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Future Plans Grow in Takeo

Future Plans Camp bloomed this past weekend from a seed planted six months ago. In early January, five PCVs in Takeo Province were asked by PC staff to create a new camp model for high school students in Cambodia. We came up with an idea that would hopefully inspire educational goals by asking Khmer professionals to share stories of their journeys with our students. Then, we asked the students to come up with their own future plans.

PCV Jacob Massy brought student teachers from the Provincial Teachers Training College (PTTC) to help wrangle 30 student leaders—six kids from five high schools—through a jam-packed weekend. Stephanie Tyree learned to type in Khmer in order to translate the agenda. Jenny Pisani led activities, such as the morning Macarena, and Andrew Stober was our go-to MC. I was court photographer and had the pleasure of leading the Vision Board activity with my counterpart Um Chetra. But, really the show belonged to our counterparts.

The program was an intense mix of information, games and activities, a bit of introspective assessment, and ultimately the student’s own plan for the future. However, the prestige of being chosen for FP Camp came with a stipulation: the student leaders agreed to pay-it-forward. They all left camp ready to teach their peers at school what they had learned.

Not all went according to our careful plans though. The afternoon monsoon on Friday decided to stay on through dinner raining out screening of the film Girl Rising that evening. (Undaunted, we rearranged the program to show it the next morning.) When we wrote The Rules together, students said, “Don’t be shy” and “Make new friends” So when someone would hesitate to speak up the others would say, “Remember the rules!” We loved their enthusiastic attitude.

The highlight of the weekend was our speakers. We asked an artist, a tour guide, a nurse, and two educators to speak about their passions and how they followed their dreams. It was Ted Talks Khmer style. Later, during final evaluations, everyone was asked to rate the speakers. Curiously, votes for the favorite speaker were fairly evenly distributed. We took that to mean that our speakers were universally appealing.

We asked our students to consider their strengths and skills. One interesting assessment was a list of qualities, such as: Accountability, Loyalty, Pleasure, Serenity, Tradition. From the list students chose ten qualities they saw in the speakers, then ten qualities they saw in themselves; we asked if they shared any words in common. The next step was to winnow the list down to their top five qualities in order of importance. In my group half chose the word Honor. Honor is a word that connotes respect, implies distinction and reputation. The way I interpret it, honor is a principal that is held in common within a group.

The word Integrity was high on my list, which is a kin to Honor, but not quite the same. Here is where I see the cultural divide. Integrity is a personal code. Integrity needs no witness. I see integrity as an individual quality, whereas honor belongs to the tribe. My word integrity aligns with my western world-view of individualism, whereas my Cambodian friends value collectivism and a mutual code of honor.

I felt proud to be in this honorable group that possessed its own sense of integrity. When we were making our list of rules, someone said, “Have respect for teachers” to which another amended it to “Have respect for EVERYONE.” Something we intend to remember as we go forward to make our future plans.

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