The stars aligned at the beginning of the year when myself, along with two other board members and our CEO, Suzanne, were fortunate to be able to visit the Shine Cambodia project site all at the same time. When we arrived at the school in the rural village of Otres, we were greeted with open arms, hugs and huge smiles from the principle Piseth and his students. I could see by their reaction of appreciation to our presence that the work we had been doing from Australia was much needed and not to be underestimated. It was so wonderful to see the project and people (that I already felt a connection to) operating on the ground level.
For the next few weeks we had an extremely full schedule, at times exhausting but very rewarding. We met with our dedicated new project manager, the Khmer and English teaching staff, volunteers, local and expat communities and businesses and got to work collaborating on Shine’s mission and somewhat overwhelmingly large agenda!
One of the biggest jobs was to help with community surveys alongside our social impact partner, Huber Social – a company that measures impact to prove and improve complex social issues – the collection of information would later help direct our order of priorities for best usage of funding and also show immediate local concerns. This gives us a greater understanding of current community feelings, attitudes and needs. A few areas that we identified immediately as barriers to local education was the need for more teaching staff and teacher retention (due to our growing demand and wait list for students), the need for reliable transportation to and from school, nutrition, and medical requirements for the children. Another crucial area is the need to source and create a local Cambodian advisory board that the Australian board could communicate with directly and have immediate feedback on project ideas, concerns and needs from a local Khmer point of view and involvement. A job we were able to tick off the list not long after our return.
One of our mentoring charities – M’Lop Tpang (which provides support for vulnerable local children and their families) operates out of Sihanoukville and we were lucky to get a chance to visit their headquarters during the trip. They were able to put us in touch with valuable resources and connections as well as providing information to help us model our organisation closely on their recipe for growth and success. I believe that one of the most important values of Shine is that we are not trying to re-invent the wheel. By listening to the local people and by adopting structures implemented by other charity organisations that are proven to work we can better understand where our efforts are needed and how to efficiently improve the lives of our beneficiaries in the developing world.
One of my many highlights from the trip- a collaboration between supporting organisations and donors- “One brush”, “Cambodian Clean Water” and “The Giving Wheel” along with some very special (and appreciated) volunteers, saw our Shine school get a make-over while we were in town! The kids were taught how to “paint by numbers” and with instruction by “One Brush” teachers they transformed their average classrooms into a bright, happy wonder learning environment. To see how proud the kids were of their newly transformed learning and growth space reminded me of the importance of a positive learning environment and the power of education- and the ripple effect that has in our world.
Although we still have a long way to go, the efforts of Shine and the organisation’s supporters are more than appreciated and very much needed. Visiting Cambodia and seeing the results of our efforts so far was an extremely special and rewarding experience. It is indeed true that when we share and help others to better their lives, that our own lives become richer.
Article By Emma Stephens
Shine board member
Head of International Engagement