Last week I went on a two day trip to SKOPE’s newest partner school. Located in the heart of Kampong Speu Province, nestled amongst the trees, is Karuna Youth Cambodia. Founded in 2011 by their young director, Phearith, KYC is an NGO which focuses on community-based education projects. The village of Chherteal Chrum is unassuming and from the outside looks like any other rural Cambodian community. But the children here are luckier than most and six days a week 250 of them are able to attend free English and Computer Studies lessons at KYC.
The school is small; just one classroom and a narrow corridor which acts as a computer lab. There’s also a small meeting room and performance area (Phearith is looking to begin a traditional arts education programme soon). The playground and surrounding greenery is beautiful and at the far end of the property stands the solar-powered Rainbow House, built to accommodate future volunteers, complete with bathroom, living area, television and mezzanine bedroom.
My trip out to the village took three hours in a local bus-taxi. Usually there are upwards of twenty people crammed into a twelve-seater van but I was lucky. Just me and four Cambodian men. Oh, and a huge bag of alive crickets. The countryside in Cambodia is beautiful, especially in Kampong Speu which is home to the Aural mountain range, the largest in the country, so the drive was delightful. When I arrived at the edge of the village, a man took me by moto to the school where I met Phearith and got the tour of the complex. It is a little haven of comparative luxury; electricity, running water (sort of), English-speakers, and delicious Khmer food.
I was waited on hand and foot by the family whose property borders the school. The women cooked incredible dishes for me throughout my time there and I was very impressed by their skills and hospitality despite them not speaking a word of English. The school ran until four in the afternoon at which point Phearith and I went for stroll around the village. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves here … Basically, it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.
That evening the villagers were all invited to join us at the school as a celebration. Whether it was because Phearith was taking his monthly visit to the site (he is based in Phnom Penh where KYC also operates) or because I was there remains unclear. But I’d like to think it was the latter. Of course dinner wasn’t on time so we wiled away the wait by singing karaoke (not me, don’t worry) and watching a zombie movie which had all the women who had already arrived screaming and the kids hiding behind their hands. Due to the fact that I was sleeping in a wooden house on my own at the end of a school garden in an unknown village, I opted to read on my phone rather than watch …
The following day I spent time with the school children who had come to study. The centre is open all the time and many came hours before their lessons to play with friends and hang out in a safe, clean space. I wandered around, chatted to a couple of them, and then settled down to read a Dr Seuss book to a group of students who were waiting for their class to begin. They were so engaged in it, despite not understanding a lot of the text and I suddenly remembered how much I enjoyed teaching.
The teachers at the school are past students who have studied in Phnom Penh on scholarships from KYC. Whilst their English is good, there is no substitute for native teaching and this is what KYC and SKOPE are partnering on. As of October 2016 we are launching a volunteer program. These volunteers will live on-site in the Rainbow House, be provided with free meals and teaching supplies, and get an incredible experience of life in Cambodian countryside. The program is free although if volunteers want to make a donation towards the school or to cover the costs of the food/housing, they may do so at their discretion. Transport to the site will be organised either by me or Phearith and I may even come with volunteers to settle them in (plus I loved in there and would happily go back any time).
Here I must point out that there has been a lot of press recently about the negative impacts of ‘volunteerism’. KYC and SKOPE are working together to ensure that any and all of the issues raised regarding volunteerism are addressed and eliminated. Both organisations believe in sustainable, community-based practices and we endeavour to do our best for the children we are working with. I will be writing a blog some time over the next few days on volunteerism, SKOPE, Cambodia, and my thoughts more generally.
If you’re interested in volunteering for KYC, please fill out the form below. Alternatively you may contact me (SKOPE@sovannkomar.org) or Phearith (firstname.lastname@example.org).