Yuan (Sunny) Yuan served as a Hubert Scholar in Public Service in Cambodia. The second she began to speak, her words shot out rapidly as she explained her various experiences almost too quickly for me to follow. She started off with a brief explanation of Cambodian history and the Khmer Rouge regime which occurred in between 1975 and 1979. Yuan first became interested in the cultural and political dealings of Cambodia after attending a lecture by Dr. Alan Lightman. She first traveled to Cambodia in the summer of 2010 where she was a part of the Alliance Association of Rural Restoration in the Pursat Province. She returned to Cambodia in the summer of 2011 as a Leadership Resident at the Harpswell Foundation. This group helped to build dorms for woman to live in and created classes in order to “empower a new generation of women leaders in Cambodia”.
You could hear a slight undertone of remembered stress and humor as she related tales of thunderstorms lasting for hours in the afternoons and the lack of electricity which forced her to “get away from Cyberspace” and “go look at the real world”. During her stay, Yuan taught an English class to young girls in Cambodia and came up with several subjects to increase their knowledge of the world around them, including “World History and Famous People”, “Antonyms and Synonyms”, and the ever popular subject of whether or not they should “have boyfriends on campus.” She even taught them songs like “Big Big World” and “My Heart Will Go On” (They were particularly fond of Titanic). In addition, Yuan learned that many of the girls she taught hadn’t been exposed to the “difficult past of their own country”. In order to better understand and teach these girls, Yuan visited a Holocaust camp where she did academic research on Khmer Rouge Genocide. Not only did she learn a lot of history here, she was also able to find out information about why the girls hadn’t been informed about their cultural history. As it turns out, the textbook containing all the information necessary about Cambodian culture and history was readily available. However, it was not made available to these specific girls because of issues like teacher qualification and salary.
Yuan’s project was specifically designed to make her audience think seriously about obstacles that women in different countries face involving education. I must say that she greatly succeeded. By the end of her presentation, I was already trying to figure out how to learn more about this topic and how these girls could be helped. By the looks on the faces of the people around me, I was not alone. There was much to be learned in the twenty minutes that it took for Yuan to explain these problems to us. In the last few minutes of her presentation, she passed around a textbook entitled “A History of Democratic Kampuchea. I can only imagine how it might feel to open this book and discover the painful history of your country, at a time when many students in America are already studying the history of the world.