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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

COE Abroad: Finding Hope in the Youth of Cambodia

CFD student Grace Megginson

By Grace Megginson 
Child and family development major 

The Mundt Peace Fellowship allowed me and eight other San Diego State University students to spend eight weeks working as interns in various NGOs in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. After traveling and working in Cambodia for two months, I discovered so much about the beauty of Cambodia, the Khmer culture, and its history, riddled with both suffering and resilience.

The scars of the Cambodian genocide, in which an estimated two million Cambodians were killed by the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s, are still apparent. Everyone who lived through it lost someone they knew or loved, and never saw justice for the crimes committed against them. This history is essential to understanding a country that now faces extreme poverty, government corruption and tourism that is actually hurting many Cambodians.

Yet, despite all of this suffering, the Khmer people that I got to know were extremely kind, warm, funny, and strong. The physical beauty found in the mountains, beaches or islands of Cambodia is paralleled by the spirit and tenacity of its people.
The boys are capable of learning so much, they just needed someone to show them that they are.                                  —Grace Megginson
A wonderful example of the way Cambodians have stepped up to provide hope for the country is the People Improvement Organization (PIO), a non-profit school that provides schooling and care to impoverished children and teenagers who would likely not receive an education otherwise. Anyone who enters knows what a special place PIO is.

The Mundt Peace Fellowship provided me and my teaching partner, Sam Hagos, the opportunity and challenge of teaching 70 first grade boys at PIO for eight weeks, and there are few words to describe what that experience meant to both of us. The obvious obstacles, such as language barrier, large class size, and limited access to resources, made the job very challenging. However, we both found it so easy to form relationships with these children and get to know each of their personalities and strengths. Once we established a daily routine, as well as a respect and rapport with the boys, we saw their confidence in their ability to learn English improve remarkably along with their persistence and test scores.

The boys are capable of learning so much, they just needed someone to show them that they are. Sam and I learned so much from these energetic, hilarious, hard-working, and joyful students. We feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to be their teachers.