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June 19, 2014 at 9:15 am

Katie Conlon: Changing Focus Comes with Visit to Cambodian NGO

From left: Two of the teachers for SRMCDO’s English classes and Katie Conlon. These young women are both taking English classes now and hoping to continue their studies at university (sponsored through SRMCDO) soon.

From left: Two of the teachers for SRMCDO’s English classes and Katie Conlon. These young women are both taking English classes now and hoping to continue their studies at university (sponsored through SRMCDO) soon.

By Katie Conlon ’16
History HTC and Law, Justice &  Culture
Research Externship in Cambodia

Up until this point, we’ve been writing these posts collectively. That’s mostly because we’re all sharing the responsibility of updating you on our travels. But after spending a week in Siem Reap, staying on my own after everyone else in the group had left, I thought I would share my experience there.

I had intended for our few days in Siem Reap to be a vacation of sorts. I was planning on exploring the temples at Angkor Wat and indulging in a more “touristy” outlook that we all try to avoid in Phnom Penh.

I did set up one meeting with an NGO while there, the Siem Reap Muslim Community Development Organization (SRMCDO). Because my project focuses on the experiences of Cham Muslims, I was excited to meet with an NGO working specifically with Cham Muslim communities.

I met with the President and Vice President on Monday morning, and they immediately took me to meet with the local imam. They were so eager to help me with my research, and I was extremely grateful. They invited me to a program at the mosque that night.

When I arrived at the mosque, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. What I found was a group of about two dozen 5-12-year-olds who come to classes each night to learn English. I smiled at the kids and talked with the young men and women teaching the classes. After the kids left, I learned that the teachers are all volunteers. Students themselves, these young adults are learning English while simultaneously teaching young kids.

While the students I met were fantastic teachers, I myself am not a teacher. However, when I was asked to get in front of a class of 15 girls and teach the class, I couldn’t refuse. It was the first time I had been in front of a classroom in that capacity, and I was completely unsure of whether or not the girls actually learned anything from me.

I spent the rest of the week helping with the classes, meeting with the teachers, and getting to know members of the community. I am so grateful that this group invited me to be a part of their community for such a brief period of time. I got to know a few women my age who I’m sure will remain my friends for a long time. Most unexpectedly, I had an experience that fundamentally changed the focus of my project.

I didn’t realize my project was shifting at the time, and the prospect of that happening so late in our time here does worry me a little bit. But, I am hopeful that my time in Siem Reap will positively influence my final project.

I’m very excited to say that I will be heading back to Siem Reap on Saturday to spend some more time in the community. I’m sad to be leaving Phnom Penh so soon, but I’m looking forward to spending more time with the people I met in Siem Reap!

Read more at the CLCJ in Cambodia blog.

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