Teaching in Cambodia by Victoria Berdugo
I’m a 19-year-old gap year student from England and I’m currently taking part in the Teaching project in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I’ve been here for two months out of a total of five and I’m writing this to give you some insight into my project – hopefully I can inspire you to do something similar!
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got off the plane in Siem Reap, I just knew that I was so excited to find out what my life here had in store for me! I was disoriented at first (especially as I arrived at midnight and there was a blackout across the whole city so I couldn’t see a thing!) but Rey, the Projects Abroad staff member who picked me up really put me at ease.
The next morning I was given my induction and shown around the city; the post office, the markets and, crucially, ‘Pub Street’, the spot with the best night life and a place I was to become very well acquainted with! Meeting the other volunteers over lunch was fun too, as we were from all around the world and I couldn’t wait to get to know them all properly.
My Teaching Placement
Right from the first day I knew I would love my work at the orphanage. There are thirty-one kids between three and 18-years-old (as well as three kittens, two dogs and about fifty chickens!) living in a small house with a yard, a fish pond and a large vegetable garden. It’s a cheerful and lively place, with all the kids playing together like brothers and sisters and they call me the ‘mother’- I feel like I’ve become one of the family too!
The kids are affectionate, mischievous, energetic and intelligent - I love them all! As the kids all attend public school, they only go to school for a few hours a day. Therefore it is up to the other volunteers and me to occupy the rest of their time with English lessons, games, and projects. I teach for two to three hours per day, in three separate classes.
With the youngest kids we are learning colours, shapes and the alphabet; their favourite game is to see who can put the alphabet cards in the correct order the fastest! The kids aged nine to 12 are learning to read and write basic sentences which incorporate a range of vocabulary such as emotions, animals, clothing and fruits. They ask me several times a day to play bingo with them and they adore colouring.
With the teens, who are between 13 to 18-years-old we do conversation, spelling and reading. At times even the local staff joins in! As these children speak the best English at the orphanage, I love to ask them about Cambodian customs, about life at the orphanage and their hopes and dreams. When this last topic comes up, their selflessness always moves me – they want to be teachers, doctors, or have their own orphanage one day.
Every day at the orphanage is different as we try to do a variety of games, activities and lesson styles. A few weeks ago we bought paint and paintbrushes and let the kids paint one of the walls. Needless to say there was paint on every other wall too by the end of it! They loved helping to decide what should be painted – popular choices included butterflies and flowers, and we also did handprints and wrote our names (a dishearteningly large number of kids misspelled theirs). The end result was bright, disorganised and very genuine, we were proud of ourselves!
Dirty Weekend Activities
Once a month the other volunteers and I take part in a ‘dirty weekend’, in which we take a Saturday to help with a practical project at one of our orphanages. Recently we went to Home of Joy orphanage to help re-paint the playroom walls, forgoing our lie-in but nonetheless happy to be there.
We set about stripping the old flaky paint away, donning surgical masks to protect from the dust that would soon be covering every surface and turning our faces, hair and clothes white – we looked like ghosts! We then painted a bright yellow colour on the fresh walls, ready to have designs drawn on to make the room more enjoyable for the kids. It was a satisfying day and a fun change of environment as I got to see inside a different orphanage to our usual one.
I know that what I’ve seen and learnt here will stay with me for the rest of my life. This has been a unique opportunity to see into the lives of people who have almost nothing by our Western standards, yet they are unfailingly generous, kind and happy.
Although I came to help in any way I could, I feel like the kids and Cambodia as a whole have helped me enormously too. They have opened my eyes to so many new things, have taught me so much about human struggles, and have made me grow up as a person. I will always be grateful.
Cambodia, I love you!