Last July I had the chance to go to Cambodia to do voluntary work in collaboration with the NGO Right to Smile. Although, I am used to do voluntary work I never had the opportunity to travel and spare my time with people of different nationality. While I was there, I felt so blessed that I couldn’t accept the fact in month time I will be back home.

One of the tasks that we were assigned to do during our stay is to teach children in one of the schools that Right to Smile in collaboration with NFO is working in order to give children the education they deserve. From my experience, I realised how eager the children are to learn and the more interesting the lesson will be the more interest they show to learn.

As an early year practitioner, I believe in free play and children learn through free play and fortunately these children have the opportunity to play and learn with the limited resources they find. They don’t have reading books or charts hanging all around the class. No technology to google certain words to increase their knowledge. They only learn through rote learning; meaning that children through repetition; without knowing the meaning behind the words that they are saying. What the teacher says they do and eventually write.

During my stay I was able to work hand in hand with one of the teacher; the eldest and a survivor and the feel that he gave me is extraordinary. The teacher is so dedicated that although he is nearly 80 years of age and is retired, keeps teaching. In fact, he converted his house into another private school.

Something else which I was looking forward too during the day was the time I have spent with a group of children ranging from 11 till 18 years from the drop in center. I had the opportunity to get to know another group of students that during the evening nothing will stop them from going to learn even being at 6:30 in the evening. These youths showed so much interest that it helped me analyse what these children really need in order to live and make a better living. With few resources at my hand I had the ability to teach these students English and I believe that these children had the ability to learn and understand what certain words means. Since, they learn through rote learning I tried to enhance the lesson by singing, dancing, drawing and also through role play.

When I was there I had to adjust myself and live as they live. This intercultural experience helped me to understand better how they live. During the 3 weeks that I have spent in Cambodia, I was able to reflect. Luckily enough we live in luxury and although we might have everything we still feel unaccomplished with what we have. We always seek to have the best whereas these people are always happy and eager to learn new things to make their living a better one. They do not have cars as a means of transport they use the bicycle and the motorcycle. When I arrived in Cambodia I didn’t know how to ride the bicycle and the volunteers tried the teach me during the first week. However, the teenagers themselves thought me how to ride the bicycle. They have a tactic which really amazed how in one day I managed to learn how to ride the bicycle. This is something I will never forget, as I had the ability to help them improve their English, while they helped to develop another skill which I wished to know from a very young age.

Some tips for you out there if you are really interested in this project that Right 2 Smile offers is:

When you are there make sure to visit the S21 prison and the Killing fields in order to understand from what these people had gone through 40 years ago; and it is still effecting their life
Art is the key for learning, if you think that the children are not understanding you; just sing and/or draw
Their food is to die for, so make sure to try and taste everything 😉
The children and people themselves are into sports, while on your stay join them; and encourage them to join teams as it helps them to build self-esteem and self-confidence
Talking to them will help them to feel at ease and they will be able to build trust and confidence while speaking in English
Give them books so they can start showing interest in reading and learning how to read, write, listen and speak in English
Be careful in the streets and when its dark try to walk/cycle with someone else
If you don’t know how to ride the bicycle, don’t worry in days you will be able to learn and also drive in heavy traffic streets 😉
When it starts pouring find a shelter and wait until in stop, it can be dangerous to cycle or walk when it’s raining

During those three weeks I understood how precious every minute is for them and although they have been through a lot during the Khmer Rouge these people never give up. These people are so willing to learn that nothing will stop them not even the rain. When it rains children fight every obstacle to go to school, even if they become wet. It is not easy to cycle, walk or drive while raining as it will be pouring, however, the enthusiasm these children have makes me wonder why we struggle when it rains for a few minutes.

So, whenever, I look back to the time I have spent in Cambodia, all I can say is that these people stole my heart as I never ever, saw people so enthusiastic to learn and work that I can never look back and say goodbye. One of the reasons that I’ve been saying ‘See you Soon’ is because I want to see the teenagers and the children whom I have spent my time with, whether they have moved on and are earning the money to live the life they really deserve. One thing I will and always say; kheunh anak chab Cambodia; Takeo 🙂


Christabell Tanti

July 2016

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