Holidays in Cambodia
BY ADAM WISNIESKI
Between Thanksgiving and New Years Day, most people are thinking about doing something nice for other people — buying gifts perhaps, or throwing a party, or baking cookies.
For Dr. Helene Tyler, a Riverdale resident and Manhattan College professor, this year is a little bit different. Dr. Tyler volunteered to teach at the Royal University at Phnom Penh in Cambodia to help the country rebuild its academic community.
“I’m excited and I’m nervous and I’m hopeful.” says Tyler, “It’s overwhelming to think that I can participate in something like this.”
Dr. Tyler is part of the Visiting Lecturer Program sponsored by the United States National Committee for Mathematics. On Thanksgiving morning, she left for Cambodia to begin teaching an intensive three-week graduate course on differential equations. The program aims to strengthen the educational community of Cambodia that was devastated during the reign of Khmer Rouge and its leader, Pol Pot. The people of Cambodia are still rebuilding their country after the genocide in the late 1970s. As many as 2 million people were killed, including a majority of the educated people of Cambodia, who were singled out as unrevolutionary by the communist Khmer Rouge. The camps where so many were worked to death are now called the Killing Fields.
“The genocide that happened in Cambodia very often gets compared to the Holocaust in its scope and in the effect it had on the community. Pol Pot often gets compared to Hitler in his ruthlessness,” said Ms. Tyler. “Being Jewish, it hit me somewhere. The genocide in Cambodia was more recent so that community still has so much farther to go to get back to the level of the fully industrialized world.”
The Visiting Lecturer Series began sending teachers to Cambodia last year. Many professors from around the world have volunteered, but Dr. Tyler is the first among U.S. women.
“Right now there’s only one Cambodian in the country with a Ph.D in math, and he’s the Deputy Minister of Education,” said Ms. Tyler.