Sunday, June 12, 2011

Home is Where the Warmth is

   Well it's been over 2 months since I last posted, if anyone cares, apologies.  No excuse other than feeling busy and being a lazy blog writer. I was also in the States for a month and it didn't make too much sense to blog and we were so busy there (a year's worth of social engagements in 3 weeks).  The trip to the States was fun and it was great to see folks.  A BIG thanks to family and friends who put us up and put up with us.  Folks were so very kind and generous to treat us to meals out and home cooked.  And let us borrow their cars so we could get around in the rain and cold.  The weather could have been a bit warmer and drier.  In any case we had wonderful and precious times with family and friends.  And we saw our son Dylan get married in the Bahamas, a relaxed mellow 3 nights there. Congrats to Dylan and Alanna!  Difficult to say to say when we'll make it back to the USA, we hope we convinced some folks to visit us in Cambodia.

  And going 'home' to the States and coming back to Siem Reap really made me feel like SR is home now.  It's been a little over a week and it is just so good to be back.  Nothing against Vermont, it is such a very beautiful state, and I do genuinely miss seeing my friends and family.  Yet as I said I'm home.  I can ride my bike again, eat grilled fish, mangoes and other tropical fruits, lay in the hammock, drink cheap beer, (but oh I miss the microbrews), and sweat.  I realize I like to sweat and much prefer hot to cold weather.  Perhaps it's my southern Italian and Puerto Rican heritage.  Good also to be back hanging out with Jaz and Sovann.  And the US is so damn expensive, it's good to be back to the 3 and 4 dollar entrees and 50 cent drafts.

   Shortly before we left for the US I had pretty much made the decision to leave my morning work at New Hope.  I am surprised I was there for so long, I just fooled myself into thinking some change would happen, eternally the optimist.  It became clear that would not happen and in fact things were getting worse.  I'm including in this post my resignation letter.  So my work there ended last week.  It was definitely the right decision.  This was reinforced when 50 more kids were added to the program a week or so before I returned, doubling the numbers, in the PS/K class I was in.  As usual this was done without forethought as to the impact on kids or staff.  There was no planning or discussion with staff.  And of course no registration of the kids.  I know this because I asked the 'director', teachers and volunteers. Unfortunately it's pretty typical as to how they operate.

   I've come to realize I should rethink the work I do here.  I've recently talked to folks who have been doing work here for a number of years and have also read some insightful pieces about volunteering in 3rd world countries.  Working with young children is my passion and I can understand why folks want to help.  However it should be well thought out.  For example is it necessarily a good thing when someone volunteers for a couple of weeks or even a month?  One can form attachments to kids and more importantly the reverse happens and then one suddenly leaves.  And this can happen to a child over and over.  Think abandonment issues might be in play here?  Those issues are already at play especially when talking about so called 'orphanages'.  I was naive as the next person, but I'm learning.

  So I've been encouraged to use my knowledge and experience in a more useful way and with more thought towards sustainability.  In other words for example teach and support the Khmer teachers and impart information where needed.  Which means avoid direct teaching/caregiving.  I'm still trying to figure out what this means for my work here.  However there are 2 places already where I may be able to help the teachers.  Sangkheum Center has been in Siem Reap for 10 years and has a good rep.  I am hoping to do some teacher training around child development and childcare.  Another place, a new school with 15 3-5 year olds has asked for some advice/support from me.  I've already ready brought them some preschool materials and books.  Which made me think about the 'toy van' that was in place in Burlington.  It would go to childcare centers loaning toys/materials on a rotating basis.  I have lots of 'stuff', perhaps I could start a 'toy bike' thing.  Hmm I'll have to bounce that idea off Jess.

  There is also the possibility of supporting the Social Work program at Angkor Hospital for Children.  Both Jess and I are talking to them, it certainly would be fun to work with Jess again.  I am still volunteering at AHC, working directly with kids.  What's up with that after all I've stated?  For now I am justifying that because the kids I see I usually only see once as they are waiting to see the doctors and I'm just relieving their boredom.  Khmers work with the in patient kids.  Like I said I'm still struggling with what is best for me to do here.

  I am back to enjoying the great fresh food here but have only been able to play tennis twice.  I got whopped both times.  My game suffers when I take a break, stamina goes and I'm just off a bit.  And I gained weight in the States.  Nevertheless it was great to get on the court, I only played once in the USA, thanks Ted.  Unfortunately I don't have my membership at Raffles anymore.  I will most likely join another hotel that has courts  Nice courts and I'm hoping to find a 'partner' to join with as a couple as it's much cheaper.  I miss playing already.

 Thanks again to all back in the US for everything.  COME VISIT, you'll love it!  Below is my letter of resignation.

  To whom it may concern,
   To make it simple I am leaving New Hope because of the poor management and lack of knowledge  regarding the education of children displayed by Kenneth.
    For those interested I want you to know why I’m leaving New Hope after 8 months of volunteering 5 mornings a week.  From the start it was apparent that there was a lack of knowledge of what is effective in teaching young children.  After a few months it was obvious that Kenneth’s autocratic and poor  management style and a lack of knowledge of education in general was hampering any efforts for changes.  Input from teachers and staff is not valued and communication with staff is poor at best.  I respect and like the teachers and the support staff at NH.   The relationships I was forming with the children made it difficult to end my work there. I struggled for months over whether I should stay or leave but now I find I can no longer tolerate these deficiencies and any hope for change seems even more remote.  It is not a place I can take pride in being a part of.  Below is a sampling of events leading me to this decision. 
-       As recent as last month I was told children as young as 3 should be in chairs at tables to learn (young children learn best through child directed play)
-        ‘Weekly’ meetings with teachers happen once a month at best
-       Teacher and volunteer concerns about student registration, assessments and placements have continually been raised but never adequately addressed 
-       Class sizes doubled or increased by 1/3 overnight without any discussion before or after as to the impact of the increases on students or teachers
-       Two special events happened combining all the classes without discussions or planning with teachers ( it would have taken little effort to avoid the chaos that occurred)
-       A teacher who has been there 6 months has been assigned to 3 different classes with 3 sets of students  (consistency and a relationship between teacher and student is key to learning, any decent educator knows this)
-       I’ve had children pulled randomly from my class to move up to a higher grade without consulting me or my fellow Khmer teacher as to which child is the most ready to move up
-        No effort is made to have activities for the girls and younger children when the older boys play football on Fridays ( many volunteers over the past 8 months have made doable suggestions)

-       Months ago a good feedback survey was developed by a volunteer for volunteers to fill out after the end of their stay and was never distributed  ( apparently input and feedback is not wanted)
   I’m writing this to clarify why I need to leave.  I want to thank all who have been helpful and welcoming to me.
                                                                                                                           Steve Mojica