Photography and Education Voluntourism Project In Cambodia

As many of you know I’ve been working as the Director of Overseas Projects for a nonprofit organization in Austin, TX called WOWi – the Windows of Wonder Institute. Below is a story about the organization’s current project in Cambodia that I wrote and was published in Wandering Educators recently. We are currently looking for additional volunteer photographers and educators for our upcoming trip in February 2012, so please ‘share’ this story with others via Facebook, etc. And if you or anyone you know might like to get involved please contact me with any questions. 

While the world’s eyes were still on the fallout of the Vietnam War, the Khmer Rouge – followers of the ruling communist party in Cambodia – carried out a radical social reform program from 1975 to 1979. This program included isolating Cambodia from foreign influence, closing schools, hospitals and factories, abolishing banking, finance and currency, outlawing all religions, confiscating all private property, and relocating people from urban areas to collective farms – all with the horribly misguided intention of returning Cambodia to it’s ancient glory.

The purpose of this policy was to cleanse the country of outside influences and create a purely agrarian-based Communist society in one generation. These actions resulted in massive deaths in schools-turned-prisons and in their “Killing Fields” through torture, pick-axe executions, work exhaustion, disease, and starvation. About 2 million Cambodians are estimated to have died needlessly in these five genocidal years, and these horrendous acts were aimed particularly at teachers, the educated and intellectual elite.

Today, some 32 years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge their fallout remains: over 30% of Cambodia’s population is under age 14 and uneducated. Nearly all of these post genocidal-era children work or beg in the streets rather than attend school. Without proper education this cycle of poverty cannot be broken and the suffering merely gets passed from generation to generation.

But all is not lost in Cambodia. In 1998, one woman, Ponheary Ly, a teacher who miraculously survived the Khmer Rouge regime and one of CNN’s 2010 Heroes, started a project to get rural children back to school and help them stay there. Since it’s inception, the Ponheary Ly Foundation (PLF) has put well over 2000 Cambodian children through school, continues to modernize many facilities and attracts visiting instructors from all over the globe.

ART + WEB + LEARNING

WOWi (Windows of Wonder Institute), a nonprofit organization based in Austin, Texas, will assist Ponheary Ly in realizing her vision by providing students with hands-on training in digital media – the lingua franca of the 21st century. In February 2012, WOWi will launch a unique, multi-year, international project to bring together special audiences in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and Austin.  For two weeks in February, eager students at the PLF Tchey School’s new computer lab near Siem Reap, students in selected Austin schools, and retirees in selected Austin retirement communities will participate in a web-based WOWi event featuring creative exchange and learning.

To facilitate this, a WOWi team in Cambodia will work with PLF students to develop their 21stcentury skills in digital media creation.  At the same time, other WOWi teams will work in various ways with both students and retirees in Austin to develop these same skills. Following this event, regular training and mentoring will continue, and a team will return to Cambodia biannually until a self-sustaining digital media school has been created in Siem Reap, operated entirely by Cambodians.  In this way, WOWi will both help break the cycle of poverty in Cambodia and, in the process, create a method of international development that will be replicated elsewhere in the world to help solve this all too pervasive problem.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.

Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

WHAT THE PROJECT WILL ENTAIL:

The WOWi team will expose these students to different types of digital media creation. One type involves making high definition digital recordings, some in 3-D, of selected architectural monuments in the Angkor Wat temple area that is near PLF’s Tchey School. This is both a form of cultural preservation and a means to celebrate Khmer culture in large-scale, interactive displays to be first shown in Austin and then elsewhere in the world.

Another type of digital media creation involves the spontaneous use of social media to capture a complementary form of cultural record, one focused upon daily life as seen and experienced through the eyes of Cambodian youth. During WOWi’s two-week stay, this spontaneously produced content, plus the reciprocal content being produced in Austin, will be made available daily to a worldwide audience over the Internet. It will also be made available in special format at selected viewing sites in Austin.

HERE’S HOW YOU CAN HELP:

Volunteer: One of the best ways to help is to become involved as a volunteer team member for the February event.  WOWi will put together several teams to work with students and the elderly in Austin.  WOWi will also put together a team to go to Cambodia.  Some members of that team will work with the PLF students, so educators, especially those who have experience with working with children, are needed. Other members of that team will produce high quality photographs and videos of the Angkor Wat temples, so WOWi is looking for people with these skills as well.

Those interested in volunteering should email Kim Smith: kimsmith@wowi-austin.org.  Your email should contain a brief list of skills you posses that would support the project mission, as well as a brief statement of your reasons for wanting to participate.

Donate Cash: Having cash allows WOWi to purchase the kind of technology required to make this project a success.  It will also allow WOWi to help pay the way for a small number of university students to participate in Cambodia.

To reward donors, WOWi is pioneering the LIFEwalltm.  For every $25 a donor contributes, one personalized MYtile will be displayed on the LIFEwalltm in January of 2012.  The number of MYtiles a donor may receive is unlimited.  Simply make a cash contribution on www.Crowdrise.com/WOWi, and the WOWi team will reserve for you MYtiles in increments of $25.  For more information on this unique award, visit the WOWi website.

Donate iPod Touches and iPads: The core of the digital studio that students and the elderly will use in February will consist of 60 iPod Touches and 20 iPads.  These need not be new.  When upgrading, you might consider donating the older device to this project.  Such donations will receive MYtiles in increments of $25 of market value.  Those wishing to donate a device should email Kim Smith: kimsmith@wowi-austin.org.

Another way to donate an iPod Touch or iPad would be to become a WOWi team member on Crowdrise and collect the amount from friends and family to buy a device. Anyone wishing to do this please, again, please email Kim Smith: kimsmith@wowi-austin.org.

For more information about WOWi please visit wowi-austin.org.

Travel well and with a purpose!

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About Keith Hajovsky

Since 1985 I have traveled throughout much of the United States and to over forty different countries within five continents for both business and pleasure. As my friends and family will tell you, I love to travel and I love to help others travel. If you are looking for someone to help you out with your travel plans or if you need a personal guide, please let me know!

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