by Sarah Brown
Since the very first days of Ayana, delivering an educational program for and with Cambodian students has been a really important goal for our team. We feel extremely privileged to work with students from all over the world, but in the back of our minds have always wondered how we could offer similarly enriching opportunities to the young people that call Cambodia home.
After three years of working together bringing students from New York to Cambodia, this summer we were able to realise our dream with the help of our friends Elizabeth Brown-Eagle and Liz Titone (of the Packer Collegiate Institute).
As well as being full-time art teachers and indeed artists in their own right, Elizabeth and Liz are also the founders of e2 Education & Environment. In their own words, e2 “is a collective of global educators, artists, scientists and historians dedicated to creating opportunities for shared learning experiences across cultures and continents, disciplines and generations. Through specialized programs, hands-on teaching and collaboration, e2 gives students the means for self-expression, and encourages them to become role models to their community and each other.”
E2’s primary project is This Is Ours, a hands-on arts education program giving participants the opportunity to gain illustration, photography, and storytelling skills, with the goal of collaboratively producing a professionally printed book in which young people share what it is they want the world to know about their culture, community, and environment. So far books have been produced by groups of young people in the US, South America, and Africa, but never Asia!
So in July this year we joined forces to deliver the This Is Ours program in North-West Cambodia, working with two different groups of students who worked tirelessly to design and create a book that will share their home with young people around the world. In Siem Reap we were lucky enough to spend a week with 29 scholarship students from PEPY Empowering Youth, who wowed us with their energy, enthusiasm, and commitment to both hard work and fun! Despite many of the students having little artistic experience, they created beautiful works that are a true testament to the pride they feel for their communities and country.
We then moved on to Battambang, a city known for producing Cambodia’s best artistic talents! Here we worked with inspiring young artists from Phare Ponleu Selpak, who like their PEPY peers approached the program with both tenacity and good humour, using their creative skills to prepare chapters on religion, food, and of course art. The book is now in the process of being edited, and the Ayana team is continuing to assist with translation to ensure the book is fully bilingual.
As well as the learning and fun – so much fun! – that comes along with being part of a unique educational program, working alongside the e2 team to deliver This Is Ours in Cambodia was a valuable opportunity for the Ayana team to reflect on the importance of cross-cultural competency in education. Having skilled facilitators that could not only translate language but also context and meaning proved invaluable to the success of the program and depth of students’ engagement. We are so grateful to Yut and Untac for their hard work, and are lucky to have them on our team!
At Ayana we believe strongly that all young people deserve to have their voices heard and their stories celebrated, and are so grateful to have had the opportunity to contribute to the inclusion of a Cambodian volume into the This Is Ours series. We are also endlessly inspired by what can be achieved through collaboration with like-minded souls, and are looking forward to working with e2 again in the future. Watch this space!