Friday, April 2, 2010


I've enjoyed Cambodia so much and wanted to prolong my time here if I could, especially since my visa is good until April 14th. Battambang is my last stop, though, so if I didn't figure out how to extend my stay here, I was gonna be out of luck. Day one had me indulging in television, day two I saw some sights and the Cambodian countryside, and day three I slept in late for the first time in who knows how long and then spent a couple of hours talking to Stuart, a 60 year old British man who hasn't had a home since 1967. (Or, rather, he hasn't had a home base since then. He's been traveling for the last 40+ years!)

There's really not a lot to do in Battambang, though. Most of the city is closed by about 8pm and I'd already seen what there was to see. So how to prolong my time? Well, I said a long time ago that one of the things I wanted to do on this trip was volunteer and here I am, six months in, having not volunteered at all. I changed that today and was up bright and early to be ready for my 7:30am pick up to Cambodian Orphanage International. I'd arranged to spend the day there teaching and was looking forward to the opportunity.

CCO has 75 students ranging in age from five to 17 with classes grouped by age. The first class starts at 8am and the last class ends at 6pm. All of the teachers here are volunteers. 

This was a difficult day. Not because the children misbehaved or because they didn't want to learn. They were great - adorable, respectful, energetic, and excited about having a new teacher there for the day. Every kid who came into the classroom gave a little bow, with hands clasped under chin, and greeted me with "Hello, teacher." And although the heat certainly wasn't helping matters, that's not what made the day difficult either.

As I said, all of the teachers are volunteers. It's good that CCO has people who are able and willing to help, and who can give these poor and/or orphaned students vocational and educational training. The teachers, though, are teaching English and they can barely speak it themselves. One gentleman even told me that he had graduated from university with a degree in English; we were rarely able to understand each other. It was somewhat disheartening to see kids who are so excited about being at school and knowing that they are being taught by less than qualified teachers. 

Also, for someone who's never attempted to be in charge of teaching a group of children - wow, were my eyes ever opened to the challenges that teachers face. If teaching English abroad is something I'll really consider after this trip is over, I'll have to reach out to those people I've met along the way who are already doing it. Today the teachers basically said, "Ok, now you teach them something." I had never done this before and had no idea what to do or say and yet they trusted me and assumed that since I was a native English speaker then of course I was up to the job. I can't imagine that this is something that would happen in a proper school, but I'd have to find out for sure before I got myself involved.

So yes, it was a hot, difficult, and at times frustrating day. But it's something I'm glad I did because I really enjoyed meeting the students and teachers. It was another slice of the real Cambodia that I got the other day and I intend to seek out more volunteer opportunities in the months to come.


  1. Well I know one thing for sure. I know you
    put your heart and soul into it and maybe teaching English is a calling for you.
    Is this volunteer work for just one day or for
    as long as you like?

    Love ya

  2. Wow, Shannon, that's very cool. (I didn't check a box ;)) Good for you.

  3. Mom - Most volunteer opportunities vary. Some places insist on a minimum commitment time. The place where I volunteered, it was your call; you could volunteer for as little as one hour or, I imagine, for one week or more. I volunteered for the day.