Igniting capacities in Cambodia: A staff member’s reflection

Photo of ACU student teaching children in Cambodian classroom.

ACU International staff member Cherry Gan shares the story of her community engagement experience in Cambodia.

The first time I heard about ACU community engagement was on my staff induction day when I first joined ACU. A seed was planted in my heart that I wanted to undertake community engagement when the time was right. Dr Youssef Taouk, from the Institute for Advancing Community Engagement, assisted me to participate in ACU’s Live. Give. Learn: Igniting Capacities Cambodia (LGL) program in partnership with Challenges Abroad Australia in December 2016. LGL focuses on capacity building in education in Battambang, Cambodia.

During the two weeks in Battambang with a group of ACU students from Brisbane, I got a chance to meet Mr Bunrith (Racky) Thy, one of the highly respected community leaders. Racky is the founder of Children’s Action for Development, an organisation which offers education for the poorest of the poor in the Battambang region.

It was fascinating to hear his story of narrowly escaping being killed by Khmer Rouge as a child, how he started his foundation from private funding, to today’s operation in partnership with, Challenges Abroad, FutureSense Foundation and Classroom of Hope. In addition to setting up community schools to provide supplementary classes to students who experience disadvantage, Racky recently also set up a tailor shop to provide job opportunities to orphans and is planning to teach local villagers sewing to bring in extra income for the family.

I also met with Mr Yun Yaradeth, Secretary of Doun Teav Primary School. Yun expressed appreciation to ACU for its ongoing support. Yun said that the school students’ interest in studying was highly motivated by ACU students who take part in LGL and this has helped to reduce the dropout rate in the school, improved the students’ performance, and increased their interest in learning and studying English.

The group I joined was volunteering to teach English which related to my first academic qualification. There were eight ACU Brisbane students in the group from various disciplines. This valuable experience helped me to learn the following:

Firstly, that we were not simply going there as “voluntourists”. We were assisting to build the capacity of the community. The community itself has autonomy to plan its own future.

Secondly, I was so impressed by the people in Cambodia with their kindness and happiness. I could see poverty, but they are generally very happy and content with the simple things they possessed. The love from the school students made it so hard to leave at the end.

Thirdly, I witnessed our students’ progression from day one when they were still nervous in the classroom to day three, after which they became comfortable and became very creative in teaching. Towards the end, they felt like they were born to teach. This program certainly helped them to learn from the community and grow in many aspects besides teaching.

I highly recommend to anyone who is thinking of going overseas for volunteering to join one of ACU’s community engagement programs. This kind of community engagement experience helps us to learn and grow, and allows us to appreciate different cultures and work with these diverse cultures.

Staff members interested in undertaking a community engagement experience can contact Dr Youssef Taouk from the Institute for Advancing Community Engagement on Ext. 4347 or Youssef.taouk@acu.edu.au

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