As many of our PEPY friends know, we have been fortunate enough to have an educational partnership with DPETNS (Donabate Portrane Education Together National School) in Ireland since 2013. April 2015 saw four PEPY Empowering Youth representatives head to Ireland for the first time as part of this partnership, and this year we were ecstatic to be able send another four of our PEPY family for a three week exchange. The purpose of the exchange is to promote collaboration, the sharing of knowledge, and above all, friendship between PEPY Empowering Youth and DPETNS, as well as between Cambodia and Ireland.
On the 6th of June, the Cambodian contingent (consisting of Executive Director, Sarakk Rith; Board Member, Ravy Vang, and Scholarship students Kimann Klang and Sochea Khoeut) set off on their adventure from Siem Reap full of excitement and perhaps a few nerves, too. However, upon their arrival to Dublin airport, any hint of trepidation was washed away when they were greeted with huge hugs and smiles from a group of DPETNS teachers and members of their host families. The group headed to the coast to give the PEPY team their first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean and a very welcome breath of fresh sea air after all that travelling. Even though they had only been in the country for a few hours, one difference became very clear, very quickly: while the Irish members of the group were enjoying the beautiful sunshine in shorts and t-shirts, the Cambodians were wrapped up in thick coats, hats and scarves – it’s fairly safe to say Ireland felt pretty chilly compared the 37° heat over in Siem Reap!
Week one was extremely busy for everyone involved in the exchange, kicking off on Monday with a workshop at Donabate Community College focussing on the topic of Global Health. The PEPY team’s part of the presentation looked in particular at the drought in Cambodia and how climate change is a very real threat to the health and livelihood of people all over the world. It was a great opportunity for students to see how people’s actions in their own country can have a huge impact on the lives of those halfway around the world. Sarakk, Ravy, Sochea and Kimann also enjoyed their first train journey to Malahide, where they visited the Catholic Church, the local library, the local prison and, of course, a fish n’ chip shop!
The first week continued in a similarly busy fashion, with the PEPY group spending a lot of time in DPETNS, as well as visiting St. Patrick’s Girls’ School and St. Patrick’s Boys’ School. On the Friday of the first week, the second annual Fun Run took place, having celebrated its first edition during last year’s exchange. Students and teachers from a range of local schools ran their part of a 5km route, representing some 10 countries from around the world by dressing in the colours of the various flags. Cambodia was a very popular choice and the event was made extra special for the PEPY team by the raising of the Cambodian flag alongside the Irish flag, as well as a rendition of the Cambodian national anthem. This celebration of cultures other than one’s own is one of the most significant and indeed poignant aspects of the exchange: in a world which often seems fragile and increasingly fearful of the ‘other’, it is wonderful to see people from opposite sides of the world truly welcome and embrace each other as family.
Other events included an exciting visit from Ireland’s Premier, President Higgins and the first lady. The team were delighted to meet them, share about life in Cambodia and hear about life in Ireland and they were truly honoured with the warm friendly reception they received. This week also saw lots of fun at the fundraising social evening.
Just like the first week, the second week was packed full of visits, presentations and events. The PEPY contingent made their way to several schools in the area to introduce students to the organization and of course, Cambodia itself. This included a demonstration of traditional Khmer dancing, performed by Kimann and Sochea, which was then reciprocated with traditional Irish dancing performed by some of the Irish students. A coffee morning also took place this week at DPETNS, which was attended by parents, teachers, representatives from INTO (Irish National Teachers’ Organisation) and Irish Aid, teachers and principals from other schools in the area and Ciaràn Bauer from Bridge 21, who had visited us in Siem Reap for three weeks in January. This event was a chance to provide some more information about the partnership and for the PEPY team to give an update on what the organisation is working on in Cambodia, as well as on how last year’s visitors – Manin, Kimsru, Channa and Ronoch – are all doing. Many of the attendees of the coffee morning have been great supporters of PEPY Empowering Youth since the start of the partnership, so it was great to be able to meet and thank them in person for all their hard work, as well as reaching out to those who had become involved at a later date.
All too soon, week three rolled around and was taken up with numerous meetings and visits. The PEPY group were very pleased to have the opportunity to visit Dublin City University, where they had a tour of the campus and met the president of the university. Needless to say, DCU was more than a little different to the universities we know here in Siem Reap! Of course, the final week of the exchange was also time to say farewell to all the people who had made the whole experience so fantastic, from the teachers at DPETNS, the host families, the students and everyone else involved. The final Friday was spent at DPETNS visiting different classes, saying goodbye to the students, and giving and receiving gifts. The team also visited SuperValu supermarket to sell tickets for a raffle in the evening, with prizes very generously donated by local people and organizations. Finally, the time came on Sunday for the PEPY group to make their way to the airport and say their goodbyes after a wonderful three weeks. The group was very sad to leave, but everyone felt extremely happy to have been part of such a positive experience.
PEPY Empowering Youth is proud to celebrate cultural diversity and differences, but also to celebrate everything we have in common. It doesn’t
matter whether you are from Cambodia or Ireland or somewhere in between: we are all people living together on this planet. We all experience happiness, sadness, frustration, elation, loss, love. There is so much we can learn from one another and PEPY Empowering Youth would like to say a massive thank you to everyone involved in t
his exchange for sharing their knowledge, experience and most importantly their compassion with us. Long may it continue.