Report from Cambodia by Panasonic Volunteer Employee Reporters
Donation and Visit to Literacy Classes


Group photo

From February 9 to 12, 2020, three Panasonic overseas volunteer reporters selected through internal recruitment visited Kampong Cham Province in Cambodia, where the Japan Team of Young Human Power (JHP) has active programs, to observe how solar lanterns are being used in adult literacy classes.

Social disparities growing in the shadow of rapid economic growth

Cambodia is a country that has had much suffering in its history, including civil war and the genocide of intellectuals under the Pol Pot regime, between independence from France in 1953 and the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1991. It is still on the path to recovery today. In recent years, growing investment by international corporations, including companies from China and South Korea, has contributed to rapid economic growth, modernization of life in urban areas, and the astounding 125% mobile phone penetration rate, due in part to their extremely low cost of approximately two dollars a month. Meanwhile, electricity is very expensive compared to commodity costs and almost equal to the cost of electricity in Japan. Despite electrification rates exceeding 90% in rural areas, many households still cannot use electricity because of its high cost.

In continuation of its "100 Thousand Solar Lanterns Project" that begin in 2013, Panasonic launched the "AKARI" Bringing Light to People project in 2018 to invite the general public to join our efforts to bring solar lanterns to areas that have no electricity.

This is the fourth time that employees who have been making donations since the "100 Thousand Solar Lanterns Project" have been selected through internal recruitment to be deployed overseas as volunteer employee reporters.

Literacy classes for adults who were unable to receive education

JHP is offering literacy classes in Kampong Cham Province, about 90 kilometers north of Phnom Penh, the capital city. Villagers work as farmers, and during the dry season when farming is not possible, make a living by working at garment factories or selling things. Many people in rural areas of Cambodia were denied an education under the Pol Pot regime or come from poor families and had to help out at home instead of going to school. JHP's adult literacy classes are open to such persons, aged 15 or older.

The literacy classes run from 6 to 8 p.m., six days a week, from Monday thru Saturday. Over an approximately eight-month period, students learn reading, writing, and arithmetic to gain knowledge that is critical for daily life. Students take four tests until graduation and when their cumulative total score clears a set standard, a district-certified diploma is issued that is equal to having graduated from elementary school in Cambodia. With this diploma, when people work at garment factories for example, they can increase their income because they can receive a higher wage than workers without a diploma.

Photo @Panasonic Corporation
93 out of the 100 students at these literacy classes are women. Individuals who have never gone to school and cannot read or write at all are given the priority.

Having fun while learning is the key to steady attendance

Of the four villages with literacy classes, we visited classes in Chan Korng Village and Kampot Village

When it started getting dark after the sun had set, students who had finished their farm work for the day and prepared dinner for their families started appearing one after the other, with solar lanterns in hand, gathering at the community center in Chan Korng Village. Since there are no streetlights, people depend on the light of solar lanterns when walking the dark streets at night. By the time class was ready to start, the area was pitch black.

Photo @Panasonic Corporation
A quick donation ceremony before class. Panasonic employees presented donated solar lanterns.

Students are constantly laughing in instructor Son's classes and both he and the students seem to be truly enjoying the time. Haruna Tatsukawa, JHP staff member said, "In order to have students continue attending for eight months, it is important to structure classes in a way that teaches them that learning is fun, and that it is OK to make mistakes. That keeps them engaged." The sight of Song's students listening intently to what he says and participating seriously in class but also having fun gave us a strong impression of the students' genuine desire to learn.

Photo @Panasonic Corporation
Mr. Song Cham works as a teacher at a public elementary school in the morning, farms in the afternoon, and once that is done, teaches literacy classes.

"I want to start a small business after graduation!"

At the class in Kampot Village, we had the chance to talk with Tet Tong, one of the few male students.

Tet owns a farm in Kampot Village and lives with his wife and child who will soon be one year old. He had never been to school before starting literacy classes and did not know how to read, write, and do arithmetic. As a result, he could not sign his name when renting a house, he had been cheated because he could not read contracts, and he had experienced repeated frustration. Tet says, "I'm tired every day after working on the farm, but classes are fun, and more than anything, I love the opportunity to learn. My family has also been really supportive of me." He described happily how now that he can read and write, he can understand the details of a contract and sign his name.

Photos while talking to Mr.Tet Tong @Panasonic Corporation

Attending literacy classes has instilled Tet with a new dream: "Once I graduate, I want to buy a tractor and start a small business renting it out to the villagers. I want to start my business by next year." It was memorable how he spoke passionately, with a twinkle in his eye.

Tet also talked about how literacy classes have helped him understand first hand the importance of education, and his outlook on the subject has changed significantly. "As a child, we did not have the opportunity to receive an education. But it's not possible to escape poverty unless you have knowledge. I don't want my kids to have to go through what I did. I want them to go to school no matter what happens, and to learn," he said with firm determination.

We were able to confirm that solar lanterns aren't just helpful as light. They also change people's views of education and provide an opportunity for them to live a fuller life.

Cambodia office joined the AKARI” Bringing Light to People” project for the first time as overseas Panasonic office

Local staff from our Cambodia office also joined the recent tour. This is the first time staff from one our overseas offices joined a tour with the Bringing Light to People project. Makoto Sato, Senior Manager of the Cambodia office at Panasonic Asia Pacific Pte, Ltd. commented, "We usually contribute to society through our products, but we've never had the chance to visit rural villages where solar lanterns are donated. We wanted to use this opportunity to discover what we as the Cambodia office can do in the future for the good of the community, so we decided to send two staff from our office."

Makoto Sato, Senior Manager, Cambodia Office, Panasonic Asia Pacific Ptd, Ltd.

Photo @Panasonic Corporation

One of the staff members, Vichet Keovorleak, joined the Cambodia office in August 2019. She is in charge of posting product information on their Facebook page. She studied in Japan for six years and obtained a Master's degree prior to joining the company. She decided to join Panasonic in order to realize her dream of "becoming a person that can support the growth of my still-developing country, Cambodia," and was inspired by Panasonic's corporate philosophy of selling not only products but also supporting the creation of a better society.

Vichet (second from left) interviews a literacy class student together with a volunteer employee reporter from Japan

Photo @Panasonic Corporation

This was Vichet's first time visiting a village that has no electricity. She speaks enthusiastically: "Developing human talent is more important than anything in order for Cambodia to grow as a country and resolve its current poverty issues. I was so inspired by how the Bringing Light to People project not only delivers light to people, but also changes people's mindsets and creates an opportunity for people to communicate to the next generation about the importance of education. I will share my experience with the team and apply this to our future CSR activities at the Cambodia office."

Interaction with children at the CCH orphanage operated by JHP

On this trip, we also visited the Center for Children's Happiness (CCH), an orphanage operated by JHP in Phnom Penh. CCH was started in 2002 to support orphans who had been surviving by scavenging from mountains of garbage. The 108 children living here are aged six to eighteen, and had been abandoned due to land mine injuries or poverty, or escaped from dangerous areas with HIV/AIDS. They live here in a dormitory while they learn reading, writing, and arithmetic, and also receive occupational training, such as sewing, hair cutting, and computer-related skills.

At CCH, volunteer employee reporters from Japan conducted their own yes-no quiz about Panasonic and Japan and in return had the children teach them Cambodian games as they got to know each other.

Photo: Interaction @Panasonic Corporation
Photo: Interaction @Panasonic Corporation

Discoveries made thanks to having made the visit

After the three volunteer employee reporters completed their two-day tour, what were their impressions about life in villages without electricity and the activities of the Bringing Light to People project? We asked them their thoughts at the end of the mission.

Shinsuke Tawa

"I really felt the people's strong desire to learn when I saw them coming to literacy classes to study by the light of solar lanterns, even if they were tired after work. I was also happy to see that Panasonic's solar lanterns are contributing in situations like that. I especially remember what the village chief of Chan Korng Village said: 'I feel happiness when there is no violence and I can wake up to peace every morning.' I hope to get more colleagues involved so that Panasonic products can bring as many smiles to people as possible."

Photo @Panasonic Corporation

Soya Baba

"When I heard about villages without electricity, I imagined a remote place deep in the mountains. So I was surprised that many people living only a stone's throw away from a main road are still living without electricity. The sight of a former student who had gained confidence and more income after attending literacy classes, proudly responding in an interview has left a lasting impression on me. I also renewed my admiration for Panasonic for working, through its products, to create opportunities for people to change their lives for the better. Going forward, I want to take action so that more people in and outside our company can learn about the activities of the Bringing Light to People project."

Photo @Panasonic Corporation

Kaede Shimada

"I was delighted to see that solar lanterns do not just provide light, but also help to improve people's lives, but this trip also helped strengthened the desire I've had since before joining the company to be involved in business at Panasonic that makes a big contribution to society. It also renewed my appreciation of Panasonic and its culture of giving opportunities to employees who want to get involved, even new employees like me. If any employee out there is interested in the volunteer employee program, I say, go for it."

Photo @Panasonic Corporation

*Source: EAC Salient Features of Power Development in Kingdom of Cambodia