Reflections as an Intern with SeeBeyondBorders: Rishi

The morning of October 2, 2023 was a rainy one — Battambang monsoon style. The sky was overcast, muted; despite my poncho, by the time I arrived at the office I was soaked. Yet, in a stark contrast to the sombre surroundings, I was brimming with a mixture of excitement and nervous anticipation as I walked into my first day at SeeBeyondBorders.

The SeeBeyondBorders Office in Battambang flooded during rainy season last year

There was something markedly outside my familiarity about starting my first formal work experience 14,500 kilometres away from home in a small city I had just settled down in two weeks prior. But that’s the very reason I came to Cambodia in the first place as part of Princeton University’s Novogratz Bridge Year Program. Spanning 9 months, the program brought six incoming first-year students to take a gap year in Cambodia to learn about community-based service, consider various standpoints on development and ethics and delve into the rich tapestry of Khmer culture. All of this was well outside my comfort zone, but to me, that made it all the more appealing.

My time in Cambodia has been nothing short of fruitful, and in large part, that stems from working at SeeBeyondBorders. From those first few days in October when I tried to wrap my head around our comprehensive policies and the organisational structure and our plethora of projects and programs, I’ve been on a constant quest to understand SeeBeyondBorders’ various facets and layers of depth and make a meaningful contribution in supporting the organisation. I have to thank in particular Kian and Colm as invaluable mentors in this process for supporting and also challenging me.

“It was at our Staff Retreat two weeks after joining the organisation that I started to really get a grasp on SBB’s work.”

Though I started off small in October with writing and designing newsletters, I soon found myself out of my depth, tasked with creating presentations for potential donors. Yet with each subsequent iteration, I found a greater willingness to overhaul the design and try something different and new. Similarly, when working on internal resources, at first I had little to no direction, but step by step ideas fell into place like a pathway that reveals itself only as one walks forward into the unknown.

All that stumbling in the dark helped me find my bearings and progressively take on larger and larger projects — culminating in Raising the Bar | MPL Report – 2024. While just a few months prior I had been fixated on the colour palette of a PowerPoint presentation, I was now analysing data, constructing graphs, writing a report, then designing said report. As Sophen and I presented a brief overview to a professor and dean visiting from Princeton University, I couldn’t help but marvel at the change I had experienced firsthand in such a short span of time. I say without an ounce of uncertainty that it was only possible because of the ease of working at SeeBeyondBorders — the trust placed in every employee, the freedom to experiment and innovate, the shared unwavering commitment to uplifting education.

Visitors from Princeton University who facilitate the Bridge Year Program, visiting the SBB Battambang Office

Education is something that I have been privileged enough to consider as a given. Graduating high school and attending university were non-negotiable. Now, I wouldn‘t paint myself as so ignorant that I did not know educational inequity existed worldwide (I’ve been acutely aware) but living with a homestay family, working at SeeBeyondBorders, travelling to Ek Phnom schools, and speaking with veterans of the education sector has afforded me an understanding of why it is — the root causes, the systemic challenges and complexities and, by extension, the potential for change.

Even beyond my work at SeeBeyondBorders, themes of change, development, and the ethics behind them have been focal ideas of my time here in Cambodia. My Princeton peers and I have met with many organisations, from PEPY Empowering Youth in Siem Reap to the Cambodian Rural Development Team (CRDT) in Kratie, and have spent the past 6 months researching the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Change and development can be powerful, uplifting; they can better people’s lives in so many ways. But that’s contingent on good intentions, a respect for culture and tradition and conscientiousness of long-term stability. SeeBeyondBorders again and again ticks those boxes, and many more.

Rishi and fellow Bridge Year participants during a visit to CRDT organisation in Kratie

One year ago I would’ve never imagined I’d spent over 8 months in Cambodia. One year ago I would’ve never believed I’d be able to (somewhat) speak, read, write and listen to Khmer of all languages. One year ago I would’ve never thought I’d work for an Cambodian-driven, internationally-connected organisation that’s transforming the education system from its core. But though I may have never expected any of this, I’m eternally grateful that it came to be. So, to SeeBeyondBorders I’d just like to say thank you and ឣរគុណច្រេីនទាំងឣស់គ្នា។

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