Be the Change Network

aka "Kari's Blog"

Archive for May, 2012

Leadership Academy 101: How to Solve a Problem

May 04, 2012 By: Kari Category: General No Comments →

Our human resource development team began with 15 confused kids totally overwhelmed by the problems in their village.  Welcome to Leadership Academy 101 : How to solve a problem.

Unfortunately, the Cambodian rote education system does not teach anyone how to think strategically, only to memorize and repeat. So when I first asked each student about their dreams, blank stares masked their fear of not knowing the right answer.   Creating leaders from this raw material requires teaching them how to think.  This going to be a slow process but sine they are the first in their town to finish high school and go to college, only they can authentically represent the changes villagers must make in order to progress.  Now if we can just inspire these young people to  use their education in service to their community, the idea of sustainable schools just may stick.

The three day workshop in Phnom Penh started with getting to know the scholarship students, their interests and their dreams.   The discussion produced a very comprehensive Aural School District Program Model that each student inserted themselves into by placing a yellow dot on where they came from, a green dot on where they are now, and a red dot on they are going to be in the future.  I found out that we actually have scholarship students from five of the seven schools in Aural District.  If we are going to prove our model of school sustainability in a way that can impact the entire country we are going to have to succeed in the entire school district.

According to the students aspirations, we divided them into teams:  Education, Medical, Pollution, Corruption, Engineering and Market Research Action Committees were formed.   The kids begin to feel the safety of a structure and a plan, freeing them to ask questions.  The next day was all about SSI’s goals and aspirations.

Paul did most of the talking on day 2, taking the students step-by-step through SSI’s School Success Logic models to help them comprehend that they have a role in a process larger than themselves.   At the end of the day we wanted them to have an accurate answer to the question, “what is SSI,”  when someone asks where they got a scholarship.  To our amazement each one emphasized the goal and requirement to go back to their village and serve.  Who says teenagers don’t listen?

On the last day we talked about how to be effective volunteers and taught the action committees how to break down their problem into a goal, objective and a plan of action. Since this required a totally new way of thinking, we started with the Education Action Committee to engage the students in hands-on, real-life work.   They think they need to wait until they have completed a degree to take action.   There is no reason to wait, I told them.  “You are already the most educated people in your village,  you can take action now.”  They needed to know how.

I want to know how many children in the Aural School District do not attend school and why.   After working through a couple of simple but ineffective ideas, the students decided that the only way to answer that question accurately would be to go house-to-house and count heads.   This would be time consuming but they wanted to get the job done right.   They broke up into teams and assigned each one a primary school, then drew their own maps of the villages surrounding each school.  A rough estimate of village size meant they would have to walk to 2,000 houses.

The students made a simple survey of five questions to ask each household about their  income and education level. How many children do they have?  How many are in school? When did they drop out? Why?  Then, after explaining the three main policies of the Community Prosper Bank to gauge their interest they might proceed with another five questions about participating in that.

We bought clipboards, pens and identification badges, then we printed out the surveys and had the students practice conducting an interview.  By now they were adding their own ideas unsolicited, giving input, drawing out concerns and working through solutions.  It was amazing to watch them transform into empowered problem solvers.   They have until July 1 to complete the task but they all went home to their families for the Khmer New Year break ready to get started and contact as many homes as possible during their time off from school.

It might have been my proudest moment but that actually came later. Chanto, the top female student graduating high school this year, called to report that she had already surveyed 25 houses in Krang T’bien village where SSI does not yet support the school. She had interviewed a mother of eight children who had all dropped out of school because the teacher was absent often, she gave up on education all together.  When the mother realized that she had known Chanto when she was little, before her father died of tuberculosis, her eyes widened and she smiled.   She was impressed that Chanto was now educated, she had a clipboard and a survey; she could read and write, and she was here to help.  The children in the home gathered round and told Chanto that they really want to grow up to be an educated person like her.   Chanto told them they must stay in school no matter what and she told the mother we need her help to fix the problems at their school.   The mother agreed to help.

Chanto’s very presence and that of the other scholarship students conducting this population survey send a powerful message to these communities to believe in education.  We need their help as much as they need ours.




My Happy Place

May 03, 2012 By: Kari Category: General No Comments →

Getting a new school started on the road to sustainability is tough. I’m glad I get to go home to sleep in the guest house at Charuk Tiek, this is my happy place.   It’s everyone’s happy place.  A truly functional school, integral to village life, loved by its students, cared for by its teachers and supported by its community.   It’s like an oasis of joy in a sea of chaos.

While most rural schools cut the semester short as teachers and students stop showing up a week or two before the Khmer New Year break, Chrauk Tiek teachers continue to work through the curriculum on schedule, ensuring their students receive all the information they need for the year end test.   This behavior change is one of the many ways we effectively lower the age of 6th grade graduates by 2 or 3 years and eliminate the need to repeat grades.  Important because as a child ages into an able-bodied worker, they are more likely to drop out of school.

I’m struck by how capable the students are.  Khmer New Year is the biggest festival of the year and just like our schools at Christmastime, they have a holiday party on the last day of school.   But this is no ordinary party.   The children own it.   No parent volunteers bring treats and party favors.   Each class fund raises on their own, although families make less than a dollar a day, most students bring at least 500 reil (13 cents).   Some bring chickens, or rice, or garlic and vegetables.  Others collect firewood.

I watch a class of third and fourth graders proceed to make a giant vat of chicken bau bau (rice soup).   While some boys build the cooking fire, others slit the chicken’s throat with a machete, save the blood to cook it, boil the chicken and plucked it.

The girls dice veges to add to the broth and smash garlic cloves with a clever to quickly stir fry with chilies for the condiment.  Their teacher simply stirs the cauldron and doles out instructions which these 8 to 10-year-olds have no problem completing with precision. Amazing.   Everyone brings their own bowl, nothing disposable, once the meal is devoured they clean up after themselves.   No custodian to take care of the mess.  Could a class of American 10-year-olds  do this, is there a principal out there who would even let them try?

The “big food” is followed by games.  First up, a sack race using the rice bags from the World Food Program.   I won the female teachers race!

Next is the clay pot smash, involving 400 students and only 2 claypots with not nearly enough balloons and candy treats.  Its a mosh pit in there!

Awards for attendance and top academic performance are given,  balloon smashing games of different varieties and of course the Karaoke stereo blasts dance music at a deafening volume.

White baby powder “blessings” are smeared on face to face.   Squeals of laughter fill the day.

For many of the poor students whose families cannot afford to celebrate New Year, this is their only chance to enjoy their culture’s biggest event of the year.

Charuk Tiek is a happy place, it is a functional place, and it’s obvious why the children love school.  Given the alternatives in this environment, who wouldn’t?  And that is why an attractive environment is central to our model’s success – so that children love school.   Once that gets going the teachers, community and government can’t help but respond.   The truth of it is clear and obvious, a functional school brings happiness,  happiness sprouts into hope and hope ignites change.

Happy Khmer New Year  everyone!!