Wadin' In the Water

 Friday, October 15, 2010. In Cambodia, to be eligible to become a lower secondary school teacher, one must hold a certificate of general secondary education, pass an entrance exam and undertake two-years training at one of the six regional teacher training centers (RTTC), which are located in Battambang, Prey Veng, Takeo, Kampong Cham, and Kandal provinces.

Upon successful completion of the RTTC training, graduates are warded a certificate of pedagogical training, qualifying them to teach 7th, 8th and 9th grade. As part of teacher training, there are fourteen weeks of teaching practicum training in total (six weeks in the first year and eight weeks in the second year).

This year, the national exam for Year I entrance into the RTTC for 2010-2011, was held across 8 different school-based testing sites in Battambang, on Friday, October 15. It had rained everyday of the week leading up to the exam, and particularly hard the night before the exam. The campus of the RTTC Battambang flooded (per usual during the rainy season). In the photo to the left, I am standing in a shallow area outside the academic offices. Most ground level offices, classrooms, and the library had 8 inches of water and in lower lying places, more. Now I know the rationale behind the three tiers of empty bottom shelves in the bookcases in the RTTC library. Silly me, I interpreted empty shelves as evidence for the need to establish a better book donation pipeline for the library. Yes they need English language books, desperately, but lesson learned about observing and interpreting from a resource rich American perspective. Everyday I have similar experiences to remind me to ask why something is done a particular way in Cambodia...because, odds are it’s not for the reason I would expect...it’s usually for a more environment and resource starved reason that I’m still learning to understand and overlay onto everything.

Wading in the murky flood water, I toured the RTTC’s small campus to view the damage to classrooms and the library. I caught myself humming the Wadin’ in the Water tune, an old slave spiritual hummed regularly by my grandmother...in the U.S. south, and just one generation before her used as a guiding message to runaway slaves... to freedom.  Hhhuuum. A connection starts to formulate… Without the floodwaters, the antiquated and dilapidated buildings set a grim scene. On this day, the water and damage to books, desks and belongings left on the floors, just added to frustrations that I battle to understand on a daily basis. If I’m frustrated, my goodness, how it must feel to be a national—to live and be vulnerable to this year after year after year. I resolve that, yes, my Peace Corps service is of value. And I staunchly believe that education is the key. What we’re doing does make a difference. And as I continue humming, Wadin’ in the Water….my frustration lessens. I realize anew, that I am my grandmother’s legacy—even here in Cambodia! She passed the message of education as freedom and a way out of poverty on to me, and now, in my Peace Corps role, I get to pass that message on to my teacher trainees and trainer counterparts. Who knows, one of the future teachers that I teach English to may teach the young person who finds the solution to the RTTC’s constant flooding problem. The thought of the message of my ancestors reaching across the generations puts a ginormous smile on my face as I sing my way through the flood waters at my school.


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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.