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Elise Bronzo ’10 and the Colgate Speaking Union help foster debate in Cambodia

By Daniel DeVries on January 2, 2013
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Students in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, participate in debate, with a little help from Elise Bronzo ’10, and Colgate Speaking Union Coordinator John Adams.

A newly formed all-female debate team in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, is now practicing three times a week, thanks to the help of a Colgate alumna, web video conferencing, and the Colgate Speaking Union.

Elise Bronzo ’10, traveled to Cambodia earlier this year as a volunteer with the Harpswell Foundation, a nonprofit group that works to assist young women in attending college. Bronzo, who previously worked as an outreach programming coordinator for the African, Latin, Asian, and Native American Cultural Center (ALANA), said her passion for women’s issues in southeast Asia, along with knowing another alumna who volunteered with Harpswell, led her to spend the last three months of 2012 volunteering with the organization.

The day she arrived, Bronzo said she was approached by a student interested in debate. Bronzo, who played basketball at Colgate, was never on the debate team. So, she contacted John Adams, coordinator of the Colgate Speaking Union, who worked with her and the students in Cambodia through video chats on Skype.

“I’ve never met someone with so much energy as John Adams. He takes his positive aura and just focuses it into debate. It makes you want to debate immediately. He could make me passionate about corn on the cob. It’s unbelievable,” Bronzo said. “The girls have really fed off of that, and them knowing that someone is so invested in them is one of the reasons that has made this so successful.”

Within a few days, Adams built a blog with links to videos and instruction about how debate works, and how to learn the rules and conduct for British Parliamentary Debate, which is performed in English and is also practiced at Colgate.

“Debate is an amazing vehicle for preparing men and women to take on active political public lives,” Adams said. “It’s a way of speaking that people have employed … to make decisions, and to promote the beautiful and the good and everything else in between.”

Bronzo ’10 volunteered for three months in Cambodia with the Harpswell Foundation.

Bronzo said participants in the new debate club have grown as public speakers in just three months.

“It’s the loudest I’ve ever seen any of the girls speak. That’s been amazing. They are brilliant and have great things to say, but they silence themselves,” she said. “Seeing them being forced to get up in front of a group and explaining why they should be elected prime minister, you can see how empowered they feel.”

The new group has plans to continue with Bronzo now back in the United States, and Len Leng, a Cambodian student who helped form the club with the help of Bronzo and Adams, said they have a goal to compete in an international debate forum in the future.

Leng said participating in debate has been an experience that has fostered team building, flexibility, and critical thinking.

“In general, debate helps everyone with critical thinking skills, responsibility, positive thinking, and being challenged with real world issues,” Leng said. “It is very fun and the most wonderful time when I am on the stage.”

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