My Time in Cambodia Thus Far

Daire McCutcheon is a fourth year student in Trinity College Dublin. Originally from Swords, Daire is spending her summer working in the communications department of SeeBeyondBorders. Upon her return to Ireland Daire will be entering her final year of studying Geography and Political Science. Daire has an interest in global development and sustainability. She has previously undertaken a research project on the sustainability of the fashion industry.


When I told people that I would be spending my Summer volunteering for an NGO in Cambodia, many of them asked me “Why Cambodia?”, however to me, the reasoning is so clear. For people born in a western country, education was never a question. We all go to school from the age of four or five and most people continue on to university. However, for Cambodian children, it’s not so easy. Cambodia’s troubled past has left the country with a poor-quality education system and teachers that lack the proper training and skills. This means that many families see more value in having their children work rather than go to school where it can feel like a waste of time. SeeBeyondBorders is an organisation that is aiming to improve the education standards in Cambodia and so improve the lives of Cambodian people.


What most attracted me, as a volunteer, to work with SeeBeyondBorders was their commitment to sustainable development through the Sustainable Development Goals. SeeBeyondBorders is an organisation that is putting a framework in place that can have a long-lasting impact. This meant that the work I would undertake in Cambodia would have an impact while I was there and hopefully long after I left.


The 8th of July marked my first day at SeeBeyondBorders. I shared a tuk tuk ride over with a colleague, Laurel Jansury, and was introduced to colleagues on arrival including Country Manager Pheung Pov. I was given a warm welcome by everyone at SeeBeyondBorders. My first day entailed reading policies (there were lots), getting equipped with the work done at SeeBeyondBorders and learning about what my role in the communications team involves.


Colm Byrne Director of Development gave me a list of tasks that has kept me busy. These tasks included making posts for the facebook and twitter pages of SeeBeyondborders a d CambodiaIreland, finalising the first CambodiaIreland newsletter and sending it out, branding documents, analysing social media metrics and writing blog posts. 

Ratana and I making tweaks to tweets. 

A large part of my work involves assisting my colleagues Phearith, Ratana and Colm with the new SeeBeyondBorders website. I have to say, before I started working here, I had no idea how much work went into creating a website. I’m working very closely with Phearith and am learning a lot from him and the process.


During the first week of my six-week volunteering assignment in SeeBeyondBorders, I visited a school called Chey in the Banteay Srei District of Siem Reap with my colleague Ratana. I observed a 3rd grade class during a maths lesson delivered by their teacher, Siek Molika. As I walked into the classroom I was met by the smiling faces of the students and teacher. They made me feel very welcome in their class room. From the start, I could see that there was a very nice atmosphere in this classroom with both the students and the teacher content to be there. 

The Children finding the perimeter of a rectangle. 

The classroom was decorated with educational posters and the student’s own art work. There were about 30 students in the classroom and this was an equal mix of boys and girls. The classroom was almost full, with two children sitting on most desks.


I observed a maths lesson which was based around rectangles. The beginning of the lesson was about getting the students familiar with the rectangle. The teacher had the students point out different examples of rectangles around the classroom. The children met this task with excitement as every student had their hand up waiting to be picked on to share their example! 


The students were then taught how to find the perimeter of the rectangle using the ‘I Do, We Do, You Do’ method. First Siek Molika found the perimeter herself, while explaining to the children what she was doing and how she was doing it. After the children became more comfortable, the whole class went through it together in unison. All of the children were engaged and paying close attention to their teacher. 


Then it was time for the students to get into groups and see if they were able to find the perimeter of the rectangle by themselves. The students were happy to be working together. Every group presented their work well and they all found the correct answer.


Working together to find the perimeter of the rectangle.

In my second week at SeeBeyondBorders, I was taken back to that same school. I observed another maths lesson but this time it was with a 2nd grade class. This time the objective of the class was to learn how to take two-digit numbers away from three-digit numbers. The teacher’s name was Sem Air and she taught the class very well. Although this was a much bigger class than last time, now with around 40 students, she still managed to get everyone’s attention. 


Sem Air began the class with an addition sum to familiarise the children with three digit numbers. This was followed by a subtraction sum with two digit numbers that the children had learned in their last maths lesson. 


It was now time to move on to three digit numbers. Sem Air made use of the same “I do, We do, You do” method that the last teacher had. Both of these teachers have been part of SeeBeyondBorders Programs. She used a grid which had a column for single units, another column for tens and another for hundreds.  Number strips and other maths materials were used to represent the units, tens and hundreds. Sem Air placed number strips in each section of the grid to make a three digit number. She then wrote a two digit number in the grid and took away that amount of number strips. Sem Air explained what she was doing to the class throughout this example so when it came time for the class to do one together, each child knew what to do. 

Displaying the answers to sums as Sem Air looks on.

It was then time for the children to test their knowledge of subtraction involving two and three digit numbers by working in groups. Each group was given two grids and a packet of number strips. The teacher would write the sum on the board and the kids would use their resources to help them find the answer. After each sum, one child was chosen to write the answer on the board. Just like in the last class, each child was eager to be picked and was very proud of themselves when they demonstrated their knowledge to the rest of the class. Although the children were challenged by the three digits, they worked hard to find the answer and helped each other along the way. They also received help from their teacher who was walking around the classroom to assist when needed. 


I thoroughly enjoyed visiting these classrooms that are part of SeeBeyondBorders’ Quality Teaching Programme.  I found it interesting to see a school that is so different to the one I attended at their age. Although the language was different and the classroom was different (and a lot more humid than classrooms back in Ireland) there were still many similarities. The teacher taught the lesson in a very similar manner to what I was used from my primary school and the happiness you can see in the children’s faces from spending all day learning and playing together was exactly as I remembered it. 

Me outside the Chey School in the Banteay Srei District of Siem Reap.

At the time of writing this, I am just finishing my second week in SeeBeyondBorders. I am now starting to get into the swing of things and am really enjoying each day that I spend here. I am excited for the next few weeks here and hope that I can be of value to the hard working staff. As I go on I will continue to write blog posts, help Phearith with the new website and surely pick up some new tasks along the way. I truly believe that I will look back at my time here in SeeBeyondborders with fond memories cause in just two short weeks I have already learned so much and met so many great people.


6 Responses to “My Time in Cambodia Thus Far”

  1. Mícheál Garvey

    Hi Daire
    Sounds like you are really enjoying your time at SBB. From what I have heard you are doing a great job!
    I look forward to meeting you next week

    • Daire McCutcheon

      Hi Mícheál,
      yes, I’m really enjoying my time here.
      looking forward to meeting you.

  2. Fintan McCutcheon

    Keep up the good work, Daire. Congrats to SBB on this excellent project.


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