the entire library room. The Seabees then crafted new bookshelves across the back wall of the room. These sturdy new shelves will hold all the Government Text books that need to be stored in the summer between sessions.
The Ridgway Elementary School in my US home made a generous donation of about 40 English books for the library. Thanks to Librarian Melissa for making that happen, and thanks to my friend Chris who hand carried the books to us here in Cambodia by donating one of his entire checked bags for the task. The selection of English books has made a valuable addition to the library.
I traveled to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city, with two students, one of the librarians, and Samon, an English teacher. We purchase new books and supplies for the library. I essentially left book selection in the hands of these four representatives, and they chose what they thought would be best for their school library.
We shopped at 4 major booksellers and selected from nearly every category to create an inventory of both English and Khmer books. We purchased 914 new books, and other resources with the money donated to this project!
Over the next few weeks, I met with the librarians and students to organize the books. The librarians and I made an inventory of all the books dividing them into categories. We created a simple indexing system using colored tape. Each category was assigned a color, and each book got a corresponding piece of colored tape on its spine. A number on the colored tape designates subcategories.
Each book then got a hand made protective plastic cover. I noticed many of the students would make plastic covers to protect their textbooks. Insects, mice, humidity, rainwater, and dirty hands are all hard on books here in Cambodia. I thought covers for the library books would help extend their lives, so I recruited the students and they created covers for every book.
I think this was great fun for the students. They spent almost as much time reading and exploring all the new books as they did making the covers.
Over several days I worked with the students to set up the newly renovated library room and organize the books on the shelves.
Part of the money donated went to buying a protective glass case. This case holds all the new books and provides protection for the collection.
The student decorated the room with the many educational posters and maps we purchased.
It took them no time to start using these resources.
Today students rotate through the library in their classes on a daily basis utilizing the books. Independent visitation is also occurring during non class hours allowing the students an opportunity to explore and read on their own for fun.
One reason is because research has confirmed the benefits of Extensive Reading (ER) especially for learning a foreign language. ER exposes the reader to authentic language, helps students remember language they already learned, and increases their ability to learn and understand new language, especially new vocabulary. The idea of reading for pleasure is a new concept in Cambodian schools. Lack of book availability is one problem, but another is just plain not realizing the value in it. The Cambodian school system does not normally make room for alternate styles of learning such as free reading. I am hoping I have helped to change this in my village.
Robert Cunningham is a former PCV who worked at this same school as an English teacher several years before me. He still lives and teaches in Cambodia, and has retained a strong connection to this community. When I told Robert about this library project, he offered his support in the form of an Extensive Reading seminar. Robert has been working with this program at the private school he teaches at in Phnom Penh.
In a presentation to the English teachers, Robert explained how this system encourages the use of pleasure reading to improve student learning. By directing students to level appropriate books, allowing students to pick the books that interest them, and without the pressure of it being a graded exercise, tremendous results have been seen in improving students’ ability to learn English. With the library’s new inventory of books, the ER method is now possible for the students. I hope that it will catch on making use of the new library resources.
If you are interested you can learn more about this program and the Extensive Reading Foundation on their web site here.
Boys 2 Men is a youth development event for high school-aged boys. You may remember when I participated in last year’s event branded under the name Boys Respecting Empowered Women, or BREW. Like BREW, Boys 2 Men focused on building leadership skills, raising awareness on issues of health and gender, and allowing a rare opportunity for Cambodian students from different provinces to express themselves exchanging ideas on how to better themselves and their communities.
The event brought together PCVs and their counterparts with 120 male youth participants. The three-day-workshop focused on topics related to health, career planning, college preparation, domestic violence, healthy relationships, community volunteerism, and development in a safe and open atmosphere.
The camp started out with a fun creative confidence-building rocket activity.
The boys learned a little about physics and then got to use their creativity to build water rockets.
Which they launched competitively for accuracy.
After a session about goal setting and techniques for achieving goals, Lauren and Greg, a married couple serving with me, led a session on healthy relationships.
The 2-part session introduced the boys to the insights of their relationship and that of a Cambodian married couple through a forum.
The boys, dividing into small groups, then discussed 8 topics related to healthy relationship building.
A representative from each group presented their findings.
On day 2, I presented my session on alcohol’s effects of on the body and responsible drinking.
Cambodia currently has no minimum drinking age, and although they do have, a blood alcohol limit for driving, drunk driving is not enforced or discouraged. Alcohol is unregulated 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 peer pressured binge drinking. A common phrase in Cambodia is “Drink to get drunk, and if you are not getting drunk, then why drink?”
My presentation began with a quick basic anatomy and physiology lesson tracing how alcohol is processed and its effects on the different body organs and systems. 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 disease as well as through accidents and increased risk for sexually transmitted diseases, and socially through our relationships including increased domestic violence. The boys received my lesson very will and asked many intelligent thoughtful questions.
I had the students play the popular spoon game that simulates the loss of coordination that comes with intoxication. In this game, they close their eyes and spin multiple times getting progressively dizzy to simulate increasing levels of intoxication. I ask them to walk a straight line balancing an egg on a spoon. By demonstrating how alcohol alters consciousness and coordination preventing us from doing tasks we normally can do effortlessly, I hope they will become responsible consumers of alcohol.
The boys seemed very receptive to the presentation, 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.
Skatestan Cambodia is an organization that works to bring skateboarding, arts, and leadership opportunities to girls and boys of all backgrounds and abilities. They presented personal success stories gained through the confidence of trying new things such as skateboarding.
The boys then got to watch a skating demonstration by the presenters and try for themselves in a short lesson.
None of the 120 boys had ever skateboarded before. With tremendous support for one another, several of them did exceptionally well, and they all had fun.
The final day was a field trip to Tonle Bati, a large lake where we had a big feast. We also got to explore an ancient ruin of the Cambodian empire, Ta Prohm, allowing the boys to learn a little about their own history and heritage.
Last year, when the US Air Force was at my health center doing all the remodeling work, I spoke the military coordinator who told me about a team of Navy Seabee well specialists currently in Cambodia. The health center has an operating well, but it was noticed that there was also an abandoned well on the site.
I have never been able to clarify why the well was abandoned, but what I did learn is that it is deeper and holds more water than the current newer well, which occasionally runs dry leaving the health center, staff, and patients without water. I submitted a proposal, and in January, a small team of US Navy Seabees arrived and spent several days with us refurbishing the well.
The well received a new hand pump and an electric pump.
With a lot of dedicated digging, no easy task in this sun baked hard dry season dirt, heat, and humidity, the well also received plumbing to tie it into the current water system.
Now, if the primary well runs dry, the new pump on the old well can back feed the water system.
Now, if the power goes out, which happens frequently, their is still a source of water. A big thanks for the humanitarian efforts of the US Seabees increasing the capacity of my health center to serve it’s community.
… hopefully we will see the Seabees back soon. I’m working on getting them to help me out with some projects at the local High School.
I have been here in Cambodia working with my community for over a year and a half. In this post, I begin a new project; one that I hope you can help me with.
The grant for this project has been fully funded thank to your generous donations, thank you! If you wish to support other projects like this please visit the Cambodia Volunteer Projects site here.
Read about the projects completion here.
A few months ago, I was approached by Samon, one of the schoolteachers at my village’s high school with a request to help the school. Although I have not been doing any work with the school, word made it to them that I was helping the community through the health center. Samon told me that the school director wanted to know if I could help the school too.
“What do you need?” I asked.
“We need books for our library” he said.
This is the current library.
The high school has 1,157 students enrolled in grades 7 – 12. Currently, the book collection consists of 340 outdated Ministry of Education texts, and a handful of Khmer language reading books stored on a few decapitated bookshelves. There are no visual resources, reference, fiction, or non-fiction books. Children in the school here are expected to learn using only a single textbook. I cannot imagine if my school had been like this. In order for children to become independent readers, effective communicators, and lifelong learners, they need to practice reading, and have exposure to a variety of texts. However, this school’s limited financial resources prohibit expanding their book collection on their own.
I think in the US, we take reading and books for granted. I know I do. When I grew up, my parents read books to me, and later when I learned to read myself, there were always books available to me. If I want to read a book now, I just go get one. I buy one from the store, or borrow one from my local library. None of these options are available to any one in my village. Reading for pleasure is really just not an option. Can you imagine your life, or your child’s life without books?
Books to someone who knows nothing of the world beyond the bounds of their families rice fields will be invaluable. Books can provide an opportunity for students to improve their reading skills and vocabulary. Additionally, exposure to the greater world through the gift of reading can empower students, and help them realize their potential for successful futures.
My intent is to build up the school’s library. I want to provide them with reading materials, and a safe space to learn. I will renovate the space, and most importantly purchase a variety of age-appropriate reading materials, in both English and Khmer. These new resources will support the opportunity to expand upon the Ministry of Education’s curriculum, and encourage extracurricular reading. A selection of reference materials, new curriculum-based resources, visual materials such as posters and world maps, and a selection of fiction and non-fiction novels will allow the students access to information beyond the bounds of their school textbooks. It will enable and promote the simple practice of independent daily reading through which they can learn. Access to reading materials will benefit the teachers as well providing them with resources to improve their own knowledge, and supplement their class curriculum.
I need to raise $780 for the purchase of the new library resources. If you would like to help support this effort and the students of my community, please donate to this project. All donations are US tax deductible.
The grant for this project has been fully funded thank to your generous donations, so the link above is no longer active, thank you! If you wish to support other projects like this please visit the Cambodia Volunteer Projects site here.
On behalf of the students, thanks for your help creating this opportunity for independent study, pleasure reading, and instilling motivation to continue the pursuit of education.
Over the last year and a half here in Cambodia, I have worked on several projects that are not specifically for my community, but rather aim to help my fellow PCVs, members of their communities, and strengthen the PC Cambodia program. I thought in this post, as sort of a year-end review, I would share with you some of this work. As you will see, I have been putting my writing, organizational, and design sills to work here in Cambodia.
One of the first projects I became involved in when I arrived was Chewy Pong. “Chewy Pong” is Khmer language equivalent of “HELP ME!”. The Chewy Pong Reference is like a first aid manual, but much more (how could I resist getting involved in it?). Chewy Pong was conceptualized and first drafted by several K5 PCVs that arrived a year ahead of me.
Chewy Pong is a bilingual medical reference written by PCVs for PCVs to be utilized at their health centers and in their communities. The purpose of Chewy Pong is to provide medical and first aid information specific to Cambodian health centers to help PCVs build rapport, trust, and capacity in their health centers. It uses very simple vocabulary and does not require a PCV to have a medical background to use it.
A team of us new K6 volunteers was formed and we worked with the old volunteers, redrafted, and expanded the reference. Drawing on my years of experience with emergency medicine as a Paramedic, I headed the effort as chief editor, writing several new sections, and creating the design and layout for the second edition.
You can read more about Cewy Pong here.
Many volunteers worked on this huge project. There are now 5 Community Health Education (CHE) Curriculum Toolkits establishing a series of resource books with technical information, lessons, and language related to CHE primary assignments, and the Cambodia CHE Project Framework. Although designed as a resource for CHE PCVs, these Toolkits are great resources for all PCVs in Cambodia that want to include health education in their work.
Work began on this project in December 2012, and took almost a year to complete. Each toolkit contains complete lesson resources to encourage good teaching methodology with participatory activities and a comprehensive appendix with complete teaching tools and handouts. The lessons are designed for capacity building in community members, and can be used as a resource for PCV Training.
Each toolkit is laid out in the same format presenting the following:
I assisted with editing and did the design and layout of all 5 of the toolkits. I also co-authored the Non Communicable Diseases (NCD), Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH), and Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Toolkits. The WASH I piloted using all it’s activities in my Samrong Diarrhea prevention project.
You can read more about the CHE Curriculum Toolkits here.
I serve on the Cambodia post’s Small Grant Committee. Resembling a grant writer, my duties are to support, and advocate on the behalf of PCV small grant applicants with regards to the grant type selection, planning, writing, the application process, and grant management, helping to ensure successful awarding of funding to support PCV projects.
Available to PCVs is a thick intimidating manual that has all the requirements for this process. No one ever reads it, and most PCVs don’t even know it exists. The committee agreed that an abridged version, focusing on the common questions, pitfalls, and post specific requirements would be good to have. I wrote and designed it.
If you are inclined to support PCV Cambodia projects, grants needing funding will appear here, (search for Cambodia).
The Create Cambodia Youth Arts Festival is an annual art education event for Cambodian 10th, 11th, & 12th grade students, run by PCVs. It provides students with formal art education, and an opportunity to showcase their talents via exhibition or performance. A team of volunteers created an arts curriculum to support this event, and asked me to do the design and layout for it.
If you want to learn more about this event, visit the Create Cambodia Web site and blog here.
The Art Olympics is a project that provides basic visual arts education to primary and secondary students through local art clubs. It also has a comprehensive art curriculum created by PCVs, and I was asked to compile it into a toolkit. Thus the Art Olympics Toolkit; second edition was born.
You can learn more about The Art Olympics Project here.
Currently, I am working with two other volunteers to create a Science Lab Toolkit. This project compiles a series of science-based lessons surrounding currently unused science equipment at the Cambodian school where my friend Evan teaches. Again, I am helping by doing the design and layout for the toolkit.
If you have nothing else to do today, feel free to click over to the site and see some of the great things are being done here in Cambodia.
My host family sister Thome runs a small community store in front of our house, which is behind my health center. She sells snacks to all the kids, and other goods one might need last minute, much like a corner convenience store. She also cooks and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We get a lot of patients and the neighborhood folks eating here. There is never a shortage of flies buzzing about, and they really bug me.
I did this fly trap building project with her as we spoke about the fecal-oral cycle and the role flies play in it. Now the shop has several of these traps hanging over the tables and food preparation area catching flies all day. We found putting a little Red Bull or one of the other super sweet energy drinks available here in the trap as bait works great.
Patients from the health center and folks from the neighborhood that stop in to the shop often comment on the traps filled with dead and dying flies. Thome enthusiastically explains what they are for, and how they work. Everyone agrees they are a good idea. I hope I will be seeing traps like these popping up all around my community.
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.