Happy International Women’s Day

8 03 2012

Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day. Although this day is not widely celebrated in the United States, it’s an official holiday in nearly 30 countries, including here in Cambodia.

Since I’ve been working regularly with a group of girls at the high school for my girls’ empowerment club, I thought it was only fitting to plan a small activity with them to commemorate International Women’s Day. This is our first project together so I decided to propose my own idea this time, so they would have an understanding of what kind of projects are feasible. (I wouldn’t want them to suggest building a new school, buying food for poor families, or an equally expensive project since I am funding these small projects out-of-pocket.)

My idea was to have the girls paint sheet signs about women’s lives in Cambodia and hang them around town. This was as much as I told them, the rest was up to them. I brought in a list of 20 possible sign messages and they picked the six that resonated most with them, plus we made a few that simply said “Happy International Women’s Day 2012.”

The girls were then in charge of asking the school director for permission, calling the commune chief, designing and painting the signs, and deciding where to hang them when we finished. The goal was to try to create an opportunity for the girls to use the leadership skills they already have, while simultaneously spreading awareness of gender issues in the area. And although some boys helped a little, the project clearly belonged to the girls.

Overall, I would say it was a success. At first, before the girls completely understood the project, we had a hard time communicating and they weren’t very excited. Once they got to pick the messages for the signs and to paint them, they were much more enthusiastic than even I would have guessed.

Some highlights from the process:

  • When the boys came to help paint the signs, the girls very enthusiastically explained to them the project and why it was important. They made it clear to everyone that it was their project, but that the boys could help. What a proud and hopeful moment.
  • While painting the signs, a debate broke out about which set of numbers to use, Khmer or Arabic (like we use in the US). One girl stood up on the teacher’s platform and wrote out all of the Khmer numbers and demanded, “Lake khmai yueng!!” (Our Khmer numbers!) A similar debate occurred when they had to decide whether to write the signs in print or the Khmer version of cursive. I’m not sure why I enjoyed these debates so much, but for some reason it made me smile to see them wrestling with some of the same type of language questions I wonder about on a regular basis.
  •  I can’t help but marvel at the attention to detail and the work ethic that Khmer students seem to have. When painting the signs, they grabbed their, no kidding, giant protractors and started drawing perfectly straight lines across the sheets before chalking out the letters they would later paint. One day, we painted for four hours straight, and they were as intensely focused and as neat at the end as they were when we started. I can’t imagine a group of high school students from the US doing the same.
  • There were some (sort of) funny moments of irony too. As we’re working on this project for International Women’s Day, a few of the girls are fanning all of the boys because of the heat. I’m sorry, what? The girls were working the hardest, someone should be fanning them! Plus, when hanging the signs around town, I didn’t let the boys come. At the first stop, one of the girls, the leader of the group really, sighed, “This would be so much easier if the boys were here!” I doubt it, the girls rocked. They were fast, efficient and great decision-makers. These incidents were, of course, small enough to be funny and ironic in the moment, but the truth about gender relations at site is no laughing matter.
  •  When one of the girls was given the task to call the commune chief and ask for permission to hang the signs, she got nervous and retreated immediately to her friends. The group of girls talked for a while about what kinds of things she should say and how to best approach a community leader. A few minutes later, the girl made the phone call, a little nervous but a total all star.

So yesterday we hung up the signs, eight in total, all around town. The girls decided to hang one in front of the market, one behind it, two at the elementary school, one at the high school, one at the wat, one at the bridge and one at the health center. Before we hung each one, they had to ask the appropriate people for permission.

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It’s been wonderful to see the girls’ signs all over town today. The project has been incredibly positive. The project itself wasn’t anything earth-shattering, and it certainly wasn’t an example of sustainable community development, but it was an opportunity for the girls to act as leaders and educate the community, while I got to know the girls a little better and learn more about how to conduct a small project in this context. It was a lot of fun. I love this group of girls and can’t wait to continue working with them.

For more pictures of this project, head over to the Facebook album here:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.3507736016174.163024.1355022833&type=3&l=4de6a3abc3

Katie

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5 responses

8 03 2012
Jill Preston

I like that you took a really good opportunity to turn this holiday into something meaningful for the community and those girls. Are you the first volunteers in Kampong Kdei?

8 03 2012
timkatstravels

Thanks, Jill! There were two Volunteers here before us– both education.

9 03 2012
Diana

YES! I was hoping for a blog that would explain the awesome albums on facebook.
This was a great idea. I will be keeping it in mind as I plan something for next year.

10 03 2012
timkatstravels

Thanks. It was a really easy project!

30 03 2013
This Year’s Girls’ Club | TimKat's Travels

[…] to teach about International Women’s Day, which is celebrated each year on March 8. Like last year, I thought that this presented a good opportunity for the girls to organize a small project to […]

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