PEPY & COVID: The Importance of Community & Lessons Learned
Just like many other individuals and organizations around the world, the PEPY team was really nervous and concerned for our community at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We often thought:
How will be able to reach and effectively teach students through social distance learning?
Will our students and team be safe during these outbreaks?
Will we be able to continue getting the resources and support to continue our projects?
How will we support each other and keep each other motivated while we work apart?
We learned this past year that through our local and international partnerships, we can face the most difficult challenges and even emerge as a stronger organization. By believing in our work, our community kept us mentally strong while we adapted our organization to the new realities of Siem Reap’s changing economy and prospects.
Maintaining the quality of our programs was made possible through our active learning and sharing with other NGOs and local organizations, as well as our partners that ensured that youth were still able to attend classes.
Lida Loem from SHE Investments, an organization that provides business training, mentoring and financing for women entrepreneurs in Cambodia, provided a workshop for our team to improve our ability to give online lessons to students. Lida is a former PEPY team member who has stayed in touch with us and has been instrumental in helping us keep our students engaged.
In addition to Lida, our PACT partners also provided training and support through their network to make sure we were using the best tools available for online learning. iHerb Charitable Foundation and our Bright Lab monthly donors supplied our students with the IT resources to make continued connectivity possible by allowing us to use their tablets and providing students with laptops this year.
Without grant partners and community partners, our projects reach and quality would have been very limited. One of our core values is learning and sharing, and the constant exchange of knowledge has served us well this pandemic.
Keeping our students safe was made possible by several local and international partners. Through the support of GoPhilanthropic and SE Asia Foundation, PEPY was able to give scholars and Dream students’ families in need emergency support and care packages so that students and their families were still able to prioritize education. When our offices could welcome students, Eco Soap Bank’s affordable soap bars helped us keep high standards of hygiene so we could afford hand washing stations, masks, and thermometers.
When COVID-19 first hit, a chief concern was also how we would be able to continue gathering support and resources for our organization. We knew that times were tough around the globe and we felt uncomfortable asking for donations when the world was in crisis. We are honored to have individual donors and funding partners who prioritized our work and helped us expand to better meet the needs of our community.
Child’s Dream NGO, iHerb Charitable Foundation, Rotary Club in Phnom Penh, and Irish Aid in Vietnam committed funds to us and our work, keeping our core programs secure. USAID’s PACT We Act Project, understood that we needed to add more staff and another project to better support economic development in Siem Reap. Through our partnership with them, the Youth Innovators’ Space and Incubator (YISI) Program was initiated so that we could create a future of job seekers and job creators in Siem Reap. In the beginning of 2020, we were focused on maintaining our organization and never imagined we would be in a position to expand. We appreciate that PACT believed in us and thought our objectives were worth investing in.
Perhaps most importantly, all these fast paced changes and new plans caused the team an incredible amount of stress! At times, we were not sure we would be able to handle all of these changes effectively and COVID-19 was taking an emotional toll on all of us.
We were concerned about friends and family around the globe and also were having a hard time managing our own anxieties.
Friends, peer coalitions, and prioritizing our mental health needs really made an incredible difference for us. As an organization we stepped up our outreach and dedicated more time to talking with the former and current PEPY community than ever before. During the weeks we would have group video calls with former staff which gave the team and our old friends a wonderful opportunity to reminisce and remind them and ourselves what makes our organization such a special place to work. The former team members also felt really good to interact with us and learn about the major changes in our team and program. Partners like DPETNS, gave us levity during hard times by continuing our culture exchanges with students in Ireland. For our students and teachers, having supportive and positive exchanges sometimes makes all the difference after a difficult week.
Peer coalitions, like 3PC network, provided us a forum and space to share where we are struggling and we could offer ideas and support to one another. Across the board we were finding that financial literacy is a profound issue and challenge and by working as a collaborative entity we are better positioned to identify the best solutions, best trainers, and consider how we can work on systematic changes. We have found that transparency is our best friend and a key to better serving our students. We prefer to explain when things are going wrong than pretending everything is right because that is when our peers and community are able to best provide resources and ideas.
Through it all, we have been exceptionally fortunate to receive the support that we have had from so many groups and individuals. We are doing our best to take care of ourselves and each other but it is an incredible feeling to know how much care and love that we have just a call or click away. We have learned that reaching out and checking in is more important than ever, and hope this encourages other organizations and individuals to do the same!