Arriving in Siem Reap on Sunday January 13th was the start of a unique journey. As we face into the last weekend of our trip there’s much that I won’t process for a while.
Several experiences have already come to the surface and will remain in my memory for a long time. These include the people and how they face everyday life calmly and with grace. The children we met in schools and how they remind that material comforts aren’t necessarily what puts a smile on the face. The wonderful workers and volunteers at SeeBeyondBorders – our hosts for the month (and task masters!) who allowed us unto their world with a great welcome and warmth. The amazing food culture – street food stalls and street markets, side by side with western-oriented supermarkets and a large range of Khmer and international restaurants. The contrasts. The vast spectrum of wealth and poverty on display. The smart phones and the electricity shortages.
And the traffic – a blur of ‘motos’, tuk-tuks, and expensive looking cars, wrestling for position along chaotic streets and at ‘optional’ traffic lights. Cycling through the city during morning rush-hour taught me a new and completely different approach to road safety and management – such as looking for forgiveness (not permission!) to take a left turn but still being courteous.
In my working life I’ve been fortunate to see leaders bring great ideas into action in ways that multiply their impact. Too much charitable giving starts and ends with the direct beneficiaries and fails to think about how to embed what’s done in the mainstream so that there is a multiplier effect.
SeeBeyondBorders is strategic in that way. Today, it brings its proven maths and literacy programmes to young children in grades 1 to 3 in the rural areas around Siem Reap and Battembang Provinces. I have seen it make a real difference in well planned and executed lesson plans these past weeks. And it is getting the attention of the local education authorities who welcome its operation in the targeted schools.
SeeBeyondBorders ambition for the future is to convince the Khmer Education authorities nationally to spread the programme to schools all around Cambodia. I’ve been privileged to work these past weeks with Colm Byrne, and SeeBeyondBorders Founder and inspiration Ed Shuttleworth, to help plot a course towards that longer term goal.
The SeeBeyondBorders model is also smart. It takes account of the relative lack of targeted education resources available in Cambodia by focusing efforts on skilling up the current teacher workforce through the allocation of mentors to individual teachers. Through these mentors SeeBeyondBorders ‘teaches the teachers’ in a phased programme which after a transition phase leaves behind the capacity to continue what SeeBeyondBorders started, with the schools themselves working directly with the local education District office.
Cambodia is my first time in Asia – but I certainly do not want it to be my last!