#7 Grant Vermeer.
Greetings from Phnom Penh, Cambodia! The past two days we have been at a local university, PUC, attending a conference on International law and development. The conference was totally student run and had all student presenters. 6 different universities were in attendance including a group from a Korean University who has been traveling with us for the past week. I had the wonderful opportunity to help present “Navigating the global economy: issues and implications for development” at the conference.
The conference truly changed my understanding of development. As westerners it is very easy to assume that our model for development is the best model or to assume that we know what is wrong and how to fix it. A text book can only teach so much. Over the past two days, through presentations, discussions, and interactions, I really had my eyes opened to the many layers and levels that come with development issues.
During the conference I learned so much about Cambodian culture, history, and the direction the country is headed in. It was truly a blessing and a wonderful opportunity to be able to interact and talk with local students about their perspectives about development in Cambodia. I was very surprised how freely the local Cambodian college students admitted their country is somewhat corrupt, needs major reform, and needs outside help. During our discussions and the presentations I felt that I came out with more questions than answers. Development is a very controversial subject. Everyone agrees it needs to happen, but everyone has different opinions on what areas needs to change, how it can happen, what is the best way, and to what extent.
One of the areas I discussed with the local students heavily was the education system. Leaving the conference and actually getting a chance to reflect on this topic makes me feel very blessed but also angry. Even though our education system in the US isn’t always great and has it’s problems – the problems are nothing compared to here. I want to touch just ONE of the problems we talked about with their education program;
Teachers are only paid $30 a month to teach high school. This gives them little to no motivation to actually show up to school on a regular basis and be passionate about their work. Many teachers work at other jobs on the side and skip class to make extra money. After each grade the Cambodian students must pass a government issued test in order to move onto the next grade. The students are only in school 4 hours per day, either in the morning or the afternoon (for two reasons, too many students and not enough schools and teachers needing time to earn extra income), so they don’t have time to fully learn everything they need to pass their end-of-year tests. In order to pass the tests the students pay the teachers (which most students cannot afford) to stay for extra hours to teach them the material they need to conquer the test.
This is just one small example of one of the problems we discussed at the conference. It was truly a blessing to be able to hear from the Cambodian students about what they want development to look like in their country and what they want to see change in their lifetime. It was also very humbling to have them ask us for input on how we think their country can best work through certain issues.
All in all these past two days have been non-stop real world learning. Not only did we learn much about development and Cambodia, we learned just as much about different cultures. We learned how to respect, interact, and work side by side with students from the other side of the world. We ended the conference tonight with a banquet that included eating, singing, dancing, sharing parts of our cultures, and making new friends.
As we danced the night away with all of the students from the conference I was struck with a sense of pure bliss. Even though we represented 6 universities and 5 countries, we are no different from each other. Deep down past our different accents, origins, and skin colors, we are all very similar. We all have passion, we all see the hurting in the world, and we all want to make a difference.
We are unified in the fact that we are striving and will succeed to change the world.