News / Asia

    Cambodian School Educates New Generation of Social Workers

    FILE - Social workers and police say Cambodia is fast gaining reputation as a haven for child sex, with boys and girls, driven into the business by their poverty-stricken parents and guardians.FILE - Social workers and police say Cambodia is fast gaining reputation as a haven for child sex, with boys and girls, driven into the business by their poverty-stricken parents and guardians.
    x
    FILE - Social workers and police say Cambodia is fast gaining reputation as a haven for child sex, with boys and girls, driven into the business by their poverty-stricken parents and guardians.
    FILE - Social workers and police say Cambodia is fast gaining reputation as a haven for child sex, with boys and girls, driven into the business by their poverty-stricken parents and guardians.
    Irwin Loy
    Cambodia has some 3,000 registered non-profit groups. Some work on highly sensitive issues such as violence against women and human trafficking. But there are few Cambodians formally trained for such work. That is now changing with the country’s first university-level degree program for social workers.
     
    When Yoeung Kimheng was growing up in a rural community outside Phnom Penh, he did not have to look far from home to see troubling social problems. But he also saw few people who were in a position to help.
     
    “Near my village, it’s a very poor community. I think it’s a very hard situation. Because a lot of children drop out, and use alcohol, and some drugs. I never saw social workers or others to help them. I never saw,” Kimheng said.
     
    New university program

    Now, thanks to an emerging university program, Kimheng himself may soon be equipped to help. He has finished a four-year program at the Royal University of Phnom Penh’s Department of Social Work (RUPP). Kimheng’s class is set to graduate later this year-just the second graduating class for the department.
     
    He will join people like Heng Puthika in the workforce. The 23-year-old was part of the department’s first graduating class last year. Now, he has found a job at Transitions Global, a non-government group that works with survivors of human trafficking.
     
    “I do family assessments, go to the community to meet with the family to assess what they are facing at the moment, the family need and family issues," Puthika stated. "And try to find out what are the available resources in the community in order to link all of the resource to the family. I try to work with the family in order to help them.”
     
    It is the kind of work that’s intensely important in a country rebuilding after years of conflict.
     
    Outreach

    Social workers often interact with some of the country’s most vulnerable people, many of whom have suffered emotional trauma. Yet, until the RUPP department started in 2008, there was no degree-level program in Cambodia for training social workers.
     
    Traditionally outreach groups relied on foreign experts or largely untrained local staff who learned on the job.
     
    “You can see that after U.N. times, there’s a lot of aid dependency coming to Cambodia. There’s a lot of foreigners, they call experts, coming to help support Cambodia as well. Those who are experts are not Cambodian themselves," said Ung Kimkanika, a faculty member in the department. "So I think to have the Cambodian-trained social workers be our own social workers by ourselves is very important. Because the situation is Cambodian and only Cambodian or Khmer people would understand the situation well.”
     
    That’s where the department comes in. In partnership with the University of Washington’s School of Social Work, Cambodian students, including Kimkanika, were sent to the United States to study and earn Master’s degrees.
     
    Now, they’ve come back and they form the backbone of the teaching staff at RUPP’s social work department.
     
    Social work as a profession is often poorly understood in Cambodia. Early on, even some of today’s graduates were unsure what social work was.
     
    Kim Chanravey remembers her first few days as a university student. “I thought that social work … can help people by giving money or presents to the poor people. Charity. But when I start studying social work, it’s different,” she said.
     
    She learned quickly. Chanravey was part of the first graduating class last year, and now she works with Hagar International, which helps abused women and girls.
    “Charity means giving presents directly to the people. But social work, no. Social work tries to find the way, find the choice for the people to try to decide themselves, to do anything by themselves,” she added.
     
    Her manager at Hagar, Wei Wang, said the benefits of four years of university education is evident in the RUPP grads her organization has hired.  “I think that with a four-year degree behind you, you have more of the theoretical foundation. You have a better understanding of how to look at things holistically and assess things from a community strength-based approach," Wang said. "Whereas if you have to train on the job, a lot of time it’s fairly haphazard because you’re trying to get somebody to do something fairly difficult but you only have two trainings, rather than four years of solid foundation.”
     
    RUPP’s social work program will likely become more crucial in the coming months. A United Nations-backed war crimes tribunal is nearing the end of one portion of a case against former Khmer Rouge leaders. Faculty member Ung Kimkanika says the eventual verdict from the court could stir up long-buried memories among traumatized survivors of the regime.
     
    But for now, back at the university, a new class of social work students is getting set to begin its first year of studies. Their expected graduation: 2017.

    You May Like

    New EU Asylum Rules Could Boost Rightists

    New regulations will seek to correct EU failures in dealing with migrant crisis, most notably inability to get member states to absorb a total of 160,000 refugees

    More Political Turmoil Likely in Iraq as Iran Waits in the Wings

    Analysts warn that Tehran, even though it may not be engineering the Sadrist protests in Baghdad, is seeking to leverage its influence on its neighbor

    Goodbye Ketchup, Hello Sriracha!

    How immigrants are triggering a great transformation in American cuisine

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora