Cambodia = Kampuchean

Cambodia = Kampuchean

Monday, January 17, 2011

Cookie's New Year Musings

It's already nearly "spring semester", and all I can think of is what I've done with my life since last January the 17th. Has it been a year? A year since I did the human dissection and anatomy J-term? What milestones has this passage of time seen, if any? I don't feel like I've much at all, and yet here we are Jan 17, 2011. It has been further impressed upon me that time isn't moving, we are. As if time is a book with empty pages, unmoving and unchanging, while we're the ones turning the pages, choosing to scrap what we will on each page. (Life as a book is one of my mum's favorite metaphors, one that I have happily co-opted.) At the same time, I feel myself losing the urgency of making every moment memorable beyond belief; I am able to see merit in the slow ways of the mundane. Profundity in the mundane.

All of this ties to the idea of how big things are achieved through small, seemingly inconsequential, steps. (So, I suppose in that sense, I still maintain the integrity of my pursuit - to witness big changes. ultimately.) But it is the small things. In terms of development work, this translates to the spirit of patience with slow changes. You cannot expect sea changes in a flash. One year? two years even? Short short blips in time. I watched a TED talk yesterday by Shukla Ghose, the lady who started the Parikrama Schools for underprivileged/ slum kids in the city of Bangalore, India. One of many take-aways from her, unfortunately contrived, yet incredibly inspiring nineteen minute talk was the phrase: It is not a numbers game. We don't always have to scale, scale, scale. If we're creating opportunities in the life of  one child from primary school all the way through college, that's one unequivocally profound occurrence. One more discerning citizen to the fold, one more person equipped to impact at least one other person by way of interaction. Pay it forward style. This is an incredibly rejuvenating thought for me.

I am continually reminding myself of this little fact in my work here in Cambodia. I work with the organization called KAPE (Kampuchean Action for Primary Education) in the capital of the eponymous province of Kampong Cham. My main charge is to implement projects that fall within the realm of IT-integration, a project that in turn falls under the IBEC Project (Improved Basic Education in Cambodia). The IBECP is an integrated(joint) project between KAPE and the international org. called World Education Inc. But I am considered a KAPE employee as it's designation is that of "the on-field local implementer." Now, IT-integration relates to diversifying the ways in which IT is introduced and/or used by students. In the past four months and counting, I have been working on implementing what we call the "School Newsletter Project": we're creating starting newspaper student clubs that will promote student journalism, writing, questioning, art and design - all the while working with the medium of information technology. Pretty neat. The pilot involves 3 schools where KAPE has already established its IT Labs.

It was slightly disconcerting to find out just last week that at one of the three schools, the teacher who had volunteered to act as club advisor/student trainer, and had therefore attended and received training from yours truly all the way at the KAPE offices, had now expressed definite inability to continue. A bummer of the first order. There are so many different layers, of nuance and complexity, in the way that different people process expectations, that it was imperative that we treat this matter as delicate. Whether or not this individual had interest in the club, the individual began to express rather negative and bitter feelings toward KAPE; he'd felt forced into joining. So now, there was the matter of explaining that KAPE always stood for volunteerism without implicating the School Director who might have been mroe authoritarian than required when identifying "volunteers", and also that there was no shame in stating the truth about the pressures one felt. I got the sense, in my tete-a-tete with him that he was simply misdirecting his frustration with the perceived lack of autonomy toward  KAPE...

Now, I'll draw back from the tangential anecdote to wrap up. During this phase, I kept thinking about what a pity it would be if we we were able to complete the launch at only two of the three original schools. I thought of all those kids who we'd miss in terms of the "reach" of the pilot project. (Instead of around 60, we'd impact only 40.) And then I realized, why! surely it's almost more important that the pilot will have been successfully launched at least two schools?! The positive occurrence per se was a matter of excitement. So I began realizing, even more acutely, that when we impact one, that's one more than none.

Here's to that. *Clink*


  1. thank you, sweetie. these are such important and hopeful things to remember, and you helped me do that! it's my first day back at work today, and after reading your post i feel some much-needed resolve.

    (on another note, i will write that long email i've promised you soon! see, more resolve.)

  2. IT's like the story of the boy who throws the crabs back into the ocean, making a difference for each crab he throws back even though there are millions he can't save. Good reminder Cooks, thanks.

  3. thank you for commenting, ya stellar ladies.

    @jushoo - i can't wait to hear your tales.

    @zoo - oh yes, that was a great story indeed :)