During my trip to Siem Reap, I decided to include some variety to my itinerary other than just visiting the Angkor Temples and ruins. I went to the Kampong Khleang Floating Village and signed up with Soconomist to do some volunteering in Cambodia. I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time and finally got the opportunity.
A little background here about Soconomist. It is a non-profit, non government organisation, self-funded community enterprise that is registered as a company in Singapore. Soconomist believes in providing education to people, especially children in developing countries. This allow them to acquire knowledge and become self reliant in order to get out of poverty. My friend MJ was a volunteer and that’s how I got to know of the organisation.
My volunteering in Cambodia, Siem Reap covered a period of 2 days, the first of which was sight-seeing around the Angkor Temples and getting to know the other volunteers. However, it was the teaching at one of the local village schools the following day that left a deep impression on me.
On the morning of the teaching-day we gathered at the hotel where the other volunteers stayed. We bought some stationary from a shop nearby before leaving for the village school. The school was about 20 minutes away by tuk-tuk.
When we arrived at the school just before 8am, the students were already there. What I first noticed was how small they were for their age. Most of them were wearing school uniforms, and they were all in good spirits with most of them running around, playing.
Poleak, Soconomist’s Country Manager for Cambodia then introduced us to the Principal of the school. They then tried to get the things organised before classes started. I and two other volunteers were assigned to teach and interact with the higher-level class first. This class had students around 12-13 years old. Poleak was around to be our interpreter but these children understood basic English so we were able to communicate throughout in English. It was great because one of the purposes of having overseas volunteers was to provide them with the opportunity to interact in English.
We started with introductions, of the volunteers and the students. We engaged them to speak more with basic questions like “What is your name? How old are you? How many sisters and brothers do you have?” After that the class started with us teaching them Mathematics. It was basic addition, subtraction and multiplication using the traditional method, i.e. NO CALCULATOR! Frankly, I had no problem with the additions and subtractions without using a calculator BUT for multiplication, I needed a little bit of refresher course myself! Now don’t start laughing at me and try doing this simple multiplication sum on paper, without using a calculator or mental sum and tell me how long you took to solve it: 3890 x 45. Do you even remember how to start?? That’s probably how I felt! Lol!
We called some students to go up to the whiteboard to solve some questions. They were rewarded with the stationary we bought if they answered correctly. We also gave them a series of questions and asked them to solve in their notebooks. Then rewarded those who got all correct answers. Everyone had a lot of fun! And I don’t remember this level of participation in our schools.
There was this small incident when one of the girls was trying to solve a question in front of the class. The question was something like 9 x 12. She didn’t manage to answer them correctly twice and looked a bit panicky at the third attempt. When she went back to her seat after 3 failed attempts, I saw tears rolling down her cheeks and her nose was all red. She looked a little shaken up. I quickly walked over and tried to comfort her, by giving her a similar question and teaching / showing her how to do it. When I checked back later on her regarding the second question I came up with for her, she got the perfect answer! Knowing that the answer was right, she looked less stressed and more confident than before and less upset. I guess she was probably just too nervous being in front of the whole class. They could get a bit noisy and rowdy since everyone was trying to get a shot at the rewards we were giving out.
Each class lasted about 1.5hours before they had a break. During break time, the students took the opportunity to play, like any other children in the world! We the volunteers, on the other hand, were trying to get our hands on some snacks and drinks. There was even ice cream in the school so why not!
We taught the lower-level students after the break, aged between 7 and 10. It was a much bigger class of more than 40 students. Most of these children know zero English and Poleak had to interpret everything to them. At one point, Poleak even got the students to do a recital, watch the video below!
The Math questions for these children were of course simpler. We saw some of them using their toes to count, like many of us when we were little, it was adorable. And when the boys were naughty, Poleak made them stand on 1 leg in front of the class as punishment, just like the old times!
When the class ended at lunchtime, the students went home. We had our lunch with the school’s Principal, teachers and the Soconomist helpers right outside the classroom. They prepared local Cambodian cuisine, which was delicious. Despite some language barriers, we enjoyed the lunch with jokes and chit-chat.
It was half-day of studying on the day we went to teach. The students returned in the afternoon following their lunch break for outdoor activities session. It was something like our Physical Education (PE) lessons but longer. We had to suggest some activities for the students to Poleak who then helped to arrange the games. Since there were too many of them, the children were again split into the higher and lower levels (by age) and they took turns to participate in the games. Even though the weather was hot and humid, everybody had a good time.
When I took my camera out to take pictures of the students, a group of them sitting on the slide shouted to me “Teacher teacher! Here, here!” and started posing for me. This went on for a while because they obviously loved to have their pictures taken. Of course I took the opportunity to take more photographs when there was a ready subject/subjects! The joy in them when they saw the photographs was indescribable!
When the day ended, some of the older students were still lingering around to say goodbye to us. I can’t describe how I felt but it was almost touching to witness. I know many volunteers do come and go but how often do they have form that link with the volunteers?
Many of the students showed that they were eager to learn. I would like to think that my extremely short volunteering stint in Cambodia, Siem Reap touched someone’s life that day. Hopefully we also inspired the young child to study harder in order to have a better life in future. I was no doubt humbled by the experience.
Will I do it again? You bet!
If you would like to participate in something meaningful, please check out Soconomist’s website and you can be volunteering in Cambodia too! They are also on Facebook which you can “Like” and follow the many volunteering stories and activities! Other things to do in Siem Reap can be found here.
Note: This is not a sponsored post.