Empowered Individuals: Genocide and Poverty Hasn’t Beat Cambodians
By Michael Demas - August 18, 2017

Man Kind is leading the way in modern education. No, that isn’t some lofty but empty phrase about humanity. This guy’s name is actually Man Kind. He runs a program in Cambodia that does more than educate.

The schooling instills the drive to do something meaningful. The education empowers youth to take ownership of their life circumstances. If they don’t like the situation into which they were born, Man Kind will help them realize they can change it.

In the rural communities of Cambodia, social mobility isn’t at the forefront of many people’s minds. There are few opportunities to seize, particularly without access to meaningful education. More often than not, hardworking rural families are resigned to their socioeconomic foothold. Despite this sad reality, there are individuals hard at work to raise their communities beyond their modest means.

As you read this, there works a small group of industrious Cambodians who are improving their community. The Human-Resource Development and Language Foundation (HDLF) is a local grassroots NGO. They teach English and IT classes while incorporating motivational and character-building exercises.

Man Kind is the local community member who leads the organization. Their methods educate the local community in a practical way. They also provide opportunities for higher learning and employment, all at a minimal cost to clients.

There is climbing demand for English classes, especially in these rural areas, but a severe lack of investment. As of 2014 the Cambodian government spends 1.9% of its GDP on education. There is a shortage of teachers, and most split their time between teaching at public institutions and private schools.

They can’t sustain themselves on a public teacher’s salary alone. Most rural areas can’t readily offer the opportunity for a secondary income. The result is that most teachers do not just prefer, but need to work in urban areas to continue providing their valuable service.


How Did We Get Here?

There are several reasons for Cambodia’s severe lack of development. It would be remiss not to mention the brutal communist rule of the Khmer Rouge during the mid to late seventies. Pol Pot, wanted to fundamentally restructure Cambodia. He ushered in a collectivized “utopian” agrarian society in the mid to late 1970s.

The Khmer Rouge deported all foreign nationals and ordered a mass exodus from all cities. They pushed the population into the countryside. They abolished money, private property, and executed anyone who was a perceived threat to the state. This largely included intellectuals, politicians, doctors, and teachers. The Khmer Rouge even considered eyeglasses a sign of former oppression.

The Khmer Rouge starved the population as they forced them to do laborious farm work under harsh conditions. Their utopian dream turned into a genocide. It wasn’t until the party collapsed, and the Vietnamese occupied Cambodia, that the madness subsided.

Yet still, the atrocities continued well into Vietnam’s occupation. Between 1.7 and 2 million people died, roughly a quarter of the population at the time. Nearly an entire generation was eradicated, and the culture all but torn from its roots. Cambodia needed to begin its development efforts anew.

A Reason To Move On

This is where HDLF provides some genuine hope. The NGO incorporates Dr. Madenjit Singh’s internationally recognized ‘Science of Language’ holistic training program. During the day, local teachers volunteer to teach basic English to primary school students. In the evening, they go over more advanced courses with teenage students, who attend these classes after their traditional education in a public school. These intermediate students learn by reading stories and speaking about motivational topics.

The main idea is to teach these kids how to identify their habits, goals, aspirations, and inspiration. They do this in English, and stand up to present their own understanding of these stories to the whole class. They focus on identifying negativity in their lives and how to overcome a fatalistic mindset.This improves their English

This improves their English comprehension, but also shifts their fundamental view of the world. It may not sound conventional by western standards. But it can provide life changing empowerment to students who never understood the individual’s ability to improve their own life.

Students who are faithful to this program emit a palpable sense of confidence. Teachers, as well as the international volunteers, feel the change.

“The energy here is very powerful,” says Program Director Juan Antuna Ros. “The moment you enter the school, you’re surrounded by all this eagerness to learn. It’s infectious… new students see the older students speaking English comfortably with international volunteers and that motivates them to keep studying and build up their confidence.”

To break the cycle of poverty, the key is to make adults and children alike realize that the cycle does not have to apply to them. They harbor a powerful freedom that waits to be realized.

“Someone who’s not educated is basically limited. It’s almost as if they’re walking through life with a blindfold on. They’re easily led astray, used and manipulated for other people’s agenda, usually people with a better education and greater access to resources.”

The curriculum implements this holistic perspective shift by asking students very subjective questions about their personal mentalities. This model demands a reader’s interactivity. There is no memorizing vocabulary by rote repetition. The students here must be active in analyzing their own personal lives using English. In this way, their English lessons don’t just cover the basics of the language, but the framework for their own personal success.

Consider the implications. Let’s imagine you spend your days helping your family on the farm. You do manual labor using the same age-old methods passed down through the generations. Your neighbors, friends, and community all do the same thing, all without any opportunity or reason to improve their situation.

Then, all of a sudden, you begin to study a language, which helps you understand that you are the master of your own destiny. A door has been opened. To walk through, you must keep learning and engage in the principles you’re studying. Incorporating this life-changing and transmittable enthusiasm is what keeps this school running.

Where The Road Leads

Education alone is not the answer to a region defined by poverty. The ultimate goal is being able to provide tangible opportunities to a better-educated community. HDLF has recently teamed up with the Malaysian government’s Volunteering for International Professionals (VIP) Fellowship Programme.

The partnership aims to provide a 4-month fellowship for international professionals to apply their expertise in a local context. The goal here is to create career pathways and provide support services that allow graduates to access relevant job opportunities and build a meaningful career with English as the foundation.

HDLF also has mechanisms for trainees to become teachers. In fact, one of its trainees actually taught English to his own childhood teacher. Students see the clear and evident trajectory that their studies materialize. The teachers are the perfect examples, as they seek more than just a paycheck. They realize that the path to a brighter future is a delicate opportunity. If they can provide the necessary skill set, these kids will excel in their higher learning and get a decent job to provide for themselves and their families.

Right now, HDLF is building a new school down the road from its current location. The classes are in such high demand that the students for the new school are already being instructed in a temporary learning center near the construction site. With 3 classrooms and an IT center underway, the future looks bright for this NGO.

This large undertaking has opened the door for international volunteers to come and be a part of this good cause. Their presence has helped expedite the construction while keeping costs low. It provides an opportunity for the students to learn and talk with native English speakers.

Each day that passes is another day closer to building Man Kind’s new facility for higher learning.

“My great grandparents, my grandparents, my parents, all of them were farmers. But now, I can start to change the story of my life. So I ask my students, if I can do it, why can’t you?”

His students regularly attend his classes, so many that there is almost a lack of seats. Despite the sweltering heat or the torrential rain, they attend class and study with fervor and intention.

“I work long hours, but I never feel tired, because I can see the smiling faces of our kids. They begin to feel confidence. They tell themselves, ‘yes, I can do it, I can learn. I can be anybody I want.’ That’s the best feeling of my life.”


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