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PEPY Empowering Youth: An Irish-Cambodian Partnership

Duth Kimsru is a 2016 Irish Aid fellow studying at DCU. Here she tells the story of a special partnership between her organisation at home and a school in Dublin which first began in 2013 and has been changing lives in Cambodia and in Ireland ever since

PEPY Empowering Youth (PEPY) and Donabate Portrane Educate Together National School (DPETNS) have been partnering since 2013 to provide the best learning experiences for children and young adults both in Ireland and Cambodia. This partnership started with a parent in DPETNS, Nadine Ferris France, who urged DPETNS to look for a school in the developing world to partner with in order to expand the scope of the students’ learning. In July 2013, four Irish teachers travelled to Cambodia and visited many different organisations. When they arrived in PEPY in Siem Reap, they knew that, despite the age difference of the students (primary school in Ireland, young adults in Cambodia) that they had found a perfect match. Colm Byrne, one of the original teachers, returned to Cambodia in 2014 to volunteer with PEPY for a year and he is still living there! He is currently serving as a board member at PEPY.

From small beginnings that first summer, this partnership has grown and flourished. Both organisations been recognised by Ashoka, an Irish non-profit organisation that supports social entrepreneurs, as “Changemakers” because of their commitment to developing the skills of empathy, creativity, teamwork and leadership and their efforts to bring about systemic change in the world.

Human Rights Education is central to the ethos of both organisations. Both schools place a huge emphasis on the promotion of equality and justice by teaching about wants, needs, rights and responsibilities.

Students come from a variety of backgrounds and both schools promote respect and understanding for those of all beliefs and none.

These shared values underpin the many different activities and programmes undertaken. Activities have included cultural exchanges, summer learning programmes in Siem Reap, shared lesson plans on topics of mutual interest including positive mental health, climate change, identity, history, and goals/dreams. The partnership is built on strong principles of trust, reciprocity and equality and a formal review of the partnership with members from Ireland and Cambodia takes place every year to ensure reflection and set joint goals for the year ahead.

Each year, four Cambodians (two teachers and two students) come over to Ireland to teach and share their stories with students and teachers in different organisations. These trips are a two-way learning experience. PEPY staff and students learn about the Irish education system, teaching methods, and curriculum.

In March 2017, four Cambodians arrived in Dublin and were greeted with a warm welcome. They engaged with a number of different organizations while they were here.

During their visit the teachers and students improved their English communication skills, and their understanding of Irish culture through their home stays with Irish families. For all the students who came on the exchange program, it was their first time seeing the sea and their first time on an airplane. Sithong Pip, a PEPY scholarship student, was astonished when he first came out of the airport and he could see his breath. He had never before experienced temperatures so cold that he could see his own breath! You will find more about their trip in this video.

Similarly, four or five Irish teachers travel to Cambodia to teach for three weeks each year. The lessons are based on the PEPY students and staff’s requests/needs. For example, the students might need to learn about writing CVs and cover letters, preparation for job interviews, everyday math, while the staff might wish to learn different teaching techniques, lesson plans, curriculum development, organisational management and classroom decoration. Last year, two children, accompanied by a parent, joined the teaching team for one week in Cambodia.

These three weeks usually go by very quickly and the students get to experience different learning and teaching styles which make them more capable and more creative. Particularly, they can practice speaking English with native English speakers. To learn more about the activities of the program, please click here.

Throughout the partnership, DPETNS has been raising funds to support young Cambodian students to achieve a third level education. This is quite literally changing lives as the students get the opportunity to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

Relationships and friendships are at the heart of this partnership. The involvement of the whole community makes it particularly special. Many friendships have been forged that will undoubtedly last a lifetime. Almost everyone in Donabate is aware of the partnership and has heard about PEPY and Cambodia through their children or their neighbours. This year, more schools got involved. These exchange programmes could not have happened without the support of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, Irish Aid and the partnership communities, parents, and students. Thank you to everyone for being a part of the exchange.