December 7, 2019
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A Leap of Faith into Writing Through

In the last 30 years something, it’s uh, our
country has been destroyed and killed so many people. Everything has damage and we need to build up again, we need to. Yeah um, it’s sad actually. I think you always have to remember when
you think about Cambodia, the tragedy of the Khmer Rouge is never far behind. Pol Pot succeeded. Pol Pot’s aim was to create an agrarian society, a society of uneducated peasants, who just did what they were told and worked the land, that’s it. So then when that was done, and then the war of course continued into
the 80s into the 90s, who’s teaching the kids? The people who are teaching the
kids didn’t have any education themselves, who’s teaching the teachers? So it really would be impossible for this new generation, who is coming of age in the age of the internet, they know what is out there in the world. How can they learn to think creatively to become part of a modern world? My name is Rouen and I’m 22 years old. I was born in Banteay Meanchey province which is two hours away from Siem Reap, so my childhood was, was good. I, I used to work in a rice field, have my family, I have to get up early every day and I went to bed late, and get up early so it well it, it was, it was, it was tough it was difficult and it was a really good
experience as well. I didn’t really think about what is difficult and what is um, happine- uh-uh what is hard in life. The school in my hometown was not really great, I mean the it’s not a good quality school so um, I
mean that the teacher they, they don’t properly do the job like they, they
sometimes go to teaching and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they work in the rice
field or something like that, and my grandfather um, thought that, ay, why don’t you
come and live with me in, in, in Siem Reap, where you can have a better education,
better school, so I went to Anjali House organization in 2010, which is a really, really magical place And uh, I lived there for a few years and I learned so much, I learned so many different things and like photography um.. works- different
workshops, painting, drawing, writing and sports program and something like that
so it was really interesting. The Anjali House grew out of photojournalists, their own, they were new at that time but they were using a lot of creative people and supplementing their educational program with a lot of arts workshops. I think the one thing that has followed me throughout my life to this day, is that
I’m a writer so what that means is that I kind of imagine lives for myself and
for other people and because of that I’m not always completely in touch with
reality and that means that I’ve been able to do things that people generally
would think I wouldn’t be able to do. When I just stay at my, at my home I
don’t know English and when I, when I hear my friends talking in
English I really want to talk too. and, but when I come to Anjali they teach me a lot. And I really have fun here and
especially I, before I don’t love, I don’t like poem or story or writing
but uh, because I think writing a poem is very stressful and I’m
really scared when teacher said we have poem today but when I studied with Sue, she’s
very beautiful and great teacher. I started this program before it was Writing
Through, when it was just my own workshop and I had the idea that I could run my
workshop for them, that program which is now called Writing Through and uses the
creative writing of poems and stories in English to develop conceptual thinking
and self-esteem. My particular program, it’s something that you can see. We provide this workshop which is five different sessions over five days, where we come in using English and a very specific pedagogy. We write group poems then individual poems, in English, working next to a local English teacher who acts
as a translator. As most of you know, my name is Sue and today we are going to do something that I love very much. And I know at the end of today, you will love it too! We’re going to write a poem all together. So, we have a theme that we agree on with
the school, we go in, we talk about the rules; there
are four of them: don’t think in the normal way, think with the back of your
head. Remember that words have sounds not only
ideas and don’t worry about making mistakes . No mistakes, don’t think and listen
right with your ears and that make me don’t feel scared, scared about the mistake and when I write with her I really have fun. And I don’t know, I have many ideas to write so I really
love her. We have our own very specific pedagogy, our own very specific
techniques that we use. They are techniques that I’ve seen used by a lot
of very good teachers in the West, things like brainstorming, and we have a
set of prompts, which will be visual, generally speaking: pictures. It’s new to me that you have to brainstorm, you have to sit in the class with some other students and then brainstorm ideas and and write it on the board and, and then
you, you kind of like – wow this is like, you got so many ideas! So then you can write, actually if you are alone writing yourself alone, you may not have so many
different ideas like that, so I think it’s really, really great. There are some NGOs whose program is
just a year long and then they’re training for a specific field, usually
hospitality, and then those kids go off and they get jobs so we’ll never see
those kids again. But there are other NGOs, other schools where they will have
one or two, each year, and sometimes we’l see the same kids and it builds. Expensive, not cheap, expensive So Helping Hands is a very
community-based project, we operate in the village of Prasad Cha,
we’re about 45 minutes away from the town of Siem Reap and we work in this
village. Um it’s uh, very rural, very isolated there’s no
electricity or running water in this village, and helping hands provides free
education in English and Khmer to about 300 students every year. Mr Noun, can
you come here. Uh, it’s not just only teaching them the language
but also to discipline them, to give them more knowledge about morals, it mean that
to teach them to be a good people in the society. “How are you?” “Very good thank you for asking” And they know how to share things, how to live together other than that we
introduce something like health and hygiene because in the rural area is really
limited of education, the knowledge about drinking water, how to use the clean
water, they just bring sometimes like that like the water from the stream and
teaching them how to wash their hands. And some just basic health and hygiene. We also have magic pencils, which at first was just a little gift that I wanted to give the students at Anjali when I came, it’s now turned into a talisman. It’s a pencil, it’s rainbow
colored, it says Writing Through on it and every student gets one. And we say to
them these pencils are magic, it’s like our own magic wands, it is a physical example of the connection that we are creating. It helps with the magic. I wrote so many good poems on that magic, it’s a great way to write with pencils because if you write with pen you cannot erase it so it makes it hard. So if you write with pencil it’s so easy and it’s really the right way to do it. One of the, one of the
most.. uuh.. impactful things is to see them with their magic pencils, that really does open up their.. it’s like a physical way of opening up the mind a little bit. Um I.. and I think it helps them, it gives them a little bit of confidence in terms of being creative and thinking about things in a different way. After we do poetry
then we do a group story day and then individual story day; out of all of those
writings we put together a magazine and then in the fifth session we coach the students on how to present your work, how to stand up in front of an audience
and show pride and not to go “he he he” like that all the time but to show pride,
to speak loudly. This is literally giving them their voice where they will each
stand up, announce their names, their age, in English and say I’m now going to read
my story to you or my poem and then read it in English. It’s all an adventure that you’ve never done before.
“Very good!” And all of that training goes to what we call the Big Event. People think that’s really just a party and the NGOs that we work with, the schools that
we work with, they don’t really understand until they see it that this
is actually not just a party it’s the most important thing of all. Hello everybody, my name is Vireak, I’m 20 years old
in this year. So now I would like to share my poem with all of you. So the title is
called Give Me Your Breath The cloud is like you. I am like the winds. I blow you up,
you eclipse the sun. You cover the sun to protect the earth. I feel like the earth that stays under you. You give me warmth from the sun. You give breath so I can live. You make me bright because you carry me. You are my life. You make me
happy. Chom Reap Sour, my name is Sarakk. I am the secretary director at PEPY
empowering youth and at PEPY we are working with young people to make sure
that they can reach their potential in the future. So we do have scholarship
project, dream management project, uh.. ICT and also English class. So I will say that it
is uh, fortunate PEPY because we got to know Writing Through,
through our friends and because PEPY focuses on building young people, building critical thinking skills in young people and we try different ways and
when we got to meet Writing Through they organized different workshop which is
promote that through writing and different things so and they came over and
provided training to the students and they like it very much and I can see the difference, is that maybe the first day
the student did not really talk much, express much but from time to time they could see different angle of their thinking so ya. So I think the first
year, I think we were all a little unsure, uhm, what to expect. It’s hard sometimes to
take really conceptual ideas and to put them into like a practical model some
way in a classroom. And certainly in a, in a culture or in this particular culture
where some of those concepts that we’ve talked about aren’t things that many
students this age would normally necessarily be aware of. Well you may
think that I’m stupid but I, I think uhm.. uhm we are in a very, in a developing country
and uhm, I think our country still need to go up and up and education is still and
we’re still learning a very basic like very, how do you say, in very poor way of educating students and people, so I think uhm, uhm
I’m sure that foreigner they, they, they learn a lot. They, they got really, really
good education and yeah and yeah uhm, I, I always believe that they, they know a lot
more than us and I’m quite happy for them to come, honestly. I think what we can do
is provide different ways of doing things, uhm.. provide different opportunities
for more training, more education, more.. just more uhm and then it’s up to them, it’s
up to, it’s up to each of us to make our own decisions about how we proceed. If we only focus on our idea, our local idea we, we are not able to develop our country to
be better, our people to be better and also the foreigners need to respect what
we say as well, we tell them as well and I think instead of telling somebody to do
something, like local people to tell each expats or to tell foreigners to do
something, or foreigners to tell us to do something, we should at least sit down and
tell the story, what it is and find the ways to work together, empower one
another. I think kids really love this kind of workshop. “Yeah.” To be honest it, it’s
not just a workshop actually, it’s.. see some, they, they write it and then they’re proud of
themselves standing in front of people and read their works. It is amazing really. We are asking our students to do something that’s very difficult and very frightening: to write in a creative way, in a language that they are not
comfortable in in a culture where they are more likely to be taught to push down their feelings. not to express them. To just cover it up and go. And very
often not because we’re trying to do anything therapeutic but it’s in the nature of the work that emotions come out, experiences come out. I think a
really, really important part of their education it’s not just.. learning your
ABCs and your one, two, threes it’s also about life skills and I think this is a really
critical piece in helping to strengthen those life skills in that critical
thinking and creativity. It’s not about writing at all, it’s about
themselves to use to improve their critical thinking skills and
communication as well as confidence because when they join the workshops, they
write, they present and they share their own thinking. The right thing, the Writing
Through workshop is.. uhm.. it’s not just a workshop, you know, it’s.. it’s uhm.. it’s
something else as well, something new you can learn and it’s fun and uh.. you can write
about your feelings and uhm.. uhm.. it’s uhm.. it’s like waking you up from death, you know it’s
like a power or energy drink to uhm.. to kick your arse and kick your arse and then, and get
up and do things and you know don’t be afraid of it. I think it’s, it’s kind of
like a part for me, something that for me to believe and keep in mind that, uhm.. just
believe in yourself and do it.

Otis Rodgers