Destination Ban Lung: Vignettes of a Volunteer Journey

Six eager Adobe volunteers from around the world joined by Team4Tech and CARE Cambodia partners gather in Phnom Penh, Cambodia to set out for our volunteer journey to visit teachers in Cambodia schools, who were equally eager to join us in this journey and get on board the technology train... But before we could get to Ban Lung Cambodia, our home base for the next two weeks on this exciting journey, we had a few things to take care of...

We met with our amazing partners from CARE Cambodia, Phnom Penh, the very inspirational Jan Noorlander (top left), who set the stage and tone for this expedition with his enduring passion, enthusiasm and excitement for improving the lives of ethnic minorities with a special focus on women in Cambodia. Our final team building activities, last minute preparations and planning in Phnom Penh also geared us up for the weeks to come!
And then we got on our little white 'chariot' that was to take us to the quiet corners of north eastern Cambodia such as Andoung Meas and Ou Chum where the schools eagerly awaited our arrival!

99 bottles of beer on the wall... are we there yet...? And yes, after eight hours of a long but eagerly awaited journey through the paddy fields and the lotus ponds of Cambodian countryside, we arrived in Ban Lung to meet the folks in CARE Cambodia, Ban Lung office who were instrumental in connecting us in language, plans and spirit to the teachers at the Cambodian schools that we were to visit.

We laid out our plans with the ever helpful CARE Ban Lung team lead by the mild mannered Narom, our kind and spirited translators Dy Phorn (center) and Sochivy (right) who was also our Cambodian IT guy with an unfading smile, and these were our biggest channels of communications with the our little Ratanakiri world for the rest of our stay.

We also got a sneak peek of things to come after visiting the excited principal, teachers and students at the Ou Chum school who wowed us with their enthusiasm and interest for this project! After another hectic day of final tweaks and adjustments, carefully crafted presentations, workshops, technology games, ice breakers, tech set-up and greeting packages we put together over long late nights and early risings, we awaited our first day to excite and intrigue the ICT core trainers of Cambodia with the "technology package" we had crafted.

After a quick meet and great with our ICT core trainers, our day began...

After another quick assessment of technology skills of our participants over a tech bingo game, we found them to have been scattered over a range in terms of their tech skills, but with one most important factor that brought them all together, and they were all undoubtedly of a mobile-first or in many cases a mobile-only generation, which came as no surprise based on our current knowledge of most of the world as we know of today. It was just a reaffirmation of the fact from a first-hand experience. We had a challenge to teach a very interesting and smart group of people who were eager to add on more to their bag of tricks. While there were none that had not used a mobile phone, there were many that had barely ever gotten their hands on a laptop computer and this seems to be the recurring theme, not to mention the most challenging aspect of internet connectivity which was also a recurring challenge, to be noted by the rest of our desktop-first generation in every walk of technology, be it UX, web-performance, marketing, culture or localization!

For the next three days, we lived the world of technology, laptops, tablets, operating systems, internet, communications, human-centered design thinking, applications to enhance productivity and education with them, learned from them, got energized and inspired by them and also constantly redefined our approach to give them what they felt they needed the most at the time, which happened to be one on one tailored attention and support for practice time as they were inseparable with their new toys... their brand new laptops and tablets!

We found them to be no different from us... they geeked out with cool new apps just like us, had fun with photoshop filters or slide transitions and immersed themselves in technology! We had fun with them, worked with them and built with them and were proud and amazed of their learning accomplishments in such short span of time. And, we always had the tiny tot around us (bottom right), who accompanied her busy working mom, just as intrigued as her, with technology. So proud of my team (bottom left) for so quickly building the fastest little windmill (of the lot) measured by Google Science Journal app with very little direction! Above all, the mild mannered adorable geeks of Cambodia won our hearts with their kindness, genuine warmth, perseverance and passion for learning! But the best was yet to come...

After a hectic week of planning, prep and immersive training, we took a much needed day off and went around the Ratanakiri province, chasing waterfalls, watching elephants and tasting some exotic local cuisine!
The next chapter was when our project was taken to road test in its final destination by the recipients of our training. The teachers would now teach what they learned, to their peers at schools in Andoung Meas and Ou Chum...

...And the teachers did nothing but excel at this!! They took over the show in their home field did everything that we did for them, improvised, adapted and made it even better! They worked around the challenges of technology, tech set-up and internet by using their own resources and ingenuity and inspired their peers who were just as eager to learn as they were! They were full of plans and aspirations for how they want to continue using technology at their schools and communities. We, the volunteers, distributed at schools in Andoung Meas and Ou Chum, were just in the side-wing now to offer any support that we could, while witnessing the success of these amazing teachers! I speak for everyone on the project when I say this was the proudest and most rewarding moment for all of us to see them succeed and excel!! It was the best part of the entire project!

The entire 'gang' of volunteers, Team4Tech, CARE team and ICT Core trainers (left). On the right is the team of core trainers and teachers in Andoung Meas, the school that our sub-team of volunteers worked with.
Above is Sorn Che Vy, one of the passionate teachers/trainers who displays her certificate of participation on the last day of the workshop when we went back to get final feedback and offer recommendations for the future continuation of the project!

I leave you with some of these quotes by the ICT core trainers we interviewed at the end of the project.

It was important for me and other teachers to learn about technology, it helped us to create lesson plans. Students will be happier and more interested in education when I teach with these.

—Dan Phearith, ICT Core trainer

I hope all the parents will now know that we are teaching technology that is important for 21st century and they will tell the students to learn more.

—Ea Sophal, ICT Core trainer

Photo Credits: Hollie Harrington, Steve Poehlman, Siddhant Jain and Chitra Tatachar.

Story told by Chitra Tatachar, Lead UX Developer at Adobe San Francisco, one of the participating volunteers. Stay tuned for deeper insights and thoughts on my blog and more blog posts by other volunteers.

Related links: A volunteer journey to Cambodia: Prelude, A volunteer journey to Cambodia: Beyond a single story, Recipeints of my volunteer grants in 2016.

Created By
Chitra Tatachar


Hollie Harrington, Steve Poehlman, Siddhant Jain, Chitra Tatachar

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