“Everyone has creativity; it’s just a matter of being able to use and develop it,” assures Maria Perez, PEPY’s resident artist and graphic designer. She tells me this during those not-so-rare moments when creative self doubt and uncertainty creep into my mind. As someone who does not describe herself as an artist, creativity isn’t something that necessarily comes naturally to me. This is perhaps due to the fact that at some point, I identified the skills that I thought I was good at and nurtured those, while neglecting others, including creativity. What I have realized since working with PEPY is that, because I viewed creativity in such narrow terms, I never noticed how creative thinking permeated most aspects of my daily life. Since becoming involved with PEPY’s CLC team, however, I’ve come to appreciate the notion that ‘creativity’ means so much more than putting paint to canvas.
On a recent exchange to visit educational programs in Laos, PEPY staff by chance, came across a wonderfully creative community center filled with interesting displays, world facts, interactive learning activities, games, and shelves upon shelves of educational books. Stirred by what they saw, the team brought back some of these creative ideas to Chanleas Dai Junior High School. Our CLC team and students have since spent the past two months transforming a fairly uninspiring school building, consisting of plain white walls and a few desks at the junior high school, into a vibrant and colourful learning area. While structured classes are taught in one half of the room, the other half remains open to students and teachers as a place to share ideas, read books or study, engage with interactive activities, or create artwork. The process of turning what was an almost empty classroom into a place which will facilitate creative learning, and growth has been an invigorating and inspiring experience, and thanks to the students’ hard work, the space has become much more than a classroom. It is now a place which they can feel connected to and proud of.
Writer and community activist Mary Lou Cook explains that, “Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.” If CLC had a motto, it would sound something like that. Over the past few months, the CLC team has been busy developing a brand new curriculum which will complement the brand new learning space. The new structure integrates the use of XO computers with cross-curricular, topic-based learning, allowing students to learn about a particular topic through different subjects such as visual arts, social studies, science, and math. Through programs such as Scratch, students are able to learn easy programming skills which relate to the topic that is being taught. For the students studying in PEPY’s Creative Learning Classes, the aim is that they will learn about important and relevant topics in a planned and structured way, while being encouraged to think creatively about them. This month, students in Lida and Sarakk’s classes are learning about colors and shapes in a way that is uncharacteristic of most Cambodian classrooms. They will experiment by mixing paints, attempting to create rainbows using light, solving tangram puzzles, and learning about colors as symbols and meanings in flags. We look forward to seeing some of the results, and speaking to students about their thoughts on the new class format.
We will be posting more photos and stories about our Creative Learning Classes on our team journal over the next few weeks. In the mean time, if you are looking to support PEPY by making our creative space a better learning area for our students, you can donate items from our Amazon wish list here.
You can also check out photos of our new creative space here!