Cambodia Pride Kids Learn to Produce a Newspaper!
Trip Start Oct 14, 2009
59Trip End Jul 01, 2014
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I am halfway around the world from my friends in Cambodia. As I sit down to write this entry about the efforts to teach "Journalism" to kids at the Lucy and Joe Chung Family School there, I am thinking about the freedoms that we celebrate today, As long as I am not inciting violence or threatening national security, I am free to write what I please, to say almost anything and to publish in most any venue, at will. I don't need permission, there are no fees to pay, my words need no approval and they are not subject to censorship
As we celebrate Freedom today, this story of how a group of junior high school kids in rural Cambodia struggled to produce the first print newspaper in their area reminds me not to take our liberty for granted.
Cambodia Pride "seeks to promote learning through creative exploration."
http://www.cambodiapride.org/ Providing Rural Innovative Digital Education to children who would otherwise have limited school opportunities and zero opportunity to learn with computers. The computer learning project actually began in 1999 pioneering the innovative educational approach developed by MIT Media Lab professors Seymour Papert and Mitchell Resnick. When the rugged XO laptop was produced by One Laptop Per Child, the efforts were scalable to reach more children in this underserved, poor rural area of Cambodia.
The Chung School is a 5 room secondary (junior high) school built in 2008 with the generosity of the Chung family. It serves about 285 students in English and Computer learning from grades 7 to 9. The creative English and Computer curriculum is designed to keep the kids from dropping out of school, as is very common at this age in Cambodia. That's a challenge. Cambodia Pride is proud of its success. Actually, one child who started in their programs at age 6, completed technical college in Phnom Penh last year. This year, Mala returned to teach at Chung! We hope to see more young adults continuing to learn and find meaningful career opportunities.
Last year the Chung students were fortunate to have Jude Mak, a Canadian journalist working at the Phnom Penh Post, visit and help the students produce a school newspaper for local distribution.
In the West, this would not be neither an unusual or difficult endeavor. The students were enthusiastic. They chose their topics, interviewed folks for stories, edited articles, took photos, and produced and sold the first bi-lingual English and Khmer newspaper in their area. But in Cambodia, the obstacles to free press and free speech almost completely killed the effort.
Jude and the students envisioned something like a school newspaper but one that could also bring news to and benefit their community, as there had never before been one. The kids learned that "reporters" go out and get stories and photos. They learned how to write and edit the stories, do layout and graphic design, solicit advertisements, and plan sales strategies.
Jude instructed the young reporters to stay away from any subjects political. He encouraged them to write on subjects like health and nutrition. He sent the students out with a few tape recorders and cameras brought from Phnom Penh. The kids from Reaksmy knew all about recording and taking photos, from their classes with Channa, and their XOs since the 3rd or 4th grade. They helped to show the ropes to their classmates who had come from primary schools without computers. The kids worked in teams to brainstorm ideas for content. Creativity & Collaboration!
One group visited a fish farm and interviewed the farmer. The Junior High School Director was interviewed about how to improve the school. There were some birth announcements and wedding announcements, and a few advertisements too.
The first issue, printed in both Khmai and English cost 100 Riel, and was hawked by the kids all over town. Remember, this is a rural area with a very low adult literacy rate. But the children can read to the adults and everyone can understand photographs. The newspaper quickly sold out. Everyone wanted one and they had to print more. 400 copies were sold! More children wanted to participate for the next issue.
And then there was a problem. Somehow, the Minister of Communication got wind of the new school publication in this community. The school was told that their newspaper required a license from the Minister of Communication in Phonm Penh. I heard that for the children to continue reporting the local goings on in town, they would be required to make formal, expensive applications for approval and licenses. And if they could afford the expensive professional publishing fees, (for which there is no budget) pre-publication copies would have to be submitted (to censorship offices?) for government approval. That could take weeks or months. The children's Journalism endeavors had been effectively shut down!
More than a year later, the kids still talked about the excitement of making the newspaper. When asked what they want to do when they graduate from school, many will say they aspire to become a journalist.
So Jude came back and worked with the kids for 2 months. He and Cambodia Pride Project Director, Elaine N, arranged a field trip to a University Journalism class in Phnom Penh. More than 20 kids went! I was astounded to learn about this trip. Most of these teenagers had never been anywhere outside of their home town areas. They had never seen a city! I can only imagine the preparation, the funding arrangements, the logistics of transportation and other details, and the kids excitement. Oh, now they have seen a University class. Some will be motivated to continue in school!
The school "newspaper" was reinvented as a "School Report." The first edition was a success and it continues to be published. As soon as I have photos, I will post them.
My friend Elaine tells me that journalists "get sued and sued until they give up and stop writing." Some have been shot when they exit their homes. She says: "today the bravest people in Cambodia are the journalists." Journalists make a difference in society. As I celebrate our freedom of speech and press in America today, I will celebrate the efforts of Cambodia Pride. One activity and one child at a time, it accomplishes so very much.