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.
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.

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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs