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

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Domestic Violence Awareness Project Update

26 05 2013

Today was my last meeting with the volunteers for the domestic violence project. This week, each village group will present the final two lessons: the impacts of alcohol use and preventing domestic violence. In one week, the project will be complete. I’ll share more about the results then, but for now, here are some quotes (loosely translated) from today’s meeting that help show the situation in the villages, the attitudes of the project volunteers, and the impact of the project.

A volunteer talks about the different kinds of domestic violence

A volunteer talks about the different kinds of domestic violence

On the current situation:

“We have a lot of domestic violence in the village. The only way to prevent it is to educate them. Educate them every day. Educate them always.”

“There are a lot of men in my village who drink beer. They don’t really work. They come together to drink every day. Then some of them go home and beat their wives or kids.”

 

On the community education sessions:

“When we go promote these [domestic violence awareness] events, men don’t come. They say, ‘It’s women’s rights. It’s women’s rights,’ and they don’t participate.”

“Before, only ten people would come to community meetings. Now, maybe twenty or thirty come participate. It’s much more than before.”

 

On preventing domestic violence:

“We come home from work, everyone’s exhausted, and the children are crying, the dishes need to be done, the rice needs to be made. We can prevent domestic violence by helping each other. Help each other with the children, with the rice. If we help each other, there’s no violence.”

“If we feel angry or in a bad mood, we can go to work or go exercise instead. This is a way to prevent domestic violence. We can end it directly.”

 

On the impact of the project:

“Now, we are brave enough to talk about this [domestic violence] in the community.”

“A good thing is that the people in the village have a lot more knowledge about domestic violence and children’s rights now.”

Katie





Camp GLOW 2013

7 05 2013

Last weekend was the third annual Camp GLOW in Siem Reap. Sixty-three students from seven secondary schools came to learn about women’s health and empowerment at this four-day workshop. I can’t say enough wonderful things about GLOW – it really is one of my favorite Peace Corps activities.

This year’s t-shirt design

You might remember from last year that Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) is a project carried out by Peace Corps volunteers across the globe. It’s an opportunity to bring girls together from different communities to share their experiences and build their leadership capacity. Like last year, the camp was funded primarily through USAID’s Small Project Assistance fund, with help from each of the participating communities. However, this year the project grew in size – from 39 girls from three schools to 63 students from seven schools. I brought 11 girls from my site, all of whom had been actively involved in my weekly health club.

Posing with some of the girls

Posing with some of the girls

Our philosophy with Camp GLOW has always been to bring in competent, inspiring Khmer women to lead the sessions, and this year was no different. The first two days of the camp were led by the staff at Our Strength, who focused on sexual health and healthy relationships. The Women’s Resource Center joined us again this year as well, leading activities on self-awareness, goal setting, and community education. There was one new addition to the line-up this year though, as we asked students from the Royal University of Phnom Penh to lead a 4-hour session on career planning.

What does it take to be a good teacher?

In addition to the education sessions, there were plenty of fun activities to keep the girls engaged, including a newspaper fashion show, a pizza party, and a trip to Angkor Wat.

Making a traditional Cambodian outfit out of newspaper

Making a traditional Cambodian outfit out of newspaper

Cute nas

Cute nas

Now that the camp is finished, each group of girls is planning to teach 100 community members about what they learned at GLOW. Having seen the way that my girls organized and led the domestic violence education event for nearly 500 people in March, I feel confident that they will do a great job passing on what they’ve learned. Even on the van ride home from the camp, the girls were fearlessly teaching the other passengers about menstruation and reproductive anatomy.

For more pictures of GLOW, click here.

Katie





Warm Fuzzy Feelings

30 04 2013

Time has been racing by since we got back from vacation. It’s impossible to believe that we’ll be leaving our site in less than two short months. Exacerbating our warped perception of time is the fact that our schedules have been packed recently, with no real indication that things will slow down before we leave.

Last week was the first full work week since Khmer New Year. My week was a varied one, a reflection of what my life at site has become. It included weighing sessions, meetings with my girls’ club, preparations for Camp GLOW, planning sessions for the domestic violence project, English classes, and a refresher training for village health volunteers. Tim was back at school, teaching a full schedule for the first time in about six weeks. In addition to work activities, we spent a lot of time catching up with our host family and friends, who we hadn’t seen in some time. We had been feeling like vacation marked the beginning of the end, so it was encouraging to kick off the last stage of our service with such productive and fun activities.

Our host dad playing with his grandson this week

Our host dad playing with his grandson this week

On Saturday, we went to Battambang to celebrate the marriage of our very first Khmer teacher. Sothearith introduced us to Cambodia’s language and culture during training in Takeo nearly two years ago. He has proven to be one of the most effective teachers and friendliest guys we’ve encountered in our time here. We were excited to be able to join in his wedding celebrations, especially because we had been hoping to get back to Battambang one more time before heading home. In addition to the wedding festivities, we were able to sneak in a show at the circus (the second time, for me) and a quick swim in a brand new rooftop pool. Clearly, when I describe my busy schedule, I’m using a loose definition.

These kids are AMAZING!

These kids are AMAZING!

Overall, it was a really fun weekend, that had us regularly reminding ourselves how good our lives are here. There’s been an awful lot of warm fuzzy feelings about Cambodia lately, not to mention dozens of new thoughts I’d like to share as our time winds down. Let’s hope I can find the time and energy to do so, even as my schedule continues to gain momentum in the upcoming weeks.

Katie

 

 





This Year’s Girls’ Club

30 03 2013

I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned much about my girls’ club this year because, well, they’re amazing! I’ve been meeting with a group of 25-30 eleventh graders weekly since January. I wasn’t able to find a counterpart to help me teach this year so I decided to have the girls themselves co-teach with me. Each week, we pick a different topic related to health or gender, and one student volunteers to co-teach with me. I usually meet with that student once individually to plan the lesson and review the content. Then, later in the week, the student helps me teach the lesson to the rest of the class. Not only does this help the girls practice their own leadership skills, they’re often better at conveying the messages in more engaging and easy-to-understand formats than I am because of the language barrier. Some of our classes this year have covered nutrition, menstruation, and gender roles.

One of the club participants acting out her role as the mother in the role play

One of the club participants acting out her role as the mother in the role play

In February, I met with the girls 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 celebrate women’s rights. We first talked about different aspects of being women in Cambodian society, shared stories about women we admire, and talked about our own goals for the future. Then, I tasked them with completing a project, any project, to mark the special day. After much deliberation, the girls decided they wanted to do a role play about domestic violence. I reminded them that were in charge of the entire process, from writing the script, to acting it out, organizing the performance, gathering props, and fundraising if needed. They enthusiastically agreed. They had one catch: They wouldn’t be able to organize it in time for March 8. They asked if they could perform later in the month.

In the weeks that followed, the girls met frequently, even during exam week. This week, for example, they met for eight hours of preparation. They scheduled a meeting with the school director to ask for permission to perform at the school. They invited all of the teachers to join. They fundraised the cost of a sound system and microphones. They recruited some boys to play the male parts. They wrote and memorized a 40-minute script that illustrated multiple types of domestic violence. They were truly incredible.

When the group was asked, "Who wants to be the village chief," this girl bolted up. "Me! Me! Me!"

When the group was asked, “Who wants to be the village chief,” this girl bolted up. “Me! Me! Me!”

And today was the big day! Today was the day they acted out their role play for  between 400-500 students and teachers. Not surprisingly, I thought they were absolutely fantastic! I can remember being in high school plays, getting nervous to perform in front of the 100 or so people who would show up in the middle school gym where we held the events. Now, multiple that by five! And add in the fact that there was no adult director, no make up artist, no costumes or props. They put it all together themselves, and I have to admit that it was one of the most organized Khmer events I have attended during my service!

The girls’ club will take a break for few weeks now. Khmer New Year means that classes are suspended for vacation and students return to their villages. Tim and I will be heading out for vacation too, but I’m excited to meet with the girls again when we get back.

Setting the scene to educate about child abuse

Setting the scene to educate about child abuse

During our first meeting after Khmer New Year, I will be announcing which 10 of the thirty girls will be attending Camp GLOW in May. Our provincial girls’ empowerment camp has been funded again this year, with girls from six communities joining the activities. Each community can only bring ten students, which means I had to find a way to choose who would attend. Taking into account club attendance, leadership qualities, and a written application form, I decided today which ten it will be. They are all wonderfully kind, brave, and socially-minded young women. Just the type of students who can benefit the most from GLOW. Although narrowing it down was difficult, I couldn’t be happier about the group. Only one short month until GLOW!

Katie





So Many Reasons to Celebrate

22 03 2013

What a fantastic week it’s been! Tim and I have been bombarded with reasons to celebrate all week long. Here’s a taste of some of the events that have kept us smiling this week despite the hot, sticky weather.

Workshop participants practice teaching about the various types of domestic violence

Workshop participants practice teaching about the various types of domestic violence

Domestic Violence Awareness Workshop

So many things to be thankful for under this heading! First of all, I received the list of funders this week. I am completely overwhelmed by the generosity of my friends, family, RPCVs and even complete strangers! What a wonderful feeling to have so much support. You should all expect a thank you message this weekend! You are all amazing!

Then, of course, we actually held the workshop. All week long, I was so impressed by the great facilitation skills shown by my counterpart, Sothin. I am also thankful for all the ways that Meghan, a fellow PCV, helped me out during her stay. Most of all, though, I was in awe of the bravery, optimism and commitment to equality shown by all of the project participants. They were a wonderful group to work with, and I can’t wait to see them in action in their villages soon! I’ll write more on this training later, but for now I’ll revel in all of the positive energy.

Tim’s Birthday

This week, Tim had his 27th birthday! I was swamped with the workshop, so we didn’t get a chance to celebrate properly, but there are plans for a fancy dinner out soon. Happy, happy birthday to the best site mate I could imagine! :)

The new HC building on the day of the ribbon cutting

The new HC building on the day of the ribbon cutting

Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

This week was the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new building at the health center. Although I am still skeptical about the need for a new building, the ceremony was the talk of the town. More than 1,200 people attended, including a slew of government officials and bigwigs. With the excitement and pride surrounding the new building, I think there’s also a chance for me to influence the quality of the services offered there. The staff already has to change their routine to adapt to the change in scenery, so it is the perfect time to offer a few suggestions of my own. They also received a lot of new education materials with the new building, and I’m excited to start using them with patients!

Attempting to dance at the wedding

Attempting to dance at the wedding

Another Wedding

This time of year always brings a lot of weddings, and this week was no exception. This wedding was particularly fun though because of the sweet village health volunteer who invited us. She is a younger volunteer, maybe around 30, who has always been very friendly and fun. At the wedding, she showed true Khmer hospitality by looking out for us at every step: making sure we had enough to eat and drink, saving our shoes from the giant pile that accumulates during the chants, teaching me to dance, and riding her moto home with us to make sure we arrived safely on our bikes. She just has a fantastic energy, and I always like spending time with her.

Becoming a Quaker

Another big event this week was that Tim officially accepted his spot in University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice. He will be getting his Master’s in Social Work in Philly starting this fall! He received a nice financial aid offer, but also had an interview for additional fellowship money this week. For those of you in the States, please keep your fingers crossed. In Cambodia, we’ll have to figure out another way to send good luck to him because crossing your fingers is considered vulgar.

Here’s hoping you all had as good of a week as we did here!

Katie





Thank you!!

13 03 2013

Thank you to all who donated to the domestic violence project! It has been fully funded! I am blown away by everyone’s generosity and support. It comes at the perfect time too, as just this morning I met with the District Office of Women’s Affairs to  discuss the final details of the project. The venue has been secured, the participants have been invited, and the curriculum has been finalized! Less than one week until we begin the 5-day training event – I’ll be sure to keep you updated.

THIS is how excited I am!

THIS is how excited I am!

Thank you again! This project couldn’t happen without you!
Katie