By Lucy Flamm
Cambridge is known for its higher education systems. Innovation is constantly stemming from Harvard, M.I.T., Lesley, and the other universities in the city. As a community, education is prized for what it has the possibility to create. The general consensus is that it has a key role in the economic and cultural development of not just our own community, but any nation. The Cambridge Cambodia School Project reflects not the concept that an urban, education-oriented city could impact an entire nation; but with the belief that all have the ability to make little decisions that can make big changes for others. Four years ago, penny drives within the thirteen public schools in Cambridge in tandem with corporate donations and fundraising dinners helped to reach the $24,000 needed to build the Cambridge School in Cambodia through the American Assistance for Cambodia. My work this summer with The Cambridge Cambodia School Project reflects Cambridge’s grass-roots effort to build bridges with different communities across the globe in sustainable ways.
Initially, the project was solely dedicated to raising funds to build The Cambridge School in Cambodia but since then the goal of the organization have shifted. The school is located in a place where otherwise, there would not be a school. The village, which I had the opportunity to visit myself three years ago, is about as isolated as you can get. The form of transportation is bike, and without The Cambridge School any educational facility would be miles and miles away. Such a fact provides challenges of its own. In a community of poverty where students who if not at school would be working to provide money for their families, how do you encourage them to stay in school? Simply the concept of gaining an education is not enough incentive. As a group we work to brainstorm ways to solve such problems such as exploring the use of monetary compensation for attending school. This allows students to provide for their family as they need to whilst limiting the motive for students to drop out which often leads to exploiting themselves sexually.
After the school was built the Cambridge community fundraised to send six students and two teachers of Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, the Cambridge public school, to Cambodia. The endeavor allowed for a cultural exchange members of the community might otherwise never get to experience. In addition, Cambridge students also visited relevant NGO’s, and met with inspiring leaders of social reform such as Somaly Mam (http://www.somaly.org/) and Arn Chorn Pond (http://www.facinghistory.org/node/1055) and the Cambridge School in Cambodia. Upon arriving back to Cambridge, MA multiple events were held to engage the Cambridge community in the accomplishments of the school and what could be done from there on out to further aid the community in Cambodia we had connected with. The work of the organization now reflects these new goals. It has now been three years since the first trip of Cambridge public school students and teachers to Cambodia. Now, there is another trip being planned for January 2014. I will be gathering corporate donations in the next few weeks for such fundraising allows for students who might otherwise not have the opportunity to travel to be able to experience a culture so different from their own whilst engaging with contacts in Phnom Penh who can better guide the organization to address education in rural Cambodia in efficient and viable ways.
Much of my work will be in relation to media. I will be launching both a Facebook and Twitter page so the project can truly be more viral. With the project based solely on the volunteer work of Cambridge residents it is often hard to communicate the little on-goings of the organization with the exception of quarterly newsletters. Having a Facebook page will change this and will allow for mass communication in a less-formal medium. In addition, updating the website which shares information from a few months ago will be a key part of my job. All of those who are part of the Cambridge Cambodia School Project do so as a volunteer. It is very hard to dedicate time to the small things, so much of my time will be spent doing these important but necessary tasks. This will allow for closer connection with not only the Cambridge community, but some of our international peers and contacts.
You never know what Bard students may be up to with their summers… So for any of those exploring South East Asia and the kingdom of Cambodia, The Cambridge School is located in Kauk Rovieng village, in the district of Cheung Prey and the Province of Kampong Cham! Feel free to visit! I hope everyone is enjoying their summers as a much as I am! Further updates coming soon…