California State University, Long Beach
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Morales a Changed Man After Most Recent Trip to Cambodia

Published: February 16, 2009

The CSULB flag was planted in Cambodia last July when the Center for Language Minority Education and Research’s Director of School Improvement Alex Morales led a 10-member class to the land of the killing fields.

The “Social and Cultural Diversity in Educational Settings” class joined the leadership of Hearts Without Borders last summer to return a child to Cambodia after she received life-saving heart surgery in the United States. “It was quite an emotional day as the CLMER group donated books, clothing, school and medical supplies to the families of her village in Battambang,” said Morales, who joined the university in 1995. “When you see these poor children, you become emotionally attached.”

Class participants included documentary filmmaker Alfred Lugo, Lakhena Chhuon, Ronald and Alana Reese (husband and daughter of CLMER Director Leslie Reese), Darren Junier, Manuel Arzate, Xochitl Maldonado, Phoebe Harichi, Leslie Fine and Morales.

Since first visiting Cambodia in 2003, Morales has built a record of activism that includes delivering rice, noodles and dental supplies to poor rural villages, distributing literature to hundreds of students, adopting a daughter who remains in Cambodia with her family, instructing a university class and becoming an active member of the board of directors for “Hearts Without Boundaries,” a nonprofit global volunteer organization established to provide humanitarian services such as medical teams, heart surgery, and medical supplies in Southeast Asia.

“As a CSULB staff member, a professional educator, and a current board of education member for the Whittier Union High School District, I am blessed to have such a wide range of support from my family, CLMER, personal friends and colleagues,” said Morales. “I also have the support of elementary and middle school teachers, students and parents who recycle plastic bottles and cans to buy rice and noodles. This, along with the supports of Hearts Without Boundaries, a newly created 501(3)c organization that provided open heart surgery for two Cambodian children in the USA last year, motivated me to continue my humanitarian work and try to improve the lives of less fortunate children.”

The latest visit included an audience with Cambodia’s King Samdech Preah Baromneath Norodom Sihamoni, who has reigned since 2004. “About 10 of our party were allowed to spend an hour with his majesty,” said Morales. “There were several presentations including one of mine to the king about CSULB. It was a great experience.”

The roots of Morales’ interest in Cambodia began in 2003. “At the urging of friends and colleagues at CLMER, I decided to take a two-week vacation to Cambodia,” he recalled. “Working in Long Beach for the school district and university for 20 years and having several Cambodian-American colleagues and personal friends who survived the genocide, I felt it was time to visit the country that was still dealing with the aftermath of the Pol Pot regime of the 1970s. Upon my return to CSULB, I made a PowerPoint presentation of my experience to the CLMER staff. After the presentation, our director approached me and stated very seriously, ‘You’re a changed person. The trip to Cambodia has changed you.’ How ironic; my wife made the same comment just a day before.”

Morales praised CLMER for making the class possible. “The center always has been inclusive of all cultures,” he said. “This class is an effort by the center to make sure that our educators and teachers are equipped at all levels to instruct our K-12 students.”

Photo courtesy of Alex Morales
Alex Morales with children during recent trip to Cambodia

Morales encourages other CSULB faculty and staff members to get involved in outreach efforts. “It is a way for the university community to learn more about the deep cultural issues that can be difficult to understand,” he said. “We all know about music and movie stars. What about Cambodian deep cultural values? That is much more complex. It is something our teachers, staff and community need to experience.”

CLMER in collaboration with CSULB, University College and Extension Services and the Cambodian Ministry of Education, will offer an 18-day approved course in Cambodia for teachers and university students this summer. Faculty members and students will absorb the Cambodian culture, teach ESL/ELD lessons and visit museums, orphanages, clinics, rural village schools and temples as well as join roundtable discussions with Cambodian students, teachers and administrators.

“It will also offer participation in rice and noodle distribution to poor rural families,” Morales explained. “Students will visit the ancient religious site and temples of Angkor Wat. They will visit an orphanage for victims of land mines and they will participate in the distribution of children’s books.”

Morales looks forward to a great class this summer. “We want to work more closely with Cambodian educators on how we in the USA approach language instruction,” he said. “Also, at the same time we as educators of many Cambodian American students must understand the recent history of Cambodia and how that affects their education and learning here in the USA.”