Niamh is really passionate about the work she does with SAME- CAMBODIA. In today’s post, she tells us all about the work they do, and why it’s so important.. 

This is Niamh, our 28-year-old manager who moved to Cambodia in 2016. Although the people there really struggled to say her name and most of the time called her Leaf, Niamh fell in love with the country quickly and would end up living there and working at a local International school. Her students were in Year 6 and between the ages of 12-16.

During her four years of living and teaching in the city of Siem Reap, Niamh learned a lot about the culture and traditions of Cambodia through her students, colleagues, and friends. She learned that life is not always easy for girls and women who live there. Girls are expected to act and behave in certain ways which prevent them from expressing themselves, their opinions, and even enjoying their rights. Their lives today are similar to the girls and women who suffered in Ireland not long ago.

Niamh learned that there are ‘codes of conduct’ which teach boys and girls how to act and how they should expect to be treated. It seems that boys and men are often thought to be stronger and smarter than girls. This is harmful because it means that boys are more likely than their sisters to be sent to school. The girls are often expected to stay home and learn to cook, clean, and care for their husbands and children. Women who do go to work outside the home are rarely paid the same as a man, even if they do the same work.

Without jobs, women don’t have control over the money in their homes. This means that they have to rely on their husbands which gives men even more power than before. Females are not always treated very nicely by males because of these inequalities. They can be victims of violence and not know how to ask for help or understand that violence is wrong. Boys and men can be victims of violence too. We must remember that codes of conduct for boys are also harmful because they teach them to be dominant, strong and that violence is acceptable, which it isn’t.

Learning this, Niamh decided to challenge the students of her class with a new project about gender and equality. She was interested to see how they felt about these two concepts so she gave them an opinion survey. It was clear that the students saw females as less equal than males in many ways. Niamh asked them about this and learned more from them. She found a Cambodian book called Diving Deep Going Far, which was written about the lives of young Cambodian women and men and their struggles for equality. The students really enjoyed reading this because they could relate to it. With the help of this book, Niamh and the students were able to explore ideas around gender roles, norms, tradition, equality, rights, and responsibilities. At the end of the year, Niamh gave the students the same survey and she was amazed by how the students’ opinions had developed and changed in positive ways towards gender equality.

During the 2020 lockdown, Niamh decided to build an educational programme based on the success of this project and take it back to Cambodia to reach more students. With the help of the Board of Trustees, they registered a new charity called SAME-CAMBODIA. SAME stands for Start A Movement for Equality. Same same, but different is a common expression in Cambodia. This charity hopes that Cambodian youth will envision gender equality as same same, not different through this programme.

The educational programme is built to prevent violence today and in the future. It has 5 units and each unit takes 2 classes. The units are, Human Rights – to explore rights and responsibilities, Gender Equality – to understand the struggles of both boys and girls, Healthy Relationships – to listen and communicate in relationships without violence, Safe Touch – recognize, report, and prevent sexual abuse and Self Defence – 5 basic moves.

While Niamh has the experience, the Board has expertise in education, violence prevention, psychotherapy, and human rights. Together, they have built this culturally sensitive, age-appropriate, non-political, non-religious, and Cambodian specific programme. All students can enroll for free and it will be delivered firstly by Niamh. Only Cambodian facilitators will be employed afterwards.

While the programme is simple, SAME-CAMBODIA needs urgent funding to continue its work. We are asking for donations, no matter how small from the generous public of Ireland. As little as €10 a month will enable 10 students to enroll with us. That is just the price of a coffee a week! Youth looking to get involved can help us fundraise in many ways like asking their school principals about non-uniform days, read-a-thons, fun runs, or their own creations! If you are interested in helping out, please get in touch. We would be delighted to hear from you!

SAME_CAMBODIA details can be found at www.samecambodia.org

Email them at info@same-cambodia.org

Registered Charity Number 20205907


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