We came to Takeo, Cambodia to volunteer for a couple weeks with NFO (New Futures Organisation). Takeo is a rural province located a couple hours south of Phnom Penh. NFO works to bring new futures to poor children in rural Cambodia. NFO operates a chain of schools in the farming villages surrounding Takeo Town which provide free education to village children who are unable to attend regular school. In addition to running village schools, NFO offers English lessons to the community, including the local police force and monks; and they also run a children’s home which cares for young people in the area who would otherwise be left homeless.
Although education is free in Cambodia, parents are required to buy uniforms and books which are often beyond the financial means of rural farming families. Also, the main schools are located in Takeo Town, which is a number of miles away and the dirt roads can become impassable during the rainy season. In addition, children of all ages are often required to help out on the family farm, which also prevents them from attending regular classes. NFO provides education on private premises in the villages, school supplies are provided, and uniforms are not required.
We are volunteering at the school in the Little Po Village. It’s located about 5 miles from Takeo Town. We purchased bikes so that we would have our own transportation to/from the village. We’ll donate these bikes when we leave.
The first couple miles from Takeo Town to Little Po are on a paved road. Then you turn off the main road and take a dirt road for the last few miles.
Entering the village, you get a glimpse of what life is like here. Thatch roof homes on stilts, animals wandering freely, little children playing and yelling “Hello! Hello!” as you pass by. No cars, no electricity. Not much other than the necessities of living.
The school is located on a private residence in the middle of the village. Just over a year ago, an actual classroom was built for the 200+ children. Previously, class was held in a cow shed beneath the teacher’s house. It is humbling to see so many children in one classroom, with only one Khmer teacher.
Thankfully, that one teacher is excellent – his name is Teem and he does a great job at keeping the class under control and holding the childrens’ interest. He is full of energy and passion. A picture with Teem…
Volunteers help Teem by teaching English to smaller groups of students, relieving him from having all 200+ students and also allowing for the students to receive more individual attention. English is the second language of Cambodia and by learning English, the children will have access to many more employment opportunities in the future.
The children are very eager to learn. Whenever you write something on the whiteboard, they carefully copy it down into their individual notebooks. One thing we have observed about the children here is that they have very neat handwriting and want to have everything perfect in their notebooks. The other thing we quickly learned is that the children love singing. And Teem loves for them to learn songs in English. So, we have done a lot of singing! This past week, the entire school has learned and perfected “A is for Apple” (phonics song). It’s been stuck in my head for days now!
I know from personal experience that songs can be a great way to learn a second language, and repetition is key to making a language stick. Teem let’s us know what to teach and we find resources online that we can print off and bring with us to teach the material in different ways (songs, worksheets, questions, games, etc.). The more prepared we are, the better the day goes.
I’ve really enjoyed teaching the English classes and it’s something I could definitely see myself doing again. Of course, it would be better to do it for longer than just a couple weeks. The children are precious. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye. I just may have to hold on to a few of the drawings and notes they give us each day…