Freedom Stones Finale

 Just one of the quirky students I get to work with {blindfolded for a game}
Photos from our recent field trip with Freedom Stones

A few weeks ago, I finished up my health lessons with the Freedom Stones students. For the past few months, I've been preparing and teaching lessons for the students on sexuality, reproduction, and healthy relationships.

This has been a challenging assignment, for many reasons. Sexuality is a sensitive topic in Khmer culture, and unfortunately, many of the older generations still think that the less a young woman knows about it, the more pure she is (and thus more valuable as a virgin when it comes time to marry her off in exchange for a hefty dowry). But those attitudes are changing, and many parents want their children to understand how their bodies work. Since their parents never educated them, today's parents often don't have the knowledge to educate their children about sexuality. So Freedom Stones decided to step in and help students understand this complex topic.

Entrance to the park - guarded by a...minotaur?!?

The first challenge was finding appropriate resources in Khmer. Only about 15 million people in the world speak Khmer, and Google Translate just added Khmer in April. So although there are an astonishing number of sexuality resources available for youth free online, pretty much zero are in Khmer (that I ever found, anyway!). Luckily, YWAM {Youth with a Mission} has been working in Cambodia for over 20 years, and they have produced a Khmer-language health education book geared towards teenagers, written by Khmers from a Christian worldview. We were able to use that book in our lessons.

Andrew, the Khmer staff, and a gorilla

Hangin' out on the swingset...

After finding the books, we decided the youth should be separated into boys and girls groups to encourage them to speak more openly than they would in a mixed group. Although Freedom Stones has one Khmer male staff, there are no women on staff. My Khmer isn't anywhere near the level needed to teach these concepts in Khmer, so we had to find a female who would be able to teach the lessons on her own. I would teach her, and she would teach the students.

Playing follow the leader...or actually, follow the "caboose", as I had to give directions from the back by pushing shoulders, kicking legs, pulling back...needless to say, it was not a very successful game, but good for a few laughs!

This is really challenging in Poipet, because most women who have teaching experience and who have an education that would help them understand the lessons are already working in an NGO or are married and staying home with their children. I also couldn't find a female translator for the same reasons. But I started praying for God to bring the right woman to teach with us, and eventually He did. A friend of mine quit her job and was getting married, but still needed some part-time work to tide her over. She was able to teach the more "sensitive" lessons to the girls about puberty, sex, and pregnancy, while the male staff taught the boys.

The classes went over much better than I ever expected. It was my first time teaching about sexuality, and I had no idea what to expect from Khmer teenagers. I encouraged them to laugh and giggle if they felt embarrassed, but also said they should still ask questions and talk about it. There's a fine line between feeling shy about something and feeling shameful, and in this culture, there is a lot of shame associated with sexual feelings. It was great to teach from a Christian worldview, that God created sexuality as a gift to be used in appropriate ways. Along with information on puberty and reproduction, we also included frank talks about HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as healthy relationships with friends, family, and significant others. If the kids were too shy to ask questions in class, they wrote them down anonymously on pieces of paper and put them in a jar, to be answered

Climbing to a wat {temple} on top of a local "mountain"

We taught one lesson a week for a total of 5 weeks. After we finished all the lessons, the students, staff, and Andrew and I took a trip to a nearby town. It wasn't really to celebrate the end of my classes, but it was nice to have it at the end. We went to the Khmer-equivalent of an amusement park, with lots of concrete cartoon characters which provided classic photo ops {remember these weird birds?}. We played games, ate Khmer food, and dozed in hammocks.

The kids & staff got us a special cake - aw!

Hopefully I will be able to teach with Freedom Stones more in the future, although right now, I'm not sure what that will look like. But I am so happy for the chance to invest in these kids' lives and hopefully prepare them for the challenges of life that lie ahead.

On top of the phnom {mountain}!

Looking over Cambodia

Anyone else love working with youth? Leave your stories below!
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p.s. What's Freedom Stones, you ask? Only the most awesome fair trade jewelry business ever. Check out their website for more information and to snag some beads!