I do not even know how to begin. I guess with the physical weight I feel across my heart in first experiencing the Cambodian school I’m teaching at for the next two weeks. Why do I feel like erupting into tears? It’s a similar feeling to that I had on the back of pi lak’s motorbike. How can some have so much and be so miserable and some have so little and be so sweet? It’s a fickle world we live in. This trodden feeling I have is helplessness maybe- where do I begin to help? And what will help!? Money, time, a voice? Luckily the universe has blessed me with all three so I feel perhaps a calling to act everyday to spread this wealth. I guess this aligns with my passion of education and exploration of the world. This is an enlightening EEE moment.
First day of school:
The faces pierce me first. The smiles that burry contrite emotions of the one teacher and two administrative fellows who run the entire save children and communities development organization’s south Phnom Penh school. We arrived via Tuk Tuk after classes had started for the morning, but in retrospect of the AM, I question, if we as volunteers aren’t at the head of the classroom, who is?
The 20 minute tuktuk ride through ‘real Cambodian living’ is littered with plastic bags, bottles, cans, all faded this dusty color, faded by the sun and environment with certainly no sign of decomposing. The amount of litter, it is over whelming. And judgement hit me first, really questioning how an entire population can live in such filth? Why doesn’t anyone care to pick this up? Then my narrow minded western suburban lense slapped me across the face upon realizing- there is no designated place to put it, and no organization to come pick it up and put it there. So for all the times I’ve complained about hauling the garbage 20m to the end of the driveway, I am sorry. And then I begin to wonder how many of these country dwellers, forced to the city to find work which averages $80 USD a month if lucky, miss the serenity of nature, or understand an outsiders perception of ‘living in filth’.
The Tuk Tuk pattered to a stop on a small dirt road, after twisting around the part of the city that the faint of heart does not want to see. From the dilapidated buildings surrounding us, I questioned, are we here? Where’s the school? Where’s the children’s laughter? It sounds like we are in a major construction zone. The Tuk Tuk driver needed to reassure us and give us another nudge in the direction of two men. I wonder what our faces looked like to them- immediately our politeness took over and the confusion in our eyes before was now matched with welcomes. Pero nate and (3rd teachers name) seemed so very grateful to meet us. Yung is from China, and michelle and I from the states. Like any formal first meeting, they welcomed us into the “office” to sit down and better understand our teaching experience and what level we should be placed in. The office had no electricity,and to get there, we needed to climb over metal poles covering the floor. They apologized for the noise- they are building walls. Until a $2000 donation came from one of the volunteers last week, the school did not have walls.
Young was to my left, michelle to my right, seated on a wicker sofa across from these three men. Cara another teacher with CVF came in too holding pinaud’s hand. We teach from 8-9 with a fifteen minute break then 9:15 to 10. To my understanding this am class then leaves for lunch and government school or work. We return to teach the pm kids 2-3′ 3:15-4. I am not a formally trained teacher, but they did not even care. I speak English and have zero criminal background. That’s it. That’s how desperate they are to educate these children.
My teaching experience comes from Thailand with the mirror foundation and some volunteer work inner city in the states. These programs were filled with resources of flash cards and games and books and markers and beads. SCCDO now has walls and that is an accomplishment. This school has courage and volunteers and energetic, smiling, bright children who are so thankful for what they have. Yet, this school barely has a foundation. There’s a tin roof and 4 10×10 areas separated by new thin plywood walls, and a whiteboard in each classroom. There are four whiteboard markers and one whiteboard eraser. So any time the board is filled and you need to erase, one of the students in the back has to pop over to whatever classroom had the eraser last. By the end of the hour, I had used my skirt to wipe the board and even a crumpled up piece of paper. I didn’t even want to use the sheet of paper Tepy eagerly ripped from her Winnie the Pooh notebook, because each child only has one notebook. They share pens.
There are no books, not one single children’s book on nonexistent shelves. I had asked the teachers… What do the students like and not like? Cheerfully Piro said, “They don’t like to read because it difficult to pronounce English aloud.” Embarrassed they laughed and we smiled. I thought oh, great, I will practice this, so I asked about any books, and that’s when my heart sank- smiles remaining, but their eyes changing. There are no books. Zero books. Not one story in the entire school.
To think about the library in my elementary school, or snuggling up on my kindergarten teachers lap for a story, or even the multitude of workbooks for every subject and taking this for granted my entire life brings weight to my chest. But I cannot sit here and feel guilty. I will be creative in my teaching with one marker. The ten, “level three” kids I have are starting to be conversational and write sentences with tenses or change verbs into adverbs. I tell myself I will make a difference in the two weeks I have with them. And afterwards I vow to fill their school with books and resources to maximize their learning potential.
The gratefulness and joy and sincerity in their hearts fills mine.
I’m going to go plan out two weeks of lessons now, with just my brain, their attentiveness and a marker, wish me luck!
Share your EEE Moment! Your SEOT?