Studying at DCU
I have recently arrived to Siem Reap and with my partner Stephen, we are volunteering with SeeBeyondBorders for the month of January. Having completed several years of study in Ireland we decided that we would like to travel once we had the money saved and I had completed my doctoral research. I completed my undergraduate degree in psychology from Dublin City University (DCU) in 2014 and doctoral degree from the School of Human Development in 2019.
Doctoral Degree and TEACH-RSE
As a result of my positive learning experience during my undergraduate degree, I decided to pursue my doctoral degree in DCU. Feminist psychology interested me and for my doctoral research I investigated the impact of social media on body image and well-being from a feminist perspective. During my time studying I was also afforded the opportunity to teach psychology modules and support students learning in the Institute of Education. This was work I felt was really meaningful as supporting the training of teachers will have a subsequent effect on the education children receive.
Myself and my PhD supervisors Dr. Ashling Bourke and Dr. Catherine Maunsell in the Institute of Education, DCU.
Prior to arriving to Cambodia I had been working on a project ‘TEACH-RSE’. This research involved investigating the teacher training student teachers receive regarding Relationships and Sex Education (RSE). Ireland has seen some progressive social change with regards to gender and sexuality in recent years, however the education students are receiving in school is often not reflective of these societal changes. By evaluating the training that teachers receive we can support teachers to have the requisite skills and confidence to teach a more holistic sex education in schools.
Coming to Cambodia
I became aware of Changemaker organisations SeeBeyondBorders and PEPY Empowering Youth through my auntie Maeve who is the principal of Ashoka Changemaker School Donabate Portrane Educate Together National School (DPETNS). Her school has developed a unique partnership with PEPY and her daughter Dee volunteered with SeeBeyondBorders for a year in Cambodia. Maeve told me about the transformative work both organisations do and so when the opportunity arose to visit Cambodia with her in 2017, I was delighted to do so. We spent an enriching week in Siem Reap and received a wonderful welcome. Throughout the week we sat in on classes in PEPY where we met the staff and students, we were brought on a day trip to Battambang, participated in a friendship cycle to Angkor Wat, and attended a Dream Class. Dream Class is a PEPY initiative to encourage students to set goals and to be supported in achieving these goals.
While in Cambodia we also met with staff from SeeBeyondBorders and learned about the valuable work of this organisation. I was struck by the enthusiasm and positivity of the staff and students in these organisations. Everyone went above and beyond to ensure that we had a meaningful time and I developed a greater understanding of the pioneering work these organisations do. I left this trip knowing that Cambodia was a country I would like to return to.
Growing the Network
Since my trip to Cambodia in 2017 the CambodiaIreland Network has expanded, developed and delivered real change. It is uplifting to see the emerging relationship between DCU and SeeBeyondBorders. As a DCU student and staff member I was delighted to welcome SeeBeyondBorders and PEPY staff and students to DCU and to attend a meeting with the President of DCU regarding the future of these relationships.
Once I had completed my PhD and had the opportunity to travel, we decided we would like to volunteer at SeeBeyondBorders. I was particularly interested in SeeBeyondBorders as I felt their aims and ethos were reflective of my own interests and values. They are an organisation that supports the training and professional development of teachers and recognises the important work that teachers do to shape and support the lives of young people.
Our volunteering experience to date
We began volunteering with SeeBeyondBorders just as the new year commenced. On our first day at SeeBeyondBorders we were warmly welcomed and introduced to the members of staff. Colm Byrne (SeeBeyondBorders Director of Development) and Khann Phearith (Communications Assistant) provided us with an introductory presentation of SeeBeyondBorders outlining the organisations aims, programmes, values and the outcomes of their work. Following the completion of the child protection and volunteer agreement applications we went for lunch in New Leaf (a social enterprise which donates 30% of its profits to SeeBeyondBorders and PEPY), with Ed Shuttleworth the CEO and a founder of SeeBeyondBorders. During lunch we engaged in an interesting discussion about the initial development of SeeBeyondBorders and the education system in Cambodia. We left feeling enthusiastic about the month ahead.
Working at SeeBeyondBoreders office with Phearith and Stephen.
At the end of our first week with SeeBeyondBorders we visited a school that participates in the SeeBeyondBorders mentorship programme in the Prasat Bakong District. We arrived to the school during the students break time and so were greeted by children laughing and playing with their friends. We attended a first-grade class. The classroom was bright and decorated with colourful educational posters and the student’s own artwork. There were approximately 40 students in the class, and we were informed that they were divided into groups categorised by different animals. The use of animals to describe the groups was something the students preferred as opposed to being identified as group one, group two etc. The students were learning a letter of the alphabet. They worked in pairs to come up with examples of words using the sound they were learning. They were encouraged to use complete sentences and to listen to their partners responses. Students were then given the opportunity to come to the top of the class and share what their partner had said.
We also observed a maths lesson. As the only Khmer I know is how to count from one to ten, I was happy to hear that these were the numbers they were learning! The teacher used a variety of interactive teaching strategies. The teacher initially went through the numbers one to ten by holding up flashcards to the class and asking them to put their hands up to respond. The students were very excited to engage and enthusiastically put their hands up to answer. The teacher subsequently placed the flashcards on the board in a random order. Students were selected to come up to the board to place the numbers in order from highest to lowest. Students then worked in pairs using the flashcards. The cards had Khmer words on one side and dots on the other. This meant the students were learning both the linguistic and numeric values of the numbers. Students were engaged throughout and eager to participate. From observing these lessons, it was apparent that these students were enthusiastic about learning and were enjoying learning at school.
During our second week at SeeBeyondBorders we visited Battambang. Here we met with four Australian and two Irish teachers who are volunteering with SeeBeyondBorders as part of the mentorship programme. SeeBeyondBorders are carrying out a literacy programme, funded partially by Irish Aid, in five schools in Battambang and these international teachers are supporting the implementation of this. We visited Prek Norin primary school and witnessed the literacy programme being carried out here. It was great to see the collaboration between the international and Cambodian teachers in this school.
Visit to Prek Norin primary school in Battambang.
We are both volunteering within the communications department of SeeBeyondBorders and have been designated several tasks. As part of our volunteering experience we will be helping with SeeBeyondBorder’s social media communication and in particular are involved with the ‘Teachers Inspire Cambodia’ event on the 18th of January at Tevy’s Place. This event was prompted by the ‘Teachers Inspire Ireland’ event held in DCU. This is a really exciting initiative and one I am delighted to support. I feel very grateful to have had many wonderful teachers throughout my life and feel that this is an important initiative to acknowledge the significant work of teachers in Cambodia.
SeeBeyondBorders have also developed a research strategy to evaluate their programmes and to develop evidence-based practice for the development of new programmes with the overarching aim to enhance pedagogy in Cambodian schools. During my time in SeeBeyondBorders I hope to share my research experience with staff and participate in discussion regarding research planning and management, ethics and funding opportunities.
What are my hopes for my time here?
I hope that through this experience I will gain new skills and a better understanding of the education system in Cambodia. In order to provide long lasting and substantial change, SeeBeyondBorders takes a systemic approach to their programmes. This is something I would like to learn more about as I feel that it is beneficial and applicable within an Irish context also. I am very grateful to be volunteering in an organisation with such hard working, warm and passionate people. I hope that I can deepen my understanding of development and share what I have learned during my own education in Ireland. I look forward to the month ahead and in particular to the ‘Teachers Inspire Cambodia’ event this weekend!