Being a Part of the "AKARI" Bringing Light to People Project, Report by Volunteer Employee Reporters
2019.03.01 Field Report
Volunteer employee reporters selected from within the company visited Cambodia from February 8 to 11, 2019. Their mission was to see how solar lanterns donated by Panasonic employees are being used.
On their 25th anniversary, Japan team of young Human Power (JHP), an organization dedicated to supporting education mainly in Cambodia, celebrated the launch of a literacy education program that they had taken over from the Association of School Aid in Cambodia, which disbanded in 2018. Panasonic had gathered donations from employees via crowd funding through the company's "AKARI" Bringing Light to People Project, and donated 120 solar lanterns and 16 solar storage units at the school's opening ceremony in October 2018.
During their visit, the four volunteer employee reporters went to four villages in the Trop Commune, in the Batheay District, Kampong Cham Province, in southeast Cambodia where JHP is active. Since literacy classes are held in private homes, teachers would set up the donated solar lanterns and storage units before every class to make it easier for the students to read. The solar lanterns are also lent out to the students to help them get to and from class at night. This has made it possible for students to go to the literacy classes feeling safe.
Below, the volunteer employee reporters describe in their own words why light is so important as well as the daily challenges faced by the villages they visited.
We visited four villages and spoke with the chiefs of two of them to hear about the kinds of issues the villages must deal with.
The villagers obtain light from battery-operated headlights and flashlights that are not necessarily of high quality, with batteries having to be replaced frequently or the lights replaced entirely due to failure. Villagers who don't have the financial means end up having to go out in the dark to outdoor toilets or to do farm work.
Besides light, there is the issue of not being able to secure clean water. Especially during the hot dry season, temperatures rise past 35 degrees and there is hardly any rainfall. Villagers have a hard time accessing clean water and face water shortages even if they use well water, which forces them to purchase or ask for water from neighboring villages. Additionally, many people contract infections and abdominal pain as a result of drinking well water. What is more, there is only one hospital in the community and almost no one has accurate knowledge of pharmaceutical drugs, which leads to endless accidents as a result of mishandling.
In view of these various issues, the village chief told us, "I know that the villagers have difficulties, but I am not sure how to help them." We were gripped with a strong desire to help these people while listening to him and his worries, as children ran innocently around him. (Kohei Kaneko)
At the literacy classes, villagers in their 30s to 50s study by the light of the solar lanterns until late at night, in their effort to learn how to read and write in their native language, as well as how to calculate numbers.
The villagers said that the biggest reason for studying is to boost their income.
According to Haruna Tatsukawa of JHP, the lack of literacy and numeracy put villagers at a disadvantage in daily life. They might be cheated at the market or not be able to secure a job.
According to one student, work at the factory starts at 6 a.m., which means waking up at 4 a.m. in the dark and preparing breakfast by the light of a solar lantern borrowed from the literacy class. After returning home from work, she uses the solar lantern to prepare dinner and eats with the family, after which she goes to the literacy class and studies until 8 p.m. All of this effort is to increase her income, but the effort required to continue this rigorous cycle is nothing short of challenging.
When we asked them about their dreams, we could sense their dedication and positive attitudes despite their poverty.
"I want to go to the pagoda and read the Dharma" (the teachings of Buddha).
"I want to be able to read the Buddhist scriptures."
"I am a farmer now but I'd like to learn how to calculate and open my own store some day."
"I want to read lots of books about agriculture and be able to grow many crops."
The literacy classes where people can learn how to read and write are popular since students can also borrow solar lanterns. The maximum is 25 students, which means that the classes are not available to everyone.
Lim Laen, a farmer in the village of Thmey, could read, write, and calculate to a certain extent, having gone to school until the fourth grade. Though she wants to learn more, she cannot attend the literacy classes, since the priority is placed on the less literate.
Caen Noy of Thmey Village quit literacy classes after attending for two years. Now, she wishes to return to learn more but the opportunity has not come along quickly since she can read somewhat.
This situation made me think about what can be done so that every villager who wants to learn can receive an education. (Ryo Fujimoto)
We also had the chance to speak with two women who have started new careers after completing the six-month literacy program.
Phon Lek of Phnom Touch village continued to teach herself how to read even after the completion of her literacy program, and was able to start a job as a seamstress. "Now that I can read and calculate, I can work without being cheated when counting money." She spoke happily of her hope to get more work. Phon Lek has three children and her increased income has enabled her youngest son, Von Veat, to go to school. Now, the mother and child study together and help each other out in their studies.
Hea Yuon of Thmar Kave Village decided to study after the shocking experience of receiving a wedding invitation but not being able to understand which friend was sending it. Now that she can read, she does not feel anxious even when going somewhere for the first time. The ability to read has built her confidence and she has now started selling cookies and candy from home.
It was a very inspirational experience to speak with these two women who had attended the literacy classes lit by solar lanterns, gained confidence through literacy, and are now moving steadily toward their dreams. (Yuka Omae)
The next story will describe what volunteer employee reporters learned and felt after participating in the Bringing Light to People Project.