You know how life sometimes, if not always, throws the right things at you at the right time, do you?
Last October I met Helen in Borneo (Malaysia) and she pointed Camkids out to me. Thanks Helen :) And because my aim while traveling is to bring some smiles into peoples lives and to give something of my fortune back, I decided to get in touch with this organization (NGO).
After a couple of Emails it was set, I joined them for 2 weeks and helped with teaching English and I did a special Happy Project :) please keep reading, I am sure it’s worth the effort!
When I arrive in a new city/country, I usually just walk around and check the neighborhood. It’s the best way of getting a feeling of the people and the new area.
Oh damn …here in Cambodia maybe not such a good idea :) … from a freezing train-ride within Thailand into the stifling heat of 40 degrees pfffffff, I almost died here :) (and I thought, I am used to such temperatures – I used to live in Dubai after all).
As I wandered around Phnom Penh (Capital City of Cambodia) on my way to the meeting with Camkids, I was sweating my ass off. I found a nice tiny cafe. A backyard with a tractor, chickens and a turkey strolling around :) so cute and it somehow felt like being back home in Germany somewhere, so surreal.
I had an appointment with Saroeun Sao, the Program Manager of Camkids.
Camkids is always looking for volunteers, especially long-term (more than 2 weeks) and are especially happy when foreigners want to come and help them with teaching English in a school, about 70 km west of Phnom Penh, right out in the sticks in Kampong Speu.
The good thing about this organization in comparison to other NGO’s – One does not need to pay to volunteer! The only expense one needs to cover is the food, about 2,5 Dollar a day, nearly nothing for western standards.
Who is Camkids?
Camkids is an NGO, which built and opened a school in Kampong Speu in March 2012 and supports many other projects in Cambodia too. You can read more about it on their homepage. www.camkids.org
The CCC – Cambodian Children’s Charity (camkids) School I was working for is built with environmental awareness. As a school fee each child needs to contribute 20 to 30 kg cow-pooh :) with the cow shit the gas for the cooking is produced and the planted trees are fertilized.
They even grow their own vegetables :) which is a bit difficult during dry season, because of the water shortage.
On the roof of the school solar cells are installed to have electricity.
Wells were dug (water tested by a lab).
The students are supplied with drinking water every day!
When kids leave the school they can go into a program called ‚Grade‘ – Give Resources Aid Developing Education – They get a bicycle, school uniforms, books and have the option to go to one of the 3 different government schools in reach. The students are always welcome to come back to Camkids School for English classes or have their bicycles repaired.
The employed teachers are mainly retired government teachers and work now for Camkids.
They wanted me to start immediately! No time to check Phnom Penh for now, but hey, I wanted to be there and help them out! Phnom Penh can wait!
Saroeun took me to the school the next morning – 70 km, 21/2 hours ride :).
It was a strange feeling again … it’s like going to school for the very first time and being the new one in the class. Everybody was staring at me .. my stomach hurt and I was nervous.
I was greeted by Mr. Phorn Sophak, the Principal and Coordinator of the school.
As I arrived, a dental team was present at the school’s clinic. Dental assistants from an organization called one2one.
Unfortunately I didn’t know about it and therefore couldn’t work for / with them as a dentist. :(
Here in Cambodia dental assistants are allowed to do small fillings and extract teeth!!! WOW! I only watched them for a while, even though my hands were twitching!
By the way .. every child has a toothbrush at school and before class starts goes and brushes the teeth :)
My Job as a Volunteer for Camkids
At the school, I was suppose to help with teaching english! Me teaching being a dentist hahahahahah …. who would have ever thought of that! I, for sure never expected to be a teacher! And by the way, all teachers deserve my respect. They really have a tough job to do!!!
But … let’s do it, let’s get into it and see how it is to become a 2-weeks-English-Teacher.
Life gives you only lessons you can handle right :) So I jumped right into my new task.
A totally new challenge was waiting for me. To stand in front of a class full with kids who don’t understand a word english. I was scared, I confess! But one grows with experiences, doesn’t stand still and develops skills one never knew one had :)
Every morning I got up at 5 am, because school starts at 6am. Not too bad, I am used to 4am from the silent retreat in Suan Mokkh. If you haven’t read the article about it yet, just click HERE, its a funny piece :)
The every day reward for being an early bird – sunrises!
Before and after every class the school bell rings – an old rim :)
And in the morning before the classes start and at the end of the day, the kids obey to the Cambodian flag.
Together with their English-teacher Mr. Sok Piseth (26), I thought English in third grade, followed by grade two, grade five and six in the morning.
Some of the students only entered school (with the age of twelve!). They are just starting to learn Khmer (Cambodian language). You can imagine, how difficult it is for them to learn another language (English), if they just started to learn their own language (in writing).
Approximately 60% of Cambodians population can’t read or write!!!
Camkids wants to give the now 450 students a brighter, better future and takes care of them in an amazing way. The big aim here is to have the children leave being able to read and write Khmer (Cambodian language).
Also teaching English plays also a very important role in the education for the kids!
The government schools only start to teach English in grad seven (so far but they want to change it soon).
Often it’s a bit frustrating, if you teach them for example the forms of to be for one whole week and they still struggle to get it right! But!!!
The students are still very eager to learn and often even come at the weekend!
In grade two, I taught them how to count from 1 to 100. By taking a small ball with to class and have the students stand in a circle and throw the ball from one person to the next, counting out loud. Some of the kids are very shy and it is particularly challenging to make them speak another language. I thought with a little bit of fun it might be easier and it was :) At the end of the class, two boys sang for me :)
But not only kids come to Camkids-school. There is also one man – Sokhim,36, who wants to learn English.
Mr. Piseth and I gave him private lessons. He only studies since about 1 month and is getting better every day.
On one weekend he even invited me to his village.
He picked me up from school. Hahahahah that sounds so funny to me … and we drove to his home. To speak with him was still tricky, but he tried very hard and somehow with a little English and hands and feet, it was working :)
We had lunch together with his wife, daughter and son and of course some more people :) Everybody was curious about the foreigner in the house. Some neighbors and friends were joining us and again I was the Alien, being stared at. But by now I am used to it and just smile back.
They offered me a beer too :) at 11am! What can I do but drink it! I am a German and love my beer, but at 11am????!
Even, if I wanted to, I could not have rejected it. Cambodians are very hospitable and go out of their way to make you feel welcome, even if they don’t have a lot, they share and care.
After a yummy lunch (his older brother is a chef), Sokhim took me to one of the neighbors chicken-farm.
They looked pretty happy from what I can tell about chicken farming :)
The next point on his list of what he wanted to show me, was the nearby Pagoda (sorry I forgot the name). Beautiful isn’t it?!
I tried to ‚talk‘ to some monks and nuns there, lovely people, but they don’t speak English. I told them (with a half translation of Sokhim), that I had been to Suan Mokkh to meditate and to learn something about Buddhism. That made them smile :) and me too!
One of the nuns is called Granny …. she was chewing beetle nut :) with no tooth left! She was grinding everything in this small pot of hers.
During my weekends, I decided to stay at the school. There are always some kids around and either I taught them some English or played volleyball in the evening, when it was getting cooler.
The Special – Happy – Project
In the evening we (Mr. Piseth and I) had a class with students from grad eight to grad twelve. TEENAGERS hmmmm. I still remember my teenager times and for sure I wasn’t really cooperative with MY teacher :)))) I was frightened believe me!
Anyway for them, I had something special in mind. I wanted to teach them an English song and decided on William Pharrell’s ‚Happy‘, sharing laughs and smiles, spreading happiness.
Together with some younger students, which were suppose to juggle, do some hula hoop and jumping-rope tricks, I wanted to create a show.
On the first day of this class, I wrote the lyrics on the white-board and together with Mr. Piseth, we translated them, so the students could understand what the song was about. That was the easy part. But the tough stuff was still ahead, learning the lyrics and making them sing!
The next day (day 2) it was all about starting to sing, reading the lyrics from their notebooks. OMG … :) I was standing in front of the class singing and nobody joined in, NOBODY! Ok, I needed to come up with some idea, otherwise the whole project would fail.
I decided to split the class and take about 6 to 8 students outside, somewhere in a far far FAR away corner, where nobody could hear us, in the hope this will loosen them up.
The first group of girls was sitting around me. I had my laptop with the video of the lyrics on my lap. I tried to motivate them somehow and started the song again. Really quietly they joined in :) at least, they can sing :))) good sign, I thought. After repeating this a couple of times, I picked up the next group of students. All five groups being the same, very shy girls and boys who hardly dared to sing in English, but they did at the end. Yeahhhhh, small success. And the great part about it was, that they all were laughing and went home with a huge smile on their faces!
At the end we all went into the classroom again and tried it together …. awww another Oh My God. But ok, it was only day 2.
On day three, I repeated the whole thing, singing in groups outside first and then together inside the classroom. And yes :) they started singing together with me (btw they were only suppose to learn the refrain, but also tried the other parts of the lyrics).
This time they were singing much louder and it gave me goosebumps brrrrrrr.. unbelievable!!!! You can’t imagine how excited I was.
Standing there and then listening to the students singing and applauding themselves afterwards sent chills up and down my spine! I could hardly sleep that night, that happy I was. And I hoped that the students were as well!
Day four was even better :) First I talked to them about happiness and we then sang the song together without music in the background. WOW :))) I was surprised, how good they were already. And with the music it was AWESOME too!
The students said to their teacher, how much they liked me doing this with them. Nobody had ever tried to teach them a song. And here I was, standing in the middle of the classroom being struck by it – lightning to my heart! Boooahhhhh Emotion-Alarm! I thanked them and needed to leave quickly, otherwise I would have teared up right in front of them!
My heart was again touched by so much joy and happiness from this 30 kids, it could hardly handle it!
Time for the next step … rehearsal outside, circling the flag, dancing and singing. Chaos at first :) to position everybody around in a circle was already not easy, not to mention the singing when somebody is watching .. and there was always somebody who watched outside :))) Nevertheless, we did it and had loads of fun with it. One student was even dancing with me. But the rest stood still, not dancing at all :( shyness in their blood! But we were getting there, hopefully!
On day six, rehearsal outside together with the little artists who juggled.
Catastrophic !!!! Singing quietly only, one part of the circle better than the other and dancing ??? What’s that? I was in despair. The day before great and now not anymore??? The traditional Cambodian way of dancing is moving in a circle and making tiny steps.
The final rehearsal day. It was Sunday and it was already quite hot in the morning, but we had a finale rehearsal at 8 am.
We wanted to be done with it as soon as possible, the dry heat is really killing everybody out here.
The set up went quicker, but a couple of students were missing. It didn’t matter, as long as they come to the show the next day.
We did 3 runs of the song and what shall I say…. They were awesome again … phhhhhhh thank god, I was a bit scared after the day before. It was so awesome, that I had goosebumps again and I told the kids, I wanna have this again :))) please please please :))
Show-Day …. it was raining, damn :( and I needed to postpone our little show to the next day.
Instead we had a normal English class and were talking about hopes and dreams.
The kids were trying hard to tell me in English what their dreams are. Mainly they wanted to earn good money to support their parents, because they work so hard for their children!!! The students who spoke touched my heart again… the moment the class was finished, I need to shed some tears. A mix of joy and sadness. I am such a softy, but hey …..
I only can hope, that with the help of a lot of volunteers, their English will improve and they have a chance to turn their and their parents’s life around!
But I don’t want you to wait any longer to see the final result of one week hard work for everybody :)
Enjoy the show and don’t forget to smile!
If you would like to volunteer for Camkids, write them an Email firstname.lastname@example.org , they will be happy to have you!
Stay happy always !
Your Tooth Fairy