I mentioned in another post that the first of possibly several field visits was to happen in the third week of my internship. Now that I’m on my fourth week, it’s already taken place; it seems that this is as good time as any to talk about it!

AAC is part of a larger federation of country offices whose work is to collaborate with local partner programming (LRP) to implement its human rights based frameworks and projects. AAC provides guidance and training to our LRPs so that they can work directly with the communities they’re located, thus AAC staff visits the five target provinces often. This recent field visit centered on one of our partners in Oddar Meanchey, a province on the border with Thailand. We stayed in Samrong, and were about forty minutes away from the border (I know this because we went there one night to eat dinner at a casino… yup).

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Monday and Friday were travel days; it took about nine-ish hours to get there in our tiny white pickup truck, though my four colleagues and I also stopped along the way to eat, briefly visit Angkor Wat, and stretch our legs or rest in hammocks.

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I remember Dr. Thapa telling us in M&E one day that nothing is perfect… except for sunsets, of course. This saying couldn’t have felt truer as we neared Samrong. Because it is the rainy season, Cambodia gets briefly drenched during the afternoon and/or evenings hours. We had been traveling through such a downpour as dusk approached, and my 270-degree view included nefariously dark clouds spitting heavy drops of water on one side to a nascent rainbow nestled in lighter hues (in fact, throughout the journey, the sky showed an incredible range of styles). Yet as the rain began to let up, so did the cloud coverage, and suddenly sweeping over the entire sky was a gorgeous hue of rosy pink. I’m trying to remember exactly what I felt at that moment when we slowed down to enjoy this warm embrace, I think it was simply contentment. The moment was so brief, though; within seconds mauve took over and was then bested by slate blue as the storm decided it was not yet through with watering the ground.

Despite this refreshing reprieve from the long journey on the road, when we arrived in Samrong, I still felt wiped out from the travel, and quickly passed out in the hotel room hoping to recharge for the days ahead. In my opinion, the most exciting day was doubly-layered by travel and meetings. On Tuesday, the first full day in Oddar Meanchey, we spent our day understanding how much progress has been made by our partner organization on their AAC-sponsored projects (both education and land rights). We also conducted some training on developing school improvement plans (SIP) with the PRS research team, which includes members of the community and local officials. On Thursday, we reflected on the two days of training and moving forward. Sandwiched in the middle was a visit to Chhoeu Slap Primary School to facilitate the development of its SIP with the PRS team and our partner organization, along with parents, students, a teacher, and the school’s director. We also visited two Childrens’ Action Club (CAC) sites to see their progress.

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One of the school buildings. The SSC noted that infrastructure was the #1 priority for the school.
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SIP planning in progress.
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One of two CACs we visited. In addition to providing a space for mentorship and learning, this CAC will soon get a playground.

While my overarching task here was to observe how this local partner implemented the PRS framework, cached within it were my interviews with key stakeholders to inform case studies that I will be writing. I had spent the previous week developing questions for three groups – students, the school support committee (SSC), and education authorities – though the task didn’t come easily. Initially, I had expected a longer set of questions for each group to cover the broad span of the PRS framework (everything from infrastructure to culturally-responsive curriculum to discrimination), so when my supervisor told me that it would be best to ask only ten questions… Let’s just say that the questions had shift more broadly with the hope of containing nuance. Thinking back to my QMI course, in which we created our research questions, I tried to take advantage of the phrase in what ways and how does as much as possible. Here’s a smattering of my questions:

  • In what ways are community members involved in school decisions?
  • What are the specific challenges that children in this community face?
    • How are they being tackled, and by whom?
  • How does the CAC benefit children and the community?

During the interviews, my questions also first had to be translated into Khmer by my supervisor, who then had to translate the responses into English for me. I am grateful that he did that, and acknowledge the extra work involved. With only one day outside our partner organization’s office, I unfortunately couldn’t interview students (perhaps the one group I was most looking forward to speaking with), but I did get to speak with one SSC and two officials from the District Office of Education (DOE).* I’m now in the process of writing up the case studies; hopefully they turn out well.

You can also find a short write-up of the trip here.

2. PRS research team are being trained on how to facilitate for rights-based SIP
Members of the PRS research team receiving training on the SIP process.

*As you might have guessed, acronyms abound. I literally spent five minutes trying to find a document that cited the original name of at least two of these acronyms trying to remind myself what they stood for. C’est la vie.