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Lehigh teams with Caring for Cambodia

College of Education graduate student Will Brehm will be traveling to Siem Reap, Cambodia this August to begin his career with Caring for Cambodia. Listen to Will discuss the NGO and his new responsibilities in this video.

Back row, from left: Ciara Lowery Johnson '09, 'G10; Iveta Silova; Pen Rethy, a graduate of a CFC school and now an art student in Phnom Phen; and William C. Brehm '08, 'G10, with students in Siem Reap.

Lehigh University and Caring for Cambodia  (CFC), an internationally acclaimed NGO headquartered in poverty-stricken Siem Reap, have announced a new, three-year partnership that will give College of Education  students a unique perspective on international development.

The collaboration allows students in the college’s Comparative and International Education  program the opportunity to conduct ongoing field work in Siem Reap, where they will work with the NGO on teacher training, curriculum development, and community outreach initiatives.

The global program is funded by a gift from William ’79 and Jamie Amelio, who have also extended job offers to College of Education graduates William C. Brehm ’08, ‘G10 and Ciara Lowery Johnson ’09, ‘G10, both of whom will call Siem Reap “home” starting this August.

“In the College of Education, I learned a great deal about the challenges and rewards of integrating two very different entities into a relationship that has greater potential than either organization does alone,” says Lowery Johnson, whose husband will also work for Caring for Cambodia.

“So many needs and abilities are involved here that make this partnership a work of creativity. Now we have a relationship that will put the abilities of Lehigh students and faculty to practice on CFC projects, a cooperation that has already proven to give invaluable experience to Lehigh students.”

 A city at a crossroads

Siem Reap is one of Cambodia’s fastest-growing cities, a tourist hub that doubles as the gateway to Angkor Wat. Despite the rapid rise of hotels and an influx of money, however, the historic city is hampered by abject poverty, deplorable health facilities, and a sense of lost opportunities.

The same can be said about the region’s schools, many of which have dirt floors, empty bookshelves, and teachers with little training—all consequences of a Khmer Rouge regime that placed little value in educating Cambodian children.

Jamie Amelio first encountered what was happening there in 2003, when she traveled to Angkor Wat for a vacation.  Instead, her life—and that of her husband—were changed forever by a 9-year-old girl panhandling for money to help pay her school tuition.

Since that experience, the Amelios’ Caring for Cambodia organization has given Siem Reap children an opportunity to learn in seven safe, well-equipped schools.  Using UNICEF’s “Child Friendly” school concept, children not only earn a quality education, but life skills as well. They serve 66,500 Food for Thought lunches monthly, have handed out 15,000 toothbrushes to encourage personal hygiene, and have purchased more than 1,250 bicycles to help their students get to school.

The Lehigh connection

The partnership is the result of a trip last fall, in which students and faculty from the College of Education, the College of Business and Economics, and the College of Arts and Sciences visited with the Amelios and their schools in Cambodia. 

And though the new three-year program is tied to the College of Education, there likely will be cross-disciplinary opportunities for Iveta Silova, the Frank Hook Assistant Professor, and her team to partner with other programs across Lehigh to assist with local economic assessments, job market surveys, micro-finance opportunities, and other initiatives.

But for now, the partnership allows the college to further globalize its curriculum in a realistic and sustainable manner. In addition to Brehm and Lowery Johnson’s new appointments in Cambodia, the college will also hire a professor of practice to manage the relationship.  CIE has already hired a new graduate assistant, Harry Morra, to help with the transition.

“We are excited about working with the Lehigh team to advance CFC’s objectives of establishing a scalable K-12 Cambodian education model, improving Cambodian graduates’ employment opportunities, and working toward local ‘Cambodian’ sustainability,” the Amelios say. “Iveta and her team put forward a powerful proposal that we are convinced will yield benefits for both Lehigh and the Cambodian children.”

The Amelios’ generosity will allow students in the CIE program to travel to Cambodia every year to participate in field research activities, data collection, and training. Those students are also being offered Khmer language classes and other classroom activities that explore Southeast Asia’s diverse economic, social, and political underpinnings.

“What we’re creating is a complete, immersive experience for our graduate students. They are not learning from a distance, but living through important international development issues,” Silova says.  “This really is a new way to approach learning and teaching—one that requires the full investment of the students.”

A unique proposal

The Caring for Cambodia partnership was the result of a competitive proposal submitted to the Amelios by the CIE program—a collaborative effort that involved both CIE faculty and students. The proposal assessed the college’s capacity to handle such an intensive partnership, and explored ways in which Caring for Cambodia and Lehigh could work together to advance the school’s mission with parents, teachers, administrators, and international donors.

“This partnership will allow Lehigh to explore, research, and work in educational development in unique and meaningful ways,” Silova says. “Through Caring for Cambodia and the dedication of the Amelios, Lehigh will not only be able to create new international experiences for its students, but will also contribute to advancing the mission of CFC for a transformative and sustainable future.”

Story by Tom Yencho

Posted on Monday, May 17, 2010

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