An exchange of learning, ideas, and inspiration

Monday, May 2015
by Dana Bidnall

In late 2013 we established an educational partnership with Donabate Portrane Educate Together National School (DPETNS), part of the Educate Together National School system in Ireland. Since then, members of Balbriggan Educate Together National School (BETNS) have also become involved in the partnership.

The partnership works to enhance the teaching and learning of the “Learn Together” curriculum at the ETNS schools involved. It also helps develop the educational programs at PEPY Empowering Youth through reciprocal learning and cultural and educational exchange. Additionally, it provides an opportunity to empower both Irish and Cambodian students to play an active role in being global citizens.

DPETNS2014

In July 2014, three teachers from Ireland came to Siem Reap and spent three very valuable weeks with the scholarship students learning, teaching, and collaborating. During this time we decided a great way to strengthen this partnership, and to extend even further learning in both countries, would be to have four representatives from the PEPY Empowering Youth Learning Center and staff team visit Ireland in a reciprocal learning exchange in April 2015.

Last month, after many months of planning, four representatives— scholarship students Channa and Ronouch and staff members Manin and Kimsru—traveled to Ireland for a three-week exchange visit.

On April 19, very excited, and a bit nervous, the team boarded the long flight to Ireland. After many hours of travel, including stops in Kuala Lumpur and Paris, they arrived at Dublin airport to a very warm welcoming committee.

welcome

They settled in with their first host families. Over the course of the three weeks, each stayed with two to three different host families, getting to know family members and experiencing everyday life in Ireland.

All were introduced to students at DPETNS and BETNS via school assemblies and received a welcome of songs and hearty round of applause. A few days later, a coffee morning was held at which our representatives gave a presentation about education in Cambodia and the purpose and benefits of our educational partnership.

We were honored to have Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality and Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht with special responsibility for Equality, New Communities and Culture and Drugs Strategy Aodhán Ó Riordáin attend the event. In addition, we welcomed Irish National Teachers’ Organization Deputy General Secretary Noel Ward and Assistant General Secretary Billy Sheehan as well as parents and teachers.

The team also made presentations to students at both DPETNS and BETNS about Khmer culture. Manin found that “the students were very interested to hear about Khmer culture, including the Buddhist religion and about weddings, and asked many questions. Also, the students taught their parents the Khmer greeting, and when we met the parents they greeted us like this also.” Indeed, all of our representatives were very touched to be met with the traditional greeting when meeting students and parents for the first time.

greeting1In being exposed first-hand to the education system in Ireland, Kimsru noted that “education between Cambodia and Ireland is hugely different. I think parents in Ireland play a very crucial role in helping their children’s learning from a very young age. Here in Cambodia, parents do not involve much in their children’s education. It’s hard as some parents are not educated and the education system today is completely different from the previous education system they used to have.”

A trip to Galway, a city on Ireland’s scenic west coast, was a big highlight for all, especially seeing the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. Considering the much cooler temperatures in Ireland as compared to Cambodia, everyone agreed while the ocean was beautiful, it was much too cold for swimming!

Atlantic

Other highlights included an introduction to Irish music and dancing; visiting Malahide Castle and Gardens and Newgrange, a prehistoric monument; exploring Dublin; visiting educational institutions such as Dublin City University; and simply spending time with Irish friends both old and new.

Ronouch especially liked all the parks and greenspaces throughout Dublin. “They have many parks that are very beautiful. They have playgrounds for the children and there is no rubbish.”

Of the many sights seen and activities participated in, one stood out for Channa: “One of my favorite things in Ireland was going to Croke Park Stadium to watch a football game. I’d only ever seen football played on a small field and never in a big stadium. We also had popcorn.”

The trip and our educational partnership also attracted the attention of a national TV station who filmed some of the activities taking place and provided a background of the partnership. Watch the video here (the segment on the partnership starts at 1:37).

The last day of the visit was designated as Cambodia Day, a day to celebrate the partnership, and consisted of an 5-kilometer fun run for both children and adults where participants ran through all the countries between Siem Reap and Dublin as demonstrated by the many country flags. Yvonne O’Brien, Senior Executive Librarian with Fingal County Council and Barbara Wilson with Irish Aid’s Development Education Unit also visited the festivities.

 

funrunThat evening was a social night with traditional Irish music and dancing, raffle prizes, and reminiscing over the past three weeks—a wonderful day to end a wonderful visit.

The three weeks went remarkably quickly with everyone involved sad to see Channa, Ronouch, Manin, and Kimsru go but energized and inspired by their time spent together and for the future of the partnership. Our team returned to Cambodia full of stories and memories to last a lifetime.

So what’s next for the partnership? In July we are very excited to host five teachers from DPETNS and BETNS and continuing to learn and grow from one another. And beyond that? Stay tuned! We really can see this partnership go from strength to strength!

A big thank you to our sponsors in Ireland who provided a grant solely for a reciprocal learning exchange in order to make this wonderful experience possible: The Irish National Teachers Organization, Donabate Credit Union, and Fingal County Council.