WriteOn! 2019-2020

  • Education
  • Women & Gender
  • Cambodia
This project is led by Mackenzie Ehli, a Volunteer from Washington

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WriteOn! Cambodia is a national competition in partnership with Peace Corps posts around the world that aims to improve upon the English writing, creativity, and critical thinking skills of students and professionals. Beyond these skills, WriteOn! promotes confidence among its participants--confidence to express their own ideas in a clear and compelling manner. In Cambodian classrooms, rote memorization is prioritized over creativity and critical thinking, and students are not encouraged to participate in class unless they can ensure their answers are correct. Female students are particularly vulnerable to this expectation, as Cambodian culture discourages women and girls from expressing their opinions. They also rarely have the opportunity to compete, and they face more challenges than their male counterparts in pursuing an education. For this reason, writing is a male dominated career in Cambodia, as women often do not possess the English fluency and education that it necessitates. WriteOn! teaches girls that their ideas and education are just as valuable as any boys', and no career is beyond their ability to attain. Through workshops and clubs, WriteOn! participants will learn how to analyze prompts, structure responses, and use creative flair--all in their second language. They will also be encouraged to share their ideas, especially during the gender issues sessions, which each workshop and club will include. Finally, on the day of the competition, the participants will have one hour to showcase what they've learned by responding to original prompts without the help of teachers, peers, or a dictionary. Winners will be invited to a writers workshop, where they will gain more writing practice, as well as meet and hear from professionals in the field. WriteOn! will increase student confidence and writing skills and teach PCV counterparts the importance of student-centered learning that champions participation from all students, regardless of gender.

This project could not exist without the diligence of the students involved in it. Because Cambodia is a rather small country, PCVs are able to cover most all provinces, and therefore access a wide breadth of students and professionals. Over the years, hundreds of young men and women from across the country have participated in WriteOn!, and the project is totally reliant on their efforts to improve their own writing skills, practice their creativity and critical thinking, and consider issues such as gender inequality, gender norms, and feminism. Though WriteOn! is a student-centered project, its reach extends much further into the community to incorporate teachers, school directors, families, and professionals. Of these parties, local teachers are by far the most involved in the success of the project, as they serve as necessary counterparts to the PCV. Together, the PCV and counterpart assess the need for improvement upon writing skills, creativity, critical thinking, and gender equality in their community. Counterparts offer invaluable insight into and contacts in the village that make identifying this need possible. If there is indeed a need, the counterpart works alongside the PCV in developing the workshop and club sessions that focus on the aforementioned areas. Counterparts often play a critical role in translating and modifying lessons to fit the needs of the participants, whom they know so well. Aside from the teachers, school directors contribute to the success of WriteOn! projects as well. They will often provide the classroom space necessary for the workshops, clubs, and completions, and they will assist reaching as many students as possible. They recognize the need for improvement in Cambodia's education system, and therefore request Peace Corps volunteers and support their projects. The families of the WriteOn! participants are also crucial to the facilitation of WriteOn! workshops, clubs, and competitions, as they encourage the sons and daughters of the families to attend them. Cambodian students and professionals already have so many academic, work, and home responsibilities, and yet their parents allow them to participate in WriteOn! because they recognize the importance of furthering their education. In terms of the essay judging and Winner's Weekend that occur after the competition, community members continue to be very involved. Parents, teachers, and other community members serve as participant chaperones during Winners Weekend. Additionally, the judging panel and Winners Weekend speakers are comprised of local writing professionals. They too have vested interest in WriteOn! as it brings forth young Cambodian men and women who might someday become candidates for employment in the writing field.

WriteOn! has the potential to create long-term positive changes in the academic and professional performance of its participants, as well as improve the way in which they navigate their own personal lives. Because of WriteOn!, participants will learn how to structure and convey their ideas in a coherent and compelling manner. As participants continue to study English, their vocabulary and grammar will only improve and further enhance their writing. This skill, however, is not only important in their English classes, but is transferable to all school subjects and careers thereafter. The creativity and critical thinking development that WriteOn! fosters will also benefit participants in their academic, professional, and personal lives. They will have the confidence to voice their opinions and ideas both in the classroom and beyond. This particularly empowers female participants, who are often stripped of their voice. Likewise, critical thinking development will improve the participants' ability to assess and respond to the problems they will face at any point in their lives. The workshops, clubs, and competitions themselves are also sustainable, as counterparts play such a crucial role in their success. Along with PCVs, local counterparts organize, translate, and conduct these events. During this process, they have access to 20+ lesson plans, past essay entries and questions, as well as additional information on WriteOn! Counterparts can use this experience and these resources to host WriteOn! projects in their community for years to come--whether they have PCVs or not. Additionally, they can use what they've learned in the classroom to improve the writing ability, creativity, and critical thinking of all students, not exclusively WriteOn! participants. This creates the potential to shift the classroom culture in Cambodia from one that discourages the voicing of opinions and ideas to one that champions it. Counterparts will also be present during the gender sessions of their WriteOn! workshops and clubs. These sessions will teach counterparts how to have constructive discussions on gender norms and equality with their students. They can use this experience during future WriteOn! projects or at any time during their teaching career to create awareness on the aforementioned subjects. This session will also help counterparts identify the root causes of disappointing realities in their classrooms, such as shyness among female volunteers. With this understanding, we anticipate counterparts will particularly encourage female students to speak up in class and listen their ideas without shaming or embarrassing them.

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