Year Joined MKLM: 2011
City: Phnom Penh
Project: Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP)
Project Goal: Facilitate building critical thinking skills and tools for active reflection among Cambodia university students.
Maria Montello of Atlanta, Ga., comes to Maryknoll Lay Missioners following completion of an MA in “neurophilosophy” and a 12-year career working in software engineering and management at American Public Media / Minnesota Public Radio. She found her way to Maryknoll through relationships made during her stint in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps where she taught mathematics in Portland, Oregon. Maria brings her teaching and work experience in mathematics, information technology, and philosophy to Cambodia where she hopes to realize her call to mission and service, “a call shared by every child of God,” she says.
In Cambodia, material poverty is matched by a dearth of educated citizens following the ravages of the Khmer Rouge, the ruling party of the late seventies who eliminated a quarter of the population. It is said that 90% of the educated were killed; the others left the country. However, there is hope and opportunity. Maryknoll has been working to restore the institutions of higher learning since the very earliest stages including the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP), the only one in the country that takes scholarship students. What former dictator Pol Pot literally converted into a pigpen, people have returned to what it was meant to be—a place where tomorrow’s leaders are emerging.
Maria is working as a philosophy instructor at RUPP where she currently teaches critical thinking to undergraduates. Local Cambodian business associations and international agencies have identified a lack of critical thinking skills as a significant issue in the country; however, Maria believes these tools are not only important for creating a productive work force and carving a successful development path for Cambodia. “The ability to think critically,” she says, “to ask questions, to be reflective about oneself and others—this ability is an essential tool for students to learn to be intentional about how they want to be in the world and about what they want that world to be. Cambodia’s youth, 60% of the population, need this more than ever before.”