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

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