Awh Howee! All Finished!

30 06 2013

Last Tuesday, Tim and I loaded up a van with all of our belongings and said goodbye to Kampong Kdey for the last time. Leaving the place we’ve called home for the past two years was difficult, but I’m not sure it’s really settled in yet, even five days later.

Saying goodbye to VHV and NGO counterparts in Ponleu Preah Pos

Saying goodbye to VHV and NGO counterparts in Ponleu Preah Pos

The last night with our host family

The last night with our host family

For now, we are  house sitting in Phnom Penh while we finish up the last week of being Peace Corps Volunteers. I’ve been busy transitioning into my new short-term staff position, and Tim’s been taking advantage of the kitchen to cook every comfort food imaginable. Only ten short days before he’ll board a plane for the States. It’s all so surreal.

Katie

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Saying Goodbye

20 06 2013

This week is our last one at site, meaning it has been filled with countless goodbyes. I’ve been on my bike every day, riding out to the villages to say farewell to my project volunteers, my students, and the friends I’ve made during this wonderful two-year journey. There have also been several special events that have helped us say goodbye to our community, moments that I’m sure will stick with us long after we step foot on US soil again.

Our farewell tour kicked off at the school. The local high school had a ceremony to celebrate Tim and all the hard work he’s put in as an English teacher and teacher trainer.

Tim and his coteacher

Tim and his co-teacher

Then, we rented a van and took a big group of friends to a nearby national park, where we spent the day hiking, picnicking, and swimming near an impressive 50-foot waterfall.

Me and Vary at the base of the waterfall

Next, the staff at the health center organized a party where I ate countless bowls of curry and grilled chicken.

Cheers!

This weekend, I’ll be saying goodbye to some friends in Siem Reap before heading back to site for a special dinner with our host family. Then, on Tuesday, we’ll pack up a taxi and say goodbye to Kampong Kdey.

Katie





Our plans after service

15 06 2013

With my last day of service looming just a few weeks away, I suppose it’s time to share my plans for afterward. As you may remember, Tim and I will be moving to Philadelphia, where he is starting a Master’s program in Social Work. He received a generous fellowship that will have him focusing on supporting veterans, including a 3-day per week field placement at Philly’s Veteran’s Affairs. He will be leaving for Philadelphia the second week of July; however, he will be heading back alone because I have accepted a short-term contract position with Peace Corps Cambodia and plan to remain in country until September.

On July 3, I will transition from a Peace Corps volunteer to a staff member. As the new technical trainer, I will be in charge of writing, sequencing, and delivering the technical training sessions for the incoming group of health volunteers. I’m excited for the position because I think the health program in Cambodia has so much potential, and I’m looking forward to shaping the expectations and goals of the new group. It’s a natural fit for me, having trained American community development volunteers in Argentina, as well.

Technical training session with last year's trainees

Technical training session with last year’s trainees

I’m thrilled about the position and about the opportunity to contribute to such a great program. However, it will be a little strange to see Tim leave and begin the transition home without me. As he busies himself looking at Philly apartments, cell phone plans, and course schedules, I’m beginning to prepare for a whole lot of lesson planning.

I’m scheduled to arrive in the States on the afternoon of September 7th. I am certainly looking forward to that day, but am equally excited about all that I’ll be doing in the meantime.

Katie





Letting them GLOW

12 06 2013

Recently, another Peace Corps Volunteer wrote me asking if any of my project participants would be able to come to the Camp GLOW in Takeo to present about domestic violence. I immediately thought of a few of the secondary students I work with, who had not only been trained on the definition and impacts of domestic violence, but who had also led an awesome role play on the subject for hundreds of other students and teachers at the school. These young women had participated in the Siem Reap Camp GLOW too, and they had enthusiastically led community-based education sessions afterward to share with other women what they had learned. “Wouldn’t it be great,” I thought, “to have a couple of them travel to Takeo for peer education?” And, after pitching the idea to the other Peace Corps Volunteer, that’s exactly what happened.

Vany and Sokha at Camp GLOW Takeo

Vany and Sokha at Camp GLOW Takeo

Last week, two 11th grade students, Vany and Sokha, made the 9-hour journey with me to the province of Takeo. Although they were nervous to teach 85 students, they were much more nervous for the long trip. Neither of them had ever been so far from home, and it was clear this length of a trip was daunting. We rode a bus to Phnom Penh, the country’s capital, where we had to take a short tuk tuk ride through the city to the taxi station. The girls seemed to be equal parts memorized and terrified as they looked around at the sheer number of people, vehicles and buildings that surrounded them. I let them soak it all in, deciding I would wait to ask them about their impressions later. When we arrived to the taxi station, the three of us smashed in the front seat alongside the driver, and we immediately took off for the provincial town of Takeo. On the taxi ride down, Vany and Sokha commented on the differences they could see out their window: the already planted rice fields, the students in different uniforms, the hills in the distance.

After meeting with the Camp GLOW participants for dinner in Takeo that night, the girls came back to the guesthouse to review their lesson plans, talk to their families on the phone, and watch TV. As they went over the plan for the following day, they spent a lot of time laughing about how differently the students from Takeo spoke from them. Like in the States, the north and the south of the country are known for their unique accents, so the girls giggled as they tried to imitate the different sounds from the south.

The next day, Vany and Sokha sat in on the first session of the morning before switching roles and becoming presenters. They had a 2-hour block of time, during which they taught about the four different kinds of domestic violence (physical, emotional, sexual, economic), and explored commonly-held beliefs about abuse. As I watched, I was very proud of them, confident in themselves and in the information they provided. They did a great job of getting the other students involved and making sure everyone understood the material. Overall, it was a solid session, and I think it was neat that the Takeo students had the opportunity to learn from their peers.

"What is domestic violence?"

“What is domestic violence?”

When Vany and Sokha finished, we hopped in a taxi and made our way back to Phnom Penh, where we spent the afternoon seeing the sites. The three of us rented a tuk tuk and went to visit Independence Monument, the Royal Palace, the riverfront, and Wat Phnom. The girls were really excited to see these places that they had only read about it in their textbooks. They were much more relaxed than the previous day, and had a blast posing for dozens of pictures along the way. We ended the night with Khmer barbecue along the river.

While we ate, I asked the girls to tell me more about themselves and their families. Sokha wants to become a doctor, while Vany hopes to be a teacher. They both come from large families, and none of their siblings has completed high school. In fact, Vany is the fifth child of seven, and before her, the highest grade any of her siblings had reached was 7th grade. It was really encouraging to see these young women stand out as leaders in their school, despite their backgrounds. They are both set to finish 11th grade in a few weeks. When I asked if they hope to attend university, they both said that they want to, but are unsure whether they will have the money to do so. They told me that they’d like to study in Siem Reap because Phnom Penh was just too big for them.

Dinner in Phnom Penh

Dinner in Phnom Penh

This project made me reflect on my approach to my work here. In the first few months of service, there were a lot of informal discussions among Peace Corps Volunteers about our role and how we can best make a difference. As my service winds down, that answer has become increasingly complicated, although one thing has remained the same. I remember, more than a year ago, talking about the idea that a volunteer should be a connector, using our network, funding, and knowledge to connect the many capable Cambodians with opportunities to build their skills and share their perspectives. We don’t need to be in the spotlight, we don’t need to be creating much from scratch – we simply need to connect the already existing resources.

That’s what this project was. Initially, my role was to connect these students with amazing Cambodian women at Camp GLOW who taught them about domestic violence, healthy relationships, and how to be effective teachers. Then, I connected them with an opportunity to use this knowledge and pass it on to others. Based on this project and others, I truly believe that being a connector is our most important and most effective role as volunteers. I’m thrilled that I was able to serve as a connector for Vany and Sokha because I know that they learned and grew a lot through this experience.

Katie





Finishing Up Projects

2 06 2013

June is a month of transition for us, as we will need to finish all of our project work, pack up our things, and say goodbye. We leave our site later this month, and will formally close out our service in Phnom Penh on July 3rd. The transition has already begun for me and Tim. We’ve both finished up most of our major project activities and will now switch our focus to writing completion reports and filling out paperwork.

Last week, Tim’s hospitality students traveled to Siem Reap. Some of the students visited employers, utilizing both their newly-typed resumes and their newly-developed knowledge of the hospitality industry to meet professional contacts, promote their skills, and, in one case, land a job. The other students took the admissions exam for an NGO hospitality school in Siem Reap. This was the culminating event of the project, after nearly a year of studying English and hospitality skills. They will travel to Siem Reap one more time for interviews.

Tim treated the students to frozen yogurt after the exam

Tim treated the students to frozen yogurt after the exam

One of Tim’s hospitality students has also been selected to receive a visa to the United States so Tim has been busy helping him navigate the bureaucracy and fill out his paperwork. Last week, he met with his student’s family to explain the realities of emigrating to the States, touching on finances, mental health, cultural barriers and more. The family seemed to have a realistic idea of the challenges ahead, and, ultimately, decided that it was best to continue with the visa process. If all goes according to plan, this young man will move early next year to Philadelphia, where we will be able to help connect him with social service organizations, other Cambodian immigrants, and more general support.

This week, we also hosted two Canadian couchsurfers. Tim and I really enjoy hosting others, particularly here in rural Cambodia where we can offer a way for tourists to get off the beaten path and learn about the parts of Cambodia that can’t be seen in the tourist centers. We don’t host very often because we want to respect the fact that we share a house with our host family, but when a well-timed invitation comes from people we’d be excited to meet, we accept. The Canadians stayed with us for two days, and it was fun to show them around, introduce them to new foods, and put them in touch with some English-speaking Cambodians. They got the true Cambodia experience, with monsoon rains, no electricity, a bat in the house, and mice squeaking in every direction. They were completely flexible and good-natured about it all though, so thankful to experience something different.

Our new couchsurfing friends

Our new couchsurfing friends

The night after the couchsurfers left, there was a big party at the pagoda, put on by the NGO I work with on the domestic violence project. Several months ago, right as we made the plan for the project, the NGO started to form youth groups in the surrounding villages, including the three target villages for the project. The first thing they did was train these groups to put on role plays about domestic violence. So last night was a big party, where all of the youth groups presented their role plays for the community. There were hundreds and hundreds of people in attendance, and I was excited that such a big audience had shown up to hear the very important message that domestic violence is never okay. It was great to see volunteers from my project working with the youth group members, some of whom had studied about domestic violence with me in my health club. It felt like all of the projects were working together in synergy, reinforcing the same messages in a number of different ways.

The opening act at the party: traditional Apsara dancing

The opening act at the party: traditional Apsara dancing

We’ve finally made it to the weekend, and it’s the first free one we’ve had in quite some time. I’m excited to lay around, eat tacos, watch bad TV, and just relax. Next week will be the very last of all of our project activities, meaning that we’ll no longer be able to deny how close to the end we really are.

Katie