Cambodian School Educates New Generation of Social Workers

    30 October, 2013


    From VOA Learning English, this is the Education Report.

    Cambodia has about 3,000 recognized non-profit groups. Some work on issues such as violence against women and human trafficking. But few Cambodians are trained for such work. That is now changing with the country's first university-level degree program for social workers.

    Yoeung Kimheng grew up near the city of Phnom Penh, he saw troubling social problems, but few people were in a position to help.

    Now, thanks to the university program, he himself may soon be equipped to help. He has finished a four-year program in the Department of Social Work at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. His class is set to graduate later this year, it would be the second graduating class for the department.

    23-year-old Heng Puthika was part of the first graduating class. Now, he has found a job at Transitions Global, a non-government organization that works with victims of human trafficking.

    Social workers often work with people who have suffered emotional damage. Yet, until the University started the department in 2008, there was no degree-level program in Cambodia for training social workers.

    Outreach groups have traditionally depended on foreign experts or largely untrained local staff who learned on the job.

    Ung Kimkanika is a faculty member in the department.

    "So I think to have the situation is Cambodian, and only Cambodian or Khmer people would understand well about the situation," said Kimkanika.

    The Department of Social Work at the Royal University of Phnom Penh has a partnership with the School of Social Work at the University of Washington in Seattle. Through that partnership, Ung Kimkanika and other Cambodian students went to the United States to study and earn Master's degrees. Now, they've come back and are teaching other students.

    Kim Chanravey was part of the first graduating class last year, now she works with Hagar International, a group that helps abused women and girls. Her supervisor at Hagar, Wei Wang, praised the graduates working for her group.

    "I think that with a four-year degree behind you, you have more of the theoretical foundation. You have a better understanding of how to look at things holistically and assess things from a community strength-based approach. Whereas if you have to train on the job, a lot of time it's fairly haphazard because you're trying to get somebody to do something fairly difficult but you only have two trainings, rather than four years of solid foundation," said Wei Wang.

    The social work program at the Royal University of Phnom Penh will likely become even more important in the coming months. A war crimes court is nearing the end of one part of a case against former Khmer Rouge leaders. Faculty member Ung Kimkanika says the decision of the court could bring back bad memories among survivors of the Khmer's rules.

    And that's the Education Report from VOA Learning English. I'm Avi Arditti.