Meaning in our lives – Our visit to Cambodia.

Nadine Ferris France

Arriving in Siem Reap for us is like arriving into a warm loving family.  Five years into our educational partnership between schools in Ireland and organisations in Cambodia, friendships, trust and connection run deep. This year, we had the privilege to work both in PEPY Empowering Youth and SeeBeyondBorders – both superb organisations tackling different aspects of the complex and challenging issue of improving quality education in Cambodia. The commitment of each and every one of the staff in these organisations to improving education for young people is truly breathtaking.  What makes it so powerful is that most of them have their own story of fighting for their own education, many born into poor rural farming families where education was not a priority or even valued or understood by their own parents.  They speak of their childhood where attending primary school meant walking or cycling 5-7km to school and back every day from the age of 5.  Many of them being the first in their whole village ever to have finished high school. For us in Ireland, these are not just stories, these are the lives of our friends, students and staff we have grown to know and love.  Many people around the world are focused on the sustainable development goals (SDGs) – we are already firmly achieving tangible successes within goal 4 ‘improve quality education’ and goal 17 ‘global partnerships’. Read more about this in Maeve’s blog

This year, my children, Alanna and Ryan and myself joined Maeve (Principal of DPETNS), Mary, Avril, Megan, Patricia, Una (Irish teachers) and Colm and Deirdre who are living in Siem Reap. We delivered workshops and learned a huge amount. Three schools from Ireland were represented by the teachers – DPETNS, Donabate Community College (DCC) and Francis Street, showing proudly how the partnership is expanding and growing. This year, I delivered a workshop called ‘Think Big Dream Big’ to 32 PEPY scholarship students.  This workshop is about dealing with stressful thinking, becoming aware of the power of negative thoughts and using a method called The Work of Byron Katie to question these stressful thoughts.  Also looking at how our thinking affects us achieving our dreams.  In our workshop, one 17-year student shared her dream to be a policewoman with us.  The thoughts that re-occur a lot and causes her to lose confidence in herself and her abilities include “I don’t have anyone to support me” “I can’t do it”, “My dream is too big”, “I’m not going to succeed” “I’m not good enough”, “I’m going to fail”.  Through the workshop she was able to become aware of these thoughts and see how they negatively affect her.  She became emotional when questioning her thoughts when by really looking deeply, she became aware of how much support she gets from people, her friends, her family, PEPY scholarship programme and most importantly how she has herself to support her.

Gathered with the PEPY Scholarship Students

I delivered another workshop to the staff of SeeBeyondBorders focused on dealing with stress, self-stigma and shame where staff looked closely at how stressful thinking affects their wellbeing. Dealing with young people and teachers in highly challenging environments, where most programmes are underfunded, being able to support themselves to be calm, clear and not stressed is extremely important. “I am going to worry less. Thinking about my thinking is powerful in reducing stress and judgements of others” Workshop participant

As a big team from Ireland and together with our Cambodian colleagues, we delivered a highly interactive global health, education and development workshop in PEPY – a workshop that is delivered every year in DCC and DPETNS through the Irish Forum for Global Health Student Outreach Group.  We covered important issues around health, HIV, water and sanitation, mental health, gender, the environment, climate change and more.  Students actively engaged to explore deeply inequalities in both Cambodia and Ireland and to understand how health affects education and education affects health. They did this by stepping into the shoes of those living with HIV, those experiencing gender-based violence, those experiencing stigma by society for being gay and they explored the value society places on people of different backgrounds, ages.  They also engaged in a dynamic debate and heated game about world trade.


On a personal level, how we have benefited as a family from the visit to Siem Reap is actually not possible to describe in words.  Both Alanna and Ryan gave outstanding presentations in SeeBeyondBorders and PEPY about education in Ireland from their perspective and about water sanitation #proudparent.

Alanna presenting in SeeBeyondBorders

They participated actively with the PEPY students and were deeply touched and inspired by what they experienced.  Just this morning on the way to the airport, they spoke about being blown away to know just how the young people they met are working literally around the clock to improve their lives. The average day of a PEPY student or staff – up at 5am, to attend English class from 6-8am.  Study or work in PEPY from 8.30 – 5pm.  Attend university from 6-9pm – about 90% of those we worked with are on this schedule!  The determination, commitment and drive of these incredible young people is infectious and inspiring.

While in Siem Reap, we met as a team to review the partnership – something we do as part of best practice every year.  We discussed what has worked well and what has not and also planned activities for the coming year. We hope this will include a visit from our Cambodian friends to Ireland where they will teach and learn as well as exciting ongoing educational activities integrated into schools in Ireland and the organisations in Cambodia throughout the year. We also discussed establishing a broader network called the ‘Cambodia Ireland Changemaker Network’ that would create a space for individuals, organizations and institutions in both Ireland and Cambodia to come together around shared passions in education and health in both countries. Lastly, we took the opportunity to meet as a group, and draft a submission to contribute to the Irish Aid White Paper process, the outcome of which will seal Ireland’s development aid priorities for the next 5-10 years.

We all know how important it is to have a sense of purpose in our lives – well this initiative is exactly that for all involved.  I leave Siem Reap feeling proud to be part of something so truly making a difference in all our lives.  I leave feeling inspired, filled with gratitude for each and everyone in Cambodia and Ireland supporting this partnership and absolutely committed to inspiring others to get involved.

Get involved and consider donating to support a scholarship student (even 5e/month goes a long way) – Cambodiaireland.com


#irishaid #into #sbb #PEPY #DCC #dpetns  #SDG #theworkforchange #ifghsog


2 Responses to “Meaning in our lives – Our visit to Cambodia.”

  1. Maeve

    Well done Nadine – I couldn’t agree with you more about how our partnership gives us such a great sense of purpose. I know I gain far more from my involvement than anything I give to it.


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