Matesabroad Foundation defines ignorance as “taking a stance to ignore,” and they are working to combat this ignorance by “providing the opportunity for Australian school students and their teachers to experience another culture, another way of life and to step beyond the eye of the tourist.”
The partnership with Matesabroad provides EYC with invaluable resources. At the same time, it offers Australian high school students an opportunity to learn about the Cambodian (Khmer) culture while experiencing what it is like to live life as a poor Khmer person.
The seeds for Matesabroad were planted in 2003 when founder John McKeon’s daughter, Katherine, volunteered at a local NGO in Phnom Penh – her final practicum requirement for her degree in International Social Development. She became so committed to her students that she deferred her studies to stay in Cambodia and then recruited her parents to help raise money to support primary schools in the squatter communities. John visited Katherine several times and became equally passionate about alleviating the plight of children in these communities.
In late 2017, Lou McNamara from Matesabroad sought out EYC after a review of education-oriented organizations serving kids in poor communities in Phnom Penh. An alignment of values and approach is key to both EYC and Matesabroad, and following due diligence, a fruitful and rewarding partnership was formed. Lou began by reviewing EYC’s English program to identify gaps where Matesabroad could lend value. The primary areas identified were a phonics program, teacher resources/curriculum, and better computers.
Spread over three trips, Matesabroad brings ten groups of high school students/teachers to Cambodia annually. The students, in Grade 11 and 12, are required to raise funds to participate, and that money goes directly to EYC. The students spend a week working with EYC, teaching English classes throughout the days and evenings. They also live at one of the schools, providing them with the chance to genuinely experience life in one of the communities. In addition, they participate in a “community talk,” where small groups visit an EYC family in their home to learn more about their lives. These talks have proven to be very illuminating and eye-opening for the students – click here to read a speech a Matesabroad student delivered following her trip to Cambodia.
Based on a curriculum developed by Lou, the lessons taught by the Matesabroad students build upon EYC’s objectives and what the EYC students are already learning. The curriculum includes games and other resources that make the learning engaging and productive, as well as help the EYC students with their comprehension and reasoning skills.
Matesabroad is building relationships with companies to provide needed resources to EYC and are delivering 100 new tablets to EYC in 2019 to aid in teaching English. In addition, Matesabroad has secured 1,000 free licenses, worth $25,000, of Literacy Planet’s English language software. They are also helping improve our libraries. As part of this effort, they identified the 250 best titles for ESL learners, donating one copy of each book to every EYC school in 2019. That’s 1,000 books!
For Matesabroad, some of the elements that distinguish EYC as an organization are: an ethos of giving back; a culture of community and family; a whole child approach; an emphasis on leadership development; a deliberate focus on improving the lives of people in the communities; proactive social work efforts; a mindset of meeting kids where they are at; and active fiscal management. They also appreciate the skills of the EYC teachers, whom they believe could teach anywhere, yet CHOOSE to teach at EYC schools and serve kids in the slum communities.
Matesabroad is a partner to EYC in every sense of the word. They believe in our work, support our students, and continually improve the quality of our programming. For Matesabroad, their students have the opportunity to build a broader social justice awareness while being of service. As Lou says, “Once they see the realities of life for people in Cambodia, they can never say ‘I didn’t know.'” Seventeen years after Katherine’s first trip to Cambodia, the desire to alleviate the plight of low-income children through education is a reality at EYC.