Tuesday, July 27, 2010


As mentioned in a previous post, I work for a pretty incredible guy...Mr. Rong Chhun. Following that post, many of you have asked what it is exactly that I do for the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association (CITA). At first this appeared to be a simple answer…I was brought here to facilitate and develop CITA’s long term strategic plan (essentially a guide for them to carry out their mission and objectives). However, after being here a few months, I’ve realized my task here is much broader. Yes, I have helped CITA develop their strategic plan, but more importantly, they are continually looking to me to build the capacity of the CITA staff and leadership and provide them with tools and resources to run a more effective organization long after I am gone.

I can’t say this has been an easy job, all meetings require a translator, meetings are often cancelled or postponed, we seem to have more holidays than work days and I don’t think anyone at the organization really understands what a strategic plan is.

In spite of these challenges, I’ve really enjoyed my time at CITA. My colleagues are great, a few speak limited English, and one speaks English fairly well who acts as my translator. The actual office on the other hand…is far from great. It’s one big open room with six desks. No AC, just one central fan, and a very disgusting bathroom that pretty much only consists of a hole in the ground. Funny to think I used to complain because my office in SF didn’t have a view of the golden gate bridge...what I would give now for a toilet, yes, just a simple, functioning, standing toilet!

The outside of CITA

The office

Sotras and Sophea - colleagues

Sotras and Petras - colleagues

The dreaded bathroom

For those of you who are interested in learning more about CITA, and why organizations like CITA are needed in Cambodia…I’ve included some interesting data points about current issues teachers face in Cambodia and the impacts to the education system (or lack thereof):

• Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world. Life expectancy is 56 and 80% of the population lives on less than $2 a day.
• As of 2009, Cambodia’s ranking on the Human Development Index (HDI) list was 137 out of 182 countries.
• In addition to being a relatively poor country with a low HDI ranking, Cambodia is also near the top of the list of the most corrupt countries in the world as ranked by Transparency International.
• Cambodia’s population is very young – 50% of the population are under 18 years old.
• During the Pol Pot (Khmer Rouge) era teachers were systematically killed and the education system was largely destroyed. In 1970 there were more than 200,000 teachers in Cambodia and by 1980 there were only 5,000.

The education system has slowly been rebuilt – however, many challenges still remain.
• Teachers receive a salary of between $20–40 a month which is not enough to cover basic needs,
• Curriculum is outdated, facilities are extremely limited and teachers receive very little training and continuing education.
• In a recent report issued by a partner NGO focusing on education here in Cambodia – the most widely cited causes of teacher dissatisfaction were inadequate pay, followed closely by corruption/nepotism and poor leadership.

Corruption in the education system is rampant here (students paying teachers to allow them in the classroom, paying for tests, teachers required to give headmasters a portion of their salary, and the list goes on and on).

It is exam week here in Cambodia (all 12th graders take final exams to graduate high school) so today, Mr. Rong Chhun decided to take me on a little field trip to see some of the corruption first hand. We visited a few high schools and it was absolutely shocking to see the blatant corruption. Kids, adults, police were gathered in masses along the school gates trying to sell photocopies of the exam answers to students. It was absolutely surreal to see.


  1. I am constantly amazed by your stories. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I am so proud of you for doing this! What an amazing experience! Loved all of your updates and hearing about the great work you are doing. Enjoy your much needed vacation time! :)

  3. Wow, what a great thing you're doing. xo