GIVING UPDATE: Program in Phnom Penh thrives thanks to UW Professor and private support
Civil war and genocide during the 1960s and 1970s left Cambodia’s economic, educational, political and social systems – as well as the health and wellbeing of many citizens – in ruins. Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) recognized a need for trained social workers to help mend the country, and so in 2004 it reached out to UW Social Work Professor Tracy Harachi to help create Cambodia’s first college-level social work degree program.
The four-year course, started in 2008, was specially designed as a practical, hands-on program to prepare its students for work at local and international organizations as well as in public agencies. After countless hours of dedicated work by Tracy, the faculty at RUPP and a team of volunteers, the first class of students recently graduated from the Social Work Baccalaureate degree program at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.
For a population in a country that is still recovering from the effects of a brutal regime, the graduation marked a pivotal step forward in providing long-term solutions for the health of Cambodia’s people.
“It is not so often that one person is able to make such a difference in the development of a country,” Carol Rodley, the former U.S. ambassador to Cambodia, has said in praise of Tracy’s achievements. “Tracy Harachi has had a huge impact and has helped to build an institution that contributes directly to peace, reconciliation and prosperity in Cambodia.”
Twenty-four-year-old Hour Chhaileng was one of the 22 graduates and personally feels affected by the woes of the damaged Cambodian society. In reflecting upon his life-changing decision to educate himself at RUPP, Chhaileng has said, “It’s not easy for Cambodians to live under these difficult circumstances. I wanted to do something to help them find solutions to their problems.”
Had it not been for the generous support of donors, students like Chhaileng would not have had the opportunity to better themselves and their society. Tracy’s dedication inspired donations, ultimately adding up to more than $700,000 towards helping to heal a nation.
The UW/RUPP Partnership has benefited students from the UW as well, providing opportunities for students to learn more about Cambodia and about social work in a global context. UW students have engaged in an intensive three-week study abroad course in Cambodia to provide students with a better understanding of Cambodia’s turmoil, independent studies and field placements in Cambodia and video conference exchanges with students at RUPP. A new four-week course in Cambodia for UW students begins next year.
Tracy’s decision to create the social work degree program was only the beginning – the students at the RUPP worked hard each day to understand the social, economic and political issues facing their society.