Halfway there

3 09 2011

Training continues. Luckily, the rigid schedule of the past few weeks has loosened up a bit. Two weeks ago, we had “Practicum Week,” which is a chance for volunteers to engage in more hands-on activities that mimic the kinds of projects they are likely to work on at permanent site. This means that Tim and the other education trainees were in the classroom. They taught mostly English lessons, pairing at times with other trainees and at times with Cambodian counterparts. For us health trainees, life was a little different. We observed one day at the health clinic, visited an NGO outside of Phnom Penh, conducted door-to-door surveys in our broken Khmer, learned to make the traditional weening porridge made by Cambodian mothers, and taught health-based lessons in both formal and informal settings. It was a nice break from all of the hours in the classroom– which is, of course, not a true classroom, but a small covered area outside of our teacher’s house, vulnerable to the rain and the wind that is common in rainy season.

This week we were back to classes, but with a couple more activities thrown in. For example, we had the opportunity to practice an assessment tool with the community youth. It was a great way to hear more about what they think could make their community better. Our group decided that drop-out rates were preventing people from getting jobs and making a living, and they brainstormed some possible solutions to these problems, including the creation of an informal learning club, the incorporation of more creative teaching strategies and the development of support networks to encourage students to stay in school. Unfortunately, we are not in a position to address these issues in any long-term way, so we will be passing on their suggestions to the school director and the future volunteer who will get placed here for their permanent site.

Even though we can’t address such structural-level problems in the two months we are staying in our village, we are still trying to find ways to give back. Next week, we have two days off specifically so that we can carry out community projects. The trainees in our town are contemplating ideas related to an opportunity fair, a market clean-up and education campaign, and a nutrition seminar for mothers with young kids. Parts of this week have been devoted to coming up with these project ideas and figuring out the logistics to carry them out. The challenge is of course finding sustainable projects that can be implemented in such a short time frame.

This week, we also had a session on religion that brought us the the wat. We were able to talk with the monks who live there and learn more about Buddhism– particularly the Buddhism practiced by the Cambodian people– and the lifestyle of being a monk. The wat near our house is beautiful, and it’s always a humbling and serene experience to visit, with the gentle chanting in the background and the views of the rice paddies in all directions.

Another thing that happened this week is that Tim and the education trainees traveled to the provincial town to do some teacher training exercises at the University. As time moves forward, we continue to get more practical experience that builds our confidence and skills as we transition to permanent site.

And, on the topic of permanent site, we have only one short week until we find out where our post will be. We have started to develop some preferences based on the information that has leaked about the potential sites for couples, but are trying to stay open and optimistic. We would both be happy anywhere, but are eager to be in places where our skill sets match the needs of the community and host organizations. The good thing is that we had our practice language exam this week, and based on that, we are both learning the language at the speed they expect. We were unofficially given the rating of “Novice High,” which is the level we need to reach by the end of training. We are starting to feel more and more like we are able to communicate with our host family, PC staff members and those people in the community who we interact with on a regular basis. It’s been encouraging, but there is much more to go before we will feel totally capable of successfully working in our sectors.

Other than that, the biggest news is that we finally got an Internet cafe in our town. So we should be able to update more regularly, and– gasp– finally put up some pictures. So plan to hear from us again soon.