|Because I never miss a cute Chun Liap moment.|
As you probably read before, I was faced with a little sexism in class when my co-teacher made fun of one of my students for entering her essay into the pool to be invited to the program. After he did that, I chose to bring all 13 girls, even though we were only allowed 10. I didn’t care because there was clearly a need.
The way that I see it, before the program, I saw two important victories for women’s rights in
. First, was when the university males came
forward and said that they want to be incorporated into the women’s day event
because women’s rights has an impact on their lives. The second was when I gave the invitations to
the 13 girls that I brought. Because I
said that I would only be able to take 6 grade 10 students and 9 submitted
essays, they were nervous. But when they
all received their invitations and showed them off to their friends and
classmates, I knew that they felt a little more confidence in themselves. Cambodia
The weeks leading up to the event were crazy. Between getting all of the girls names, training the group leaders, creating and translating documents- we had our hands full. But all the running around and countless hours of preparation were worth it when the girls arrived. Philip, another volunteer, was in charge of the boys. He was incredible and everything ran so smoothly because he told them exactly what to do, with the focus on the girls. When the students arrived, they went into their small groups (they were all divided on purpose to meet girls from other schools and districts) and immediately made new friends. Everyone arrived on time and we dove right in. We started off with a little story called “The World Upside Down” which told of a world where girls were encouraged to stay in school and boys were taught to be shy and gentle. The boys were taught to be quiet and learn how to cook, clean and care for women from their fathers. The women were the leaders of countries and were the historians, scientists and leaders of the world. When a woman was pregnant, her family prayed for a girl, and if the baby was a boy, they were happy, but secretly prayed for the next to be a girl. Now, this story is pretty whacky, but then Dave, another volunteer, addressed the girls and said that if we reverse the word boy with girl and vice versa, that seems pretty close to the world that we live in. We don’t wait either world, but keep this story in mind for the rest of the day.
The next segment included me introducing an on-going exercise called 2 Baskets. I told the girls to imagine that they were moving from their old house into a new one and they had two baskets- one was a pile of trash to burn or get rid of and one was to bring to the new house. The exercise was for the girls to write down ideas that they learned and wanted to take with them and ideas that they believed before, but wanted to leave behind. We prearranged 2 volunteers to read theirs. Many girls wrote down their ideas throughout the day and there were some awesome ones- girls can make their own decisions, my gender will not determine my occupation, women’s rights don’t only have an impact on women, etc.
After this, Phanet, Darlene’s fantastic co-teacher, presented on self-esteem. This is a huge issue with girls in every country. The difference is that the girls are never really taught how to improve their self-esteem. Phanet talked about how important it is to value yourself and love yourself. She told the girls how she studied biology and wanted to teach future teachers about biology, everyone told her that no one would ever marry her and that she should teach high school instead. She refused and loves her life (and her teacher trainees are much better suited because of that). She talked about her insecurity with her skin tone because she is dark (Cambodians, like many Asians, want to have light skin and often times put skin bleaching cream on their bodies), she touched on how frequently people called her dark and how it wasn’t beautiful. She told the girls that her beauty came from within herself, not from what others told her. The small groups had break out sessions about improving their self-esteem and each group commented on how they need to love themselves first and foremost.
We then put on a skit of a doctor and a farmer. Both are men. The farmer goes to the doctor and the doctor asks the farmer some questions about his family. He asks the farmer about his wife, and if she has a job. The farmer says, no, she doesn’t, she stays at home. When the doctor asks the farmer to describe his wife’s typical day, the farmer talks for about 7 minutes about her daily tasks involving, but not restricted to, waking up at 4 am, cooking breakfast, getting water from the well, seeing the children off to school, cleaning the house, working in the fields, selling food in the market, making clothes, doing the laundry, cooking lunch, etc, you get the point. After this long spiel about her never busy day, the doctor asks the man, “wait, I thought that you said your wife doesn’t work?” to which the farmer says, “yeah, that’s right, she stays at home…” This was a segway into Navy, our Peace Corps doctor’s presentation. She told the girls about her upbringing, which is just so inspiring. She told them how her family was torn about when she was 13 and they were relocated to a different province. They lost their land and many family members died. She knew before the Cambodian genocide (Khmer Rouge) that she wanted to be a doctor, and that nothing would stop her. She had to walk miles to get to school, and then she finally got a bike. She used to sell vegetables in the market for literally pennies to try to support her studies. Her teachers were lenient with her because she worked so hard (she often times didn’t have the money to pay the teachers, even when rice and food were accepted as payment). She never formally studied English but studied on her own. She bought books and had conversations with herself to practice. Her mom told her that she was going crazy, but that didn’t stop her. She continued to study, work and persue her dreams. She got choked up at one point and many of the girls were crying as well; you could hear a pin drop in there. She told them about how we must dream and come up with a plan for that dream; dreaming simply isn’t enough. Taking care of our obligations on the road to our dreams is how we can succeed as women. Her children then talked about their dreams. Her daughter, Merica, talked about how she wanted to be a model, singer, but now her dream is to be the first female Prime Minister of Cambodia. Her son talked about how he wants to play in the NBA, or if that fails, play soccer, and also become a doctor. He was cute, because he told the girls (keep in mind, he is 13 and is just starting to feel awkward in these situations) that he encourages them to dream, because they can accomplish it, if they dream and work. Navy’s husband, who is also a doctor and from Battambang province talked about being married to such a strong women and how decisions were made at home, how they communicate and each has input into decisions. We did a combination break out session and question and answer session- the girls drew their dreams while others asked questions. And that brought us to lunch.
We had every lunch order prearranged, so delivering the food to the small groups as a piece of cake. I attribute that to the summer that I spent working for a catering company. We had the fish/ chicken thing arranged beforehand, so it was all worked out for us. That’s how it was at our event. Lunch didn’t take too long, which was good, because we just dove back into the event. Cambodians have a break from school and work from 11-1 and spend at lease 30 minutes of that napping, so we knew that we had a small window to get them back on their feet before they got too tired. We got the girls back into their small groups and did the human knot, which is where each girl crosses her hands and grabs the hand of another girl, creating a confusing mix of hands in the middle and the group has to work together to become a circle again. They really enjoyed it and I was in one of the groups and it was a blast. They were all laughing and it boosted their energy, which was exactly what we needed. We then had the health speaker make her presentation. She mainly works at the Catholic Church doing workshops on women’s health, so she was perfect for this. Because Cambodians never have sex ed in school, she was able to talk to the girls about those awkward things that they have perhaps encountered, but are too scared or shy to ask anyone, even mothers and sisters. We kicked all of the males out of the room to give the girls their privacy, which turned out to be very beneficial since the girls asked some very personal questions that they wouldn’t ever had if there were boys in the room. She was a straight-shooter, which is what is needed to make an impact. She told the girls straight what they needed to know about their bodies and how to care for themselves. She also talked about reproductive health, which is crucial since these young women are just about marrying age, if they aren’t already. There was a health advocacy skit, which demonstrated the wrong way to address a doctor. She then offered suggestions when you go to the doctor. Theary had to leave right after to go back to
(we brought her out of maternity leave) and Navy
took over for the break out session, which were 8 hypothetical questions. The girls answered as a group, and I was so
proud when all 4 of my grade students stood up to answer questions (my grade 10
students were a little more shy). After
completing that portion, we asked the girls to complete a questionnaire and gave
them their prize, a notebook and took pictures.
I was talking to my girls when I was suddenly so overcome with emotion
that I started to cry. I brought 13
students that day- 9 grade 10 students who I don’t know so well and 4 grade 12
students who I have been teaching since day one, so I know them very well. They were in my formal class last year, as
well as two years of English Club. I was
telling them how proud of them I am, when I just started crying, obviously
tears of joy. When I first met them, they were meek girls, but put that aside
for 5 minutes to ask me to teach them extra. Since then, I have had the
pleasure of teaching them during my free time, focusing on critical thinking. Watching them over the course of almost two
years, I have seen not only their English skills improve tenfold, but their
confidence improve, to the point where there was such a heated discussion
between a few of them, so heated that students made comments like “well, I
think that you are wrong” and “I really disagree”. In Cambodian terms, that’s the equivalent of
calling someone dumb and their argument even dumber. The girls just made me so proud because I
know how big of a sacrifice they make to come to this stuff and how it’s so against
their nature not to stand up and speak their mind. There aren’t too man chances for a Peace
Corps volunteer to see the fruits of his or her labor (if at all), so seeing
them there was just overwhelming. They
also just reminded me how much I am really going to miss Cambodia. There are a few people that really mean a lot
to me and it’s going to be really hard to say goodbye, but I take solace in the
women that they have grown to be. It
becomes clear very quickly while working in the developing world that progress
is hard to make and it takes so long. It
just hit me then and there. Phnom
Bringing it back to my softball days, I gave myself 4 big projects to do in my last 4 months- International Women’s Day, my kickball tournament, my health workshop and finding my grade 12 students scholarships. One down, three to go. IWD was very successful and to be honest, really enjoyable. Last year it was a crazy day and was so stressful, this year, with a year and a half of experience under our belts, we were able to do it right and enjoy the day. Next is the kickball tournament. We had our first practice today. The tournament will take place behind the abandoned train station. There is a community of squatter families and children that will probably be evicted soon. The school nearby is trying to offer the children an option to stay out of trouble, so I thought that a kickball tournament would be a good option on their only day off of school, which is Sunday. I was nervous that kids wouldn’t show up, but that wasn’t an issue. Each team had about 20 kids that could play, not including their baby brother or sister that their parents made take with them. Many of the parents came to watch as well. We will have another practice next Sunday and then the big game is on Sunday, March 27th, and I am confident that attendance will be sky-high by then. My coach from Seton Hall donated 20 t-shirts and Darlene asked
to donated 20
t-shirts, so the game will be UT vs. SHU.
It should be really fun. The
rules are very rudimentary but the reason for the game is to have a community
activity, not to find Battambang’s deadliest kickball player. I chose kickball because all you need is a
ball and a bunch of little kids. We will
have a kickball game and other options for younger children (maybe Bozo
buckets?) My grade 12 students were the
coaches and they had a blast and got into it.
They are such great role models and these children are so vulnerable
that it sends a great message to the community that there are people who still
care about their children’s wellbeing. University
After the kickball tournament, we will most likely start our health workshop. Maybe we can play a little kickball then learn about hand washing. The health workshop will be in the same community, because they really need it. These families are living in the vacant box cars, offices and really anywhere providing any shelter. The children are very dirty because they spend most of their time outside and are really susceptible to diarrhea and other potentially dangerous ailments. Again, my grade 12 students will be leading this. This will be great for their resumes and also leads into the last project. This school offers scholarships, so a few of my students will be able to get scholarships. I told them that in order to apply for the scholarships, my students must volunteer two hours per week for two months (this is not the case, but I believe that they should give something to this community in exchange). They are also really enjoying these projects.
These 3 remaining projects are ones that I am really interested in for obvious reasons- I miss playing sports, the children need instruction in regards to basic hygiene and I want my students to go on to university. All Peace Corps volunteers agree that they cannot change the country, the change must come from within the country. We don’t have the means to change the higher ups, but rather the youth that may one day be in that position. The impact is really small that we actually end up making, but that doesn’t make it any less important. I am just figuring this out, and right on time, too.