Well, the final week is over, and I have two days to go before I leave Cambodia. Cue the sentimental music? Well… Though I am saddened to be ending my contract with AAC and saying goodbye to my wonderful coworkers, I don’t necessarily want to dedicate this post to a review of my internship. I simply wanted to further enlighten my readers (all 17 of you) about this IEDP internship by including a couple of more details about my work at AAC and revisiting that question of impact that I had pondered earlier.
In a full-circle type of moment for my IEDP experience, I ended up presenting a skill share on policy briefs: what are they, how to write them, and how we use them. I had to laugh (internally) when given the assignment because of that coincidence, but I guess it’s one very clear example of putting what we have learned at Penn into practice! Happily, the presentation went really well, and it’s even going to be recycled for further training after I gone. In some ways, then, I know that my work will have some influence at AAC.
This isn’t to suggest that I’ve completely doubted my impact here at AAC; that’s hardly the case. The environment has been one that encouraged open discussion and validation, and with the new country strategy being developed, I figured my work is helping to develop the future of the Education Programme. Sometimes, though, I couldn’t see tangible proof of my impact beyond a computer file, an expectation I had to learn was unrealistic. How can someone change anything within three months? Come on now. I’m actually slightly embarrassed that I had the thought in the first place, especially considering how “moving the needle” has been ingrained in the IEDP psyche since day one. Silly me.
Illusions dispelled, I was able to go on another field visit in this last week. This time I traveled to Koh Kong province, where my supervisor and I traveled around on motorbike and I realized how much I missed nature. Our purpose for Day One was to meet with one of our partner organizations as well as members of a school that had just been recognized by the government as an independent school.
Infrastructure remains a huge challenge for schools in rural areas: in this school, for example, these two classrooms have to accommodate five grades during a school day. Multi-grade teaching is thus the current solution: Grades 1 and 2 are taught together, as are Grades 3, 4, and 5. (And this is common in about 5% of primary schools in Cambodia, though I wager it’s actually higher than that.) Now that the school has been recognized, it will receive a School Improvement Grant; AAC and our partner organization will also be working with them soon, if our proposal gets funding. With our discussion with the school stakeholders, the community is very committed to making the school a better place for learning.
I had worried before that I was too green for my first field visit in terms of the questions I was asking of the education officials and the School Support Committee. This time around, even though I was interviewing our partner organization, I felt much more confident in my questions, and am happy with the answers. I essentially wanted to get a sense of how this partner organization understands and uses the PRS framework, to inform two reports I was writing on the framework’s implementation. It is not uncommon among most agencies, especially international ones, to end up with on-the-ground practice differing with program theory. Then again, specifically to AAC’s international Secretariat, the framework does not have to be followed to the letter by country offices, so now the question is how much deviation from the original both meets international standards and fits the local context.
Later that night, my supervisor and I had dinner with another LRP partner, where we left shop talk behind and enjoyed the delicious seafood that coastal Koh Kong provides. With some insectile flavors, though: we lost power mid-way into the meal, relying on our phone flashlights to tell us what we were eating, which attracted a robust display of Cambodia’s insect population. It didn’t matter much to anyone, though. It was a really fun evening.
On our second day in Koh Kong, we were joined by a few more AAC colleagues to celebrate the inauguration ceremony of a school that had been built in collaboration with our LRP partner and another NGO. I was originally asked the night before to sit on the stage along with other important guests of honor, including the Deputy Governor of Koh Kong Province, but since I had no involvement whatsoever with the project, I politely declined. Eventually, though, I found myself on the stage along with my AAC coworkers. I found out afterwards that the Deputy Governor thought I was a representative from AA International. I don’t know if anyone corrected him. Even though it was an act of courtesy, I couldn’t help but feel a bit uncomfortable with the situation.
With the field visit taking up 2 of the 4 working days (there was a holiday on Monday), I suddenly found myself on the last day of the internship. It transpired normally, though I couldn’t help but feel that twinge of sadness during our Programme Team Meeting when everyone discussed future projects and plans. At the end of the day, there was a going away tea party for the departing employees (there were two other colleagues leaving as well), in which we had baan chav (Khmer crepes, so delicious) and people who wanted to spoke parting words of fond memories and well wishes for future success. I have to admit, I had to work hard to contain the emotion in my voice as I said my thanks and goodbyes. It wasn’t easy to acknowledge that this formative experience was coming to an end.
Those emotions will continue on though and I’m working through them; maybe you’ll see that sentimental review of my internship after all. But, for now, I thought I’d end this post with an attempt to be silly and provide a different kind of visual component to this internship. So, here’s an homage to both my time at AAC and my favorite TV show:
*Just a note: This is an unofficial video. It does not represent ActionAid in any way other than my personal experience as an intern.