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Red Pine School (fictional name) has been running service projects to different parts of Cambodia, assisting in reconstruction and building projects. The students go away every March for approximately three weeks. They spent about two weeks working on a building site and then the last week they are engaged in cultural activities such as going to the beach, visiting Buddhist temples and visiting local markets. There are 10 students on the trip with two faculty leaders from the Red Pine School. One of the trip leaders, an English teacher at the school spent time working and teaching English in Cambodia for a few years before being to work at Red Pine. Consequently, he had made a lot of friends in the country who he can rely on for help and support when in-country. He can speak enough Khmer so that if there is an emergency, he will be able to communicate and get access to assistance. He has his Wilderness First Responder certification. The other teacher, an Art teacher, is new to the school and to its International Service Projects; this is her first time in Cambodia and her first time as an assistant leader on an International Service trip. She has her Basic First Aid (8hrs) certification. She does not speak any Khmer as do none of the student participants. They are not working with a third party contractor in-country but have developed and staffed the project themselves, working with different Khmer agencies for the service part of the experience.
Location - Russian Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Day 16 of 21 day trip
It is day 16 of the trip. Everything has gone quite well. The building project at Siem Riep, where the famous Angkor Watt is located was successful and the students and faculty group have bonded well. They are due for some rest, relaxation and social time. They are tired but excited about the work they did and the friends they have made. However, they are also looking forward to returning to Canada, and to friends and family at school. They have been looking forward to their visit to the Russian market where they plan to do some shopping for Cambodian handicrafts. The teachers are happy with how things have gone and feel good about the group. They too are weary, it has been a long first term and they are eager to get home. They feel confident in the group's ability to behave and act responsibility and, accordingly, have loosened the 'reins' somewhat from when they first arrived. The teacher who has been on the trip before and lived in Cambodia has decided to spend the day visiting some friends who live just outside of Phnom Penh and therefore will not be with the group at the market. He has discussed this with his co-leader who feels comfortable supervising the students on her own as she has developed a good rapport with the students and she is feeling more secure and confident as her role as a trip leader. As they only have one school cell phone between them, they decide that it is best for the staff member who is with the students to have the phone. The staff member who is visiting his friend's gives his friends' cell phone number to the trip leader who will be with the students. They depart by private transport from their hotel to the market in high spirits, one staff and ten students.
Do you have any concerns at the time? If so, list them and explain why you are concerned?
What appropriate safety precautions have the leaders taken thus far?
The group arrives at the market. The Russian market is the largest market in Phnom Penh; it spans 20 acres, has 15,000 stalls/stores and sees up to 100,000 visitors a day. Bargaining is expected, if not mandatory and the prices are
substantially cheaper than other shopping centers and street stalls. The Red Pine School trip leader briefs her students about safety in the market telling them to stick together and make sure that they meet her back at the bus drop off spot in a few hours. It is a beautiful day, sunny and hot, and everyone is eager to get shopping and have a short taste of freedom from the structure and routines of the previous two weeks.
What should be included in a safety briefing to students prior to 'free time' or 'unsupervised time' in a setting such as this?
What do you see as the hazards associated with this particular activity?
The students split up into small groups and head out to explore the market. Some of the students have watches, others do not. Despite the stipulation that they stick together, inevitably, some of the students get split up and more than one of them end up wandering the market stalls alone. They enjoy the bargaining aspect of the experience, the sights and sounds and the cheap prices. Although there are many tourists at this market, they still stick out with their western clothing, expensive cameras, iPods and bundles of local currency and American dollars. The two hours fly by and before they know it, it is time to meet back at the designated spot. The teacher arrives at the spot early and settles down to wait for the students. She expects that some of them will be a bit late and so has built in some extra time before their private bus picks them up in case that happens. The students slowly gather, some in groups, some solo, laden down by their purchases. Twenty minutes after the designated meeting time there is one student still missing. Some of the students were with him at the beginning by then they got separated. Non one has seen him in over one hour.
What concerns, if any, do you have at this time?
If you were the trip leader in this situation, what would you do at this time?
Worried about the student and aware that the bus will be there soon to pick them up for lunch, the trip leader organizes a small group of the most responsible students to go out and try to find the missing student. As she is on her own, she is not comfortable leaving the rest of the group and so she stays with them while the students go off in search of their friends. She decides not to phone the other trip leader yet as she is certain that the student will be found or returned soon and does not want to alarm him.
In this situation, how long would you wait for the student until you took action?
Do you agree with the decision made by the trip leader to send students off to look for the one missing student?
Who, if anyone, would you contact at this point?
What is another underlying factor that might be influencing the trip leader's decision making at this point?
The bus arrives to take them to their lunch spot. The trip leader explains to the bus driver what has happened. The bus driver's English is quite good so it is not difficult to communicate the situation to him. The bus driver agrees to stay with the students while the teacher leaves herself to look for the student. Just before the teacher leaves, the students who
left to search for the missing student returns, unfortunately without him. However, one of the students now recollects where she last saw the student in question and gives this information to the trip leader.
Do you think it was appropriate for the trip leader to leave the students in the care of the bus driver? What would you do in this situation?
The teacher heads off in the direction of the market where the student was last seen. On her way, as she weaves through the stalls, she passes the local police detachment and sees the missing student sitting inside. Relieved to find him and happy that he had the foresight to seek assistance with the local authorities, she enters the small makeshift structure. However, her relief quickly changes to confusion as the student turns to her with a flushed face and blurts out, "I didn't do anything wrong!" The attending officer turns to her and says something in Khmer which she doesn't understand. When she tries to explain to him that she doesn't speak any Khmer only English, he explains to her, in broken English, what happened. The student in question has been seen stealing a relatively expensive handicraft from one of the stalls, and was now being questioned by the police. The student was denying any wrong doing, saying that he paid for the item and that the stall vendor was trying to swindle him. The police have detained him and are in possession of his wallet and ID though his passport is back at the hotel.
What are your concerns at this time? What does the teacher need to do to deescalate the situation and secure the safety and release of the student? What are her priorities?
The attending policeman is speaking quite aggressively and talking about westerners and their disrespect for local culture. He also mentions that in Cambodia, theft is taken seriously and that the boy could be placed in jail and face a stiff fine. Realizing that she needs to take control of the situation and act quickly, the teacher offers to pay for the item, pointing out that he is just a teenager, is from a good school and family in Canada and did not mean any harm. The policeman just laughs at this and seems to suggest that a stint in jail might teach him a lesson. The trip leader decides it is time to phone her co-leader. The phone rings and rings but no one picks up and she is unable to leave a message or text message. It looks like she is alone on this one and needs to think through the situation herself.
Faced with this situation, what would you do next? Would you contact the Appleby College Emergency number at this point? What emergency services are at your disposal in this kind of situation?
Luckily, the trip leader has her Service Project Leader Handbook with her which also has the numbers of the Canadian Embassy in Bangkok which is responsible for Cambodia. She makes a call through to the Embassy and gets a recorded message. She leaves a message, requesting a call back and stipulates that the situation is urgent. The student is obviously distressed and angry and continues to insist that he did nothing wrong but is instead the victim of a scheme to get more money from him. The trip leader's phone rings - it is the Embassy returning her call. She quickly tells the person on the other end the situation. The person at the Embassy suggests that one way to deescalate things is for the student to admit to his wrongdoing (whether he did anything wrong or not) and apologize. This simple gesture would show respect for the police officer and stall vendor and could be what they are looking for, guilty or not, in order to diffuse things. Reluctantly, the student admits to the theft and apologies to the policeman and the stall vendor. It is only after the apology that the policeman agrees to leave the matter up to the stall vendor and to not take the student into custody. He returns the student's wallet and ID to him. The stall vendor demands payment of 6 000,000.00 KHR (Cambodian Reil - about $150.00 CAD) for the handicraft and for him not to press charges. As the trip leader does not have this much cash on her she must excuse herself and go and find a bank machine where she can get the money. As she heads to find a machine, her cell phone rings. It is her co-trip leader calling to check in. She quickly tells him what is
going on and he agrees to get himself to the Market as quickly as possible. The trip leader realizes that about an hour has passed since she left the group so she quickly joins up with the group before she heads back to the detachment and lets them know that she has found the student, that he is alright and that they will be joining them soon. The students are hot, tired and hungry, and irritated and want to know what is going on.
How much of the situation would you tell the students, if any?
The trip leader returns to the detachment, pays off the stall vendor and leaves with the student (and the 'stolen' handicraft) to return to the group. The group gets on the bus and goes back to the hotel for lunch where they are met by the other trip leader. The trip leader contacts the Canadian Embassy and updates them as to the situation and thanks them for their assistance.
Now that the immediacy of the situation has 'resolved' itself, what should be the trip leader's next course of action? Who else needs to be informed of the situation at this point?
Did the assistant trip leader handle the situation appropriately? What did she do well? What could she have done differently?
Over the next 24 hours it is revealed that the student did indeed steal the handicraft from the stall vendor. There are only four more days of the trip.
How should the trip leaders deal with this revelation? How should the school deal with the student upon his return to Canada?
How is this case study, based on a true incident, indicative of the many challenges that arise when leading an Appleby International Service project?