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Culture of Shame. During the Khmer Rouge regime, teenagers and children alike were coerced to take part in the genocide of 1.7 million Cambodians population, nearly 25% of the population. While they demonstrated notable technical aptitude with machinery and equipment, that knowledge was used for one purpose--to kill. Now, 37 years after the regime has fallen, these soldiers continue to suffer from memories of the atrocities they were forced to commit, but based on Khmer culture, they rarely discuss their trauma or seek support.
High Student Dropout Rates. Due to the genocide events, 70% of Cambodia’s population is under 30 years old today. This highlights the importance of education to the future of Cambodia. However, many children, who with more education might become engineers, doctors, and professional leaders, have their fate determined at the end of primary school, when parents decide to pull them out of school to work at home. If children were given the opportunity to demonstrate concrete engineering abilities earlier, their parents might become more invested in keeping them in school, so they could be trained to their full potential.
Solution: Connect Generations and Promote Community Involvement
Through a series of project-based workshops, we create space to re-imagine the applications of soldiers’ technical abilities by training them and having them teach the youth practical engineering skills. By using abilities learned from a military lifestyle for positive, community building endeavors, soldiers may achieve transformative acceptance. Additionally, through these workshops, young people will be able to demonstrate the value of their education to their parents through small but significant projects, such as solar lamps or battery-powered lighting. When parents realize their children’s skills, they will be more likely to encourage them to continue their education. Students will then continue learn how to apply their knowledge to practical problems in their community. Furthermore, both the 5-8 soldiers who participate and their extended communities will see the soldiers in a new positive role, which will enable them to become positive local leaders as well as open the door to seeking support in return. Local psychiatrists will be working with the soldiers throughout the workshops for emotional support.