Friday, December 5, 2008

My personal appeals

Cambodian people at the dumpsite of Stung Meanchey

High School Students in Kompong Speu

My personal appeals

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense” Buddha.

In Cambodia, there has been noticeable progress since the United Nations sponsored election of 1993. Now Cambodia is a nation of high growth with vast areas are still untouched by development and where the benefits amass only to most powerful leaders. It is visible that ninety five percent of the top hundredth richest people are the mighty top brass military, highest-ranking police officers, and top government officials. The love of power, extreme corruption at all levels, money, nepotism and selfish deeds are the root of all problems. The fact that we have schools doesn’t mean we have education. The fact that we have pagodas doesn’t mean we have faith. The fact that we have courts doesn’t mean we have justice. The fact we have functioning government doesn’t mean we have democracy and freedom. Mighty and ineffective leaders solve one problem only to create countless others. They live their life based on what they want as opposed what they can have. Freedom is often misnamed permission: the license to pursue their personal desires regardless of consequences.

On the surface everything is in order, decisions are carried out, lives move on, however there is no such thing as “build to last”. Artificial things look real but never grow. Real things look real and grow. People are overly obsessed with how they “look” and undervalue how they feel. They put an overemphasis on getting an immediate remedy, instant gratification while they ignore the problem that got them there in the first place. They love things and use people when they should use things and love people. I believe if there is any real peace and prosperity for Cambodia, it will come through being, not having. I believe quality education is the only solution to the current situation to Cambodia’s problems. Here are my personal appeals about the need for national probity:

To all Cambodian people: you can do one or two things to help bring real progress to our poor country; you can feel anger and frustration and direct it all at the present government, or you can decide to move forward and do the difficult work that needs to be done. To oppose everything while proposing nothing is irresponsible. I believe “real” progress is attainable. I spend my life pursuing it. I consecrate my life on teaching the vulnerable children and on helping the poor through my compassionate service. I teach children to become responsible and expect them to learn that actions have consequences. I work to create real and lasting change in the lives of children in dire need of an education. Cambodian future generations must be built on strength of character and a willingness to work freely and diligently. I need you to help your kids do better in school. Stop giving them money to bribe government officials and teachers for their basic right to get an education. Set an example for the young generation. You need to teach them what taking care of a home is about, show them you are struggling to keep a roof over their heads. You teach them for the good, the welfare, and the happiness of many out of compassion for all beings. Work conscientiously for the good and benefit of yourself and of others.

To all my compatriots: the past cannot be undone. Things will not get better with anger and worry. There is plenty we can do in the present. Give up your “Position Power” but keep your “Personal Power” for one. Stand up and stand together for our children, our own sense of integrity and worth, and for the long-term health of our country. Speak up and speak together against injustice and immorality. Demand accountability. Be a responsible and role model citizen. Stop bribing the government officials. Volunteer time to help others. Mentor children. Follow the rule of laws not only in words but also in actions. Give. Do charity work. Share experiences, knowledge and wisdom. And sacrifice something to get better things, like helping the poor and the vulnerable children. If we fail to see the consequences of our own action, we will fail yourself and others. When our own home is healthy and happy, others will come to us. It’s like being a good cook, a good teacher, or a good leader. If we are good, we never have to force our food, force our lessons, or force our directions on others. Good cannot come from force, fear and threats. By teaching and sharing with others something they didn’t already know and helping the poor, the vulnerable, we have gained more than we’ve given and realized that hope shines in a world where hopelessness prevails. Hang in there, keep fighting for freedom and justice, raise more hell but don’t forget to laugh too. Anything un-attempted remains impossible. Together we can make the difference. Bring hope to hopeless people.

To all parents/guardians: in Cambodia, the family is the sacred unit of our culture but our modern society creates so many young people without roots. A tree without root cannot absorb anything. It will not survive. Every word out of your mouth, every one of your actions is a lesson to your child. You must realize that you are your child’s first and most important teacher. It is very important that children learn from their father and mother how to love one another – not only in school, not only from the teacher, but also from you. Try to put in the heart of your children a love for home. Make them long to be with their families. All children wanted a family who loved them. So much suffering could be avoided if they really love their home, listen and respect their elders. It is very important that you share with your children the sense of belonging. And yes, there will be misunderstanding; every family has its problems, its suffering. Always be the first to forgive with a smile. There is no situation so bad that you cannot be accepted with an open and accommodating heart. Be cheerful, be happy, be peace. Make sure your children go to school every day. Make education an inherited value in your family, just as family values, traditional values, religious values and country values. It can be a struggle, but the rewards in the long term far outweigh the cost of the short term.

To all teachers/educators: It is no secret that teaching is one of the hardest, most difficult, challenging job, emotionally exhausting in the world and, undoubtedly, one of the most important, uplifting and precious. You can make a direct, tangible contribution to the future of our country and the world by helping young people acquire not just knowledge and skills but also morality. You can inspire others through teaching and learning. Real teaching is not only the subject you are teaching, but also the children you are teaching. Always remember the learner is a person first, learner second. You help them believe success is possible. You teach them to think and think critically. There are two bequests that you can give to them: one is root and the other is wing. There are no instantaneous successes. But there’s no better service than serving helping the youngsters so they can live a better life, good for them, good for the society. Expecting material gain is far away, you are rewarded “parami”(perfection) by the virtue, merit, you gain. This is the biggest remuneration you get. The paramis that you can accumulate by serving the young generation will help you reach the final goal and make your human life successful. You make a lasting contribution. Behind every famous person is a famous teacher.

To all children: wherever you are and whenever you go, get an education. Study hard for your future. Come to school every day. Pay attention in class. Participate in class activities. Ask questions. Always try to do your best. Results don’t just happen; they are the products of time, energy and commitment. Learning is a journey, not a destination. Don’t expect progress without practice. You have to work yourself; no one else can do this work for you because learning is an inside job. If you cannot excel with talent, triumph with effort. It is you who will get you where you want to go, no one else. You're not obligated to win. You're obligated to keep trying to do the best you can every day. Winning is not everything, but trying is. There is no secret to success other than hard work, perseverance, and determination. Furthermore, I join my hands over my head to pray that all those young people who have graduated do not carry just apiece of paper with you but that you carry with wisdom, love, and peace. All suffering in this world derives from wanting happiness for self. All happiness in this world derives from wanting happiness for others. Once achieved, education can never be bought, exchange, sold, or even stolen. Value who you are and not what you have. Always try to leave the world a little better than you found it. You have to learn to say YES to your future. You can never have what you want but you always get what you desire. Just as lotuses are sustained by water, so is your learning sustained by desires.

To all: Life’s most powerful forces are invisible. How do we begin to explain faith, perseverance and internal success? No one has it easy. Everybody has a limp. There are moments when we have been down, discouraged and hopeless. We all realize that in life, there will be moments of uncertainty, worry, fear and doubt. We all have to do things we don’t like. We all have our personal likes and dislikes. But at the end, it is just you and what you are made of. There are many families who are living in incredible desperation, there are no easy way out. In the midst of every struggle, there remain only two choices: give up or persevere. Persevere knowing that we have been created for greater things, not just to be a number in the world, not just to go for material wealth, this work and that work. According to Gautama Siddharta, we have been created to liberate ourselves from all suffering by accepting the Four Noble Truths (suffering, the cause of suffering, the eradication of suffering, the path to eradicate suffering) and practicing the Noble Eight Path (right understanding, right thought, right action, right speech, right livelihood, right effort, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration). You are what you learn.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Slice of Life

Classroom setting

Pagoda Onalum School

Slice of Life

“If you want happiness for a lifetime, help the next generation”
Chinese proverb.

I volunteer teaching English at Pagoda Onalum for Buddhism Education for peace and non-violence foundation. I help the poor and street students learning general English focus on reading, listening, speaking and writing. Those students had nothing, lived in abject poverty, but wanted an education, a future. I use the “Cutting Edge, Pre-Intermediate” textbook by Sarah Cunningham and Peter Moor for instruction. This is one slice of life that defines my personal stance on the current education in Cambodia.

At sundown, the evening school swung in full motion. By 5:30 PM, students were already streaming through the front gate. Some came on foot, others on bicycle. Many carried a small notebook with them to class. They were waiting patiently for my arrival. I was welcomed and greeted politely and respectfully by approximately twenty-five students and three monks. The students joined their hands together under their chin and bowed to my presence. In return, I joined my hands together under my chin to greet them back and paid my respect to the monks. I was so shocked to see the miserable environment of education in my country. The students are suffering from the lack of books and resources. While I was teaching, I observed, listened, studied and learned a lot from the students. I had ample opportunities to examine the actual school and classroom set up. I saw that there were bare walls, empty libraries, no basic school equipment, miniscule supplies, only a white board with no maker and no eraser, and a non-didactic welcoming classroom. There was no dependable electricity. In many instances, I taught in the dark. But anytime, I looked into the students' eye and I saw their thirst and hunger to learn. It was visible that they cherished and valued education. I’ve got so much more out of this class than I expected. Every single day something rewarding happened; it might be just a student smiling at me. I was touched by their presence and their eagerness to learn.

In one instance, I had the opportunity to interact with them by speaking about my own experience of learning and teaching English in the US. I tried to pique their curiosity by bringing up ideas and examples of my practical, academic background and lifestyle. I encouraged them to ask me questions and debate new ideas. I focused on real life conversation, listening comprehension and understanding. When they asked me about America, I turned the question back to them and asked them to compile their own views and expectations before talking and sharing it with the class. I found out they were eager to learn and to know but apprehensive about talking and making mistakes. I reassured them that my class is a safe place for learning, making mistakes, growing and creating memories, but not worrying.

One the most effective teaching methodology I used is: I do, We do, and You do. This hands-on experience helped me better understand how students deal with English language learning. I also advocate a liberating education where knowledge leads to reflection and action. It encourages critical thinking, debate and dialogues on issues, even controversial ones, so that students are encouraged to take stand on issues. Conflicts are resolved not by imposing the majority will upon all people, but by genuine dialogues between groups and individuals. The purpose of such fundamental change in the social order is to achieve justice and peace. I believe “knowledge is power.” The knowledge we impart may result in a new awareness of our social situation with its exploitation and oppression. In this case, knowledge transforms the whole and education is transformation. I believe more and more that education can give hope and faith to all for a better life.

I also had the opportunity to work with local teachers, educators, and scholars. We shared our professionalism and our passion of teaching. Qualified teachers educate our young and provide the foundation for our great democracy using the liberationist educational approach. Earning credential through the student’s heart and mind are very important to solidify skills, knowledge and hands on experiences. Competent teachers teach the business of helping others help themselves. Only through quality education, free of corruption and oppression those students get a sense of being a productive member of the civil society. They can take control and improve their own lives and ultimately find a way to succeed.

In Cambodia, teachers understand the theory of student-centered teaching on paper but deep down they don't believe in it. It is tempting for them to only look at the deficiencies: no materials, little funding, poor salary, etc. and not focus on the resources at hand. The poor salary argument for low work ethic is a valid claim: there are few incentives for teachers to really try and be good teachers except for the goodness of their heart. But at the same time the argument is used to justify their lack of preparation and commitment. So in the end, everybody loses. Many students sit in the classrooms all day since they are obligated to sit through public classes but then must attend private classes to actually learn. That makes public school a non-inviting environment where students either sit in a classroom all day or don't attend at all and become illiterate.

The most basic tool available to a society for reconstruction is the education of its children. I think skilled and capable teachers can help students become independent learners by loosening the strict teacher/student barrier. Good teaching cannot come from force. If you are good, you never force your lessons, or force your directions on others. By actively involving the students on a regular basis I can slowly train them to think and think critically. Ideas should be discussed, and the idea that teachers are masters who should dominate the classroom needs to be abolished. It starts with small steps. Students want to feel that their input is valued and important to the classroom. I acted as the facilitator. I guide and build their self-esteem and confidence through positive feedback and activities that promote student involvement. But, the fact that the classrooms are overcrowded, and materials scarce means that I need to be creative and resourceful. Real teaching for me is integration of morality, literacy and numeric. As my personal reflection and metaphor, Cambodian children are the seeds and I am the soil. No matter how vigorous the seeds are, if the soil does not provide nourishment of the heart and mind, the seeds will not grow to their fullest potential.

Finally, to me the joy of volunteer teaching is not found in a “thank you” or in that feel-good emotion, but rather from the awesome privilege of being able to help diverse and disenfranchised children in their time of need. Quality education is also essential to the future of Cambodia and the key to our national success. More and more, I must be a change agent. I work for the good of others by planting new seeds. I prepare children for liberation and future success. I teach them how to Think. This teaching experience makes me understand, to a greater extent than I have grasped before, the urgent need to educate the youth and to grapple with the endemic problems such as equal opportunity, equitable participation for all groups, leadership, social justice, and development.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Group Meditation in Dhamma Hall


Establishing Awareness Course as taught by S.N. Goenka

Battambang Vipassana Center

Namo tassa bhagavato arahato

Samma sambuddhassa

In Cambodia, there are over 3900 monasteries. Wherever there is a Buddhist temple, there is always a school. Theravada Buddhism significantly contributes to social, spiritual and educational development in the country. Since Buddhism is deeply rooted in the daily lives of all Cambodians, I decided to learn more about the practical teachings of Buddha by serving Satipatthana, establishing awareness Course at Vipassana Center of Cambodia in Battambang. The main prerequisite for the Satipatthana course is the completion of three ten-day Vipassana courses. The word Vipassana means seeing and experiencing things as they really are (no imagination). It is the process of self-purification by self-observation. This 10 days course from September 1st, 2008 through September 10th, 2008 introduced and exposed me to core Buddhism introspection of Pariyetti (theoretical knowledge), Patipatti (practicing Dhamma), and Pativedha (penetrating knowledge into the nature of Dhamma). I have gained valuable and practical knowledge to help myself so I help others. After all, the real core of teaching is learning more about myself and finding ways to give that to others. Below are the highlights of my memorable learning experience.

All eighty-five students and Dhamma workers committed themselves to staying for the full ten days, observing a rigorous timetable (from 4:30 AM through 9:30 PM with 11 hours of daily sitting meditation), maintaining complete silence among themselves for the first eight days. At the beginning of the course, they took the five precepts as given by Buddha to households: to refrain from killing, to refrain from stealing, to refrain from lying, to refrain from talking any intoxicants, and to refrain from sexual misconduct. They started with the practice of Anapana meditation, the observation of natural breath, as it is, coming and going, deep or shallow. They tried to maintain awareness of the reality of the sensation in this area of the body, below the nostrils above the upper lips, as it manifest from moment to moment. On day two, the copy of Sutta (discourse) was given. In this way, the theoretical knowledge (Pariyetti) and the actual practice (Patipatti) were most beneficially combined to gain penetrating knowledge of Dhamma (Pativedha). On the third day, when some piercing concentration has been gained through Anapana, they switched to the deeper level practice of Vipassana, the systematic of the entire mind-matter phenomenon through vedana (sensation). They worked on the insight which purifies their mind; specifically insight into the impermanent, suffering and the egoless nature of the mental and physical structure. On the last day, they practiced Metta, loving-kindness, by sharing merits and Dhamma they have gained with others.

Having discovered the ultimate truth (Abhidhamma) at the deepest level, Buddha teaches this natural law to help people understand reality to end their misery through Satipatthana. Sati means awareness, the witnessing of every reality pertaining to mind and matter within the framework of the body. Patthana means getting established in a proper way and only with proper understanding and wisdom. Establishing awareness through Satiphatthana can purify the mind from defilements so as to achieve lasting peace and happiness. In this course, I learned real understanding, clear and free from any doubt or skepticism, comes with my own experiences by practicing Vipassana. I directly experienced the three characteristics of all phenomenon: anicca (impermanence), dukka (suffering), and anatta (selflessness, no “I”) within myself. Manifesting in the mind and body, the experience of anicca, arising and passing away, plays a crucial role. Every moment, there must be awareness of sensation of arising and passing away. Reaction is full of negativity. What ever happens pleasant sensations (sukka vedana), unpleasant sensations (dukka vedana), pleasant mental feeling (somanassa vedana), unpleasant mental feeling and neither pleasant nor pleasant sensations (adukkahamasukha vedana), I observed the reality of sensations inside and remains equanimous based on the experience impermanence (anicca), then all the decisions and actions will be healthy-not reaction, but positive action, good for me and good for others. I learned this wonderful technique to free myself from suffering. As I practice, I understand more and more what Buddha meant. “Liberation can only be gained by practice, never by mere discussion” S.N. Goenka.

I am most grateful for my respectful father for introducing Vipassana, the authentic practice teaching of Buddha to Cambodia in the early 1993. I finally want to thank my Dhamma teacher Jugen Stowassser, and all the Dhamma students and workers for the wonderful experience. May all beings be liberated and be happy.

Personal Reflection of Cambodia

“If you knew what I know about the power of giving, you are not let one will pass by without sharing it in some ways” Buddha.

Life is calling. Cambodia is calling. Being back home makes me think in a different perspective. I feel as an outsider stepping into and insider stepping out of the same country I go back to. I look forward to contribute to the educational wealth of my beloved country through learning and teaching. I am at the generativity stage, the stage of my life where my primary goal is to help developing the younger generation lead useful lives for the benefit of human kind. I internally mobilize my strengths to do what I can to transpire hope and faith for the future. I want to make a lasting contribution to educate impartially all the children I encounter. I feel my work just began.

As any patriotic Cambodian, I am proud of my heritage and tradition. After many wars from the Angkor era, the Thai, the Cham, the Vietnamese, the Japanese, the French, the US, the Khmer Rouge, and now under the current regime, our country and our people suffer enormously many set backs such as deep rooted mistrust, Khmer killing Khmer, grinding poverty, injustice, greed, corruption, lands grabbing, nepotism, culture of impunity, oppressions of thoughts and actions, fear, destruction of our natural resources, safety, security, education, lack of respect of the rules of laws, etc... The poverty is rampant over the world, but there is noting like being poor in Cambodia. It is very fashionable to talk about the poor so the top leaders can get more foreign aid. Unfortunately it is not fashionable to talk with the poor to find out the reality of their real sufferings. The environment most Cambodians are living now is hurting the next generation. We have lost many, many traditional values and cultures. Is it REAL? What can I/you do to help? How can I/you make a difference?

The reality is Cambodia is still a very poor country, plagued by uncertainties and a mess of contradictions. I don’t have all the answers to the complex problems. I am far from perfect, but as a teacher/educator I learn early that I can’t fix everything but can help most things. I know I cannot offer material goods or gifts to the children but I always can offer pieces of my love through teaching and learning. I cannot erase all the dark sides of the current government, but I can change the way I deal with it, I can rise above it and stay strong and TRUE to myself by applying the teachings of Buddha: “abstain from all unwholesome deeds or do not engage in any harmful actions; always perform only wholesome ones those that are good, subdue and purify your own mind”. By practicing Sila (morality) and following the five precepts (refrain from killing, stealing, telling lies, all intoxicants and immoral sexual activity) I can inspire others to think and act with integrity and vision for a sustainable and just society. I just want to bring hope to hopeless people knowing that sometimes the joy of doing good for my country may be the only reward I receive ~ but it's worth it! To me, it is better to suffer for doing good than doing evil. Once again, may all Khmer people see the truth of what really happened so we can still have a place to call home, sweet home for the next generation. I work to create real and lasting change in the lives of all children.

Cambodia and her people is torn apart in the hands of a regime practicing, dictatorship, silencing the oppositions, nepotism, extreme corruption, deforestation, and many unimaginable acts of destruction to the social fabric. Disparities exist across the country. Inequalities increase dramatically among the riches and the poor, the powerful and the vulnerable, the strong and the weak. I witness all of these disparities and inequalities myself on my daily life in Cambodia. Denying this real problem in Cambodia will only contribute more and more to the decline. It is only when we don't understand things deeply that we create problem, more problems for our next generation to solve. The majority of Cambodian people continue to suffer because of the short sight decision made by the current and ineffective, yet very powerful and too cohesive regime. Once again, Cambodia has been mismanaged by greed and extreme corruption. According to the latest annual survey Transparency International, the anti-corruption ranked Cambodia 166th of 180 countries. It has gotten worse from last year, the year before last, and so on. Yet the top government officials dismissed the findings as well as any well documented findings. The poor are poorer. The riches are richer by extracting the wealth from their own people and the natural resources that belong to all of us. The “Money-Is Everything” doctrine can be seen and felt in Cambodia. This inequality on wealth distribution creates a very unbalanced society. “What powerful people say will always be right, and what small people say will always be wrong" must be also changed. The corrupted and powerful leaders fail to see the consequences of their own actions. When the power of love overcomes the love of power, then Cambodia will know real peace and lasting prosperity.

I want to do something to help others, helping the new Khmer generation. "If your plan is for one year, plant rice; if your plan is for 10 years, plant trees; if your plan is for 100 years, educate children" Confucius. One of the most important answer is to educate our population, all children. When all Cambodians have good education, they can think and make good rational decision based on morality, national interest and patriotism instead of "self interest" and nepotism, then they will become more aware of the situation, begin asking questions, have debates, offer dialogues, seek answers, find common solutions and act conscientiously. In this context, education is not a matter of always seeing new things, education means seeing the same things in a new light. Education is liberation. It frees people from their pasts and inequalities, so they learn to live in the present and have hope for the future. It frees them from obstacles, oppressions and a lot of other things that can set them back. Once achieved, education can never be bought, bartered, sold, or even stolen. Quality education for all is the answer to breaking the cycle of poverty and destruction. Don’t fight darkness. Just bring the light in and darkness will disappear.

Looking at my home country with a fresh pair of eyes has elevated my commitment of long standing, a willingness to postpone gratification, but most of all an acceptance of possible failure. I can never be certain of a final outcome. I can only be sure of my tireless effort. Reconnecting with my roots has made me realize the importance not only of gratitude and appreciation for the hands I have dealt in life, but also of sharing, caring, and giving back. My metta (selfless love, loving kindness) for the Cambodian people is best expressed when I help the children live with hope and take control of their own lives. These are my feelings about Cambodia.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Today I am leaving to volunteer teaching poor and destitute children in Cambodia. I believe that every life has equal value-to get an education for the betterment of self and others through knowledge. For me, it will be an amazing privilege to give back. I feel exhilarating, intimidating, sometimes discouraging, but always challenging especially with the current situation in my country. Goals come with sacrifice, struggle, and suffering


All of us are aware of the awful inequities in the developing countries such as Cambodia~ the appalling disparities of health, and wealth, and opportunity that condemn people to lives in despair. Personally, I know that the millions of the young generation have been cheated of educational opportunities here in my country. During all the past year and after my graduation, I have been reflecting as an educator on how to improve the quality of education in poor countries such as Cambodia. I often ask myself: how can I change things for the people in Cambodia who often live on less than $2 a day? But I also know our people had nothing, lived in abject poverty, but still want a school, a caring and uncorrupted teacher in the classroom, a future.


As a teacher, I will do all I can to provide a solid and sound education for the future generation. In Cambodia, I have the opportunity to use my expertise to help the poor children; to help create a new world where no one has to live on a dollar a day.  Few children have gone to school or received proper schooling. Education is the children's only chance, and Cambodia's future depends on it.


I welcome your thoughts and comments on my reflection above: how can I change things for the people in Cambodia who live on less than $1 or $2 a day?