Ok, so my voluntary work period is over. A month passed by so quickly that I can’t help having the feeling that it wasn’t enough. There’s so much to do – half a year or a full year would go fast and easily while doing some good meaningful things. In the end, I’m sure this was a good start as my first volunteer experience and that the local Takeo villagers appreciated my small input.
That’s what they did every day. They appreciated me being there and teaching English. All the countless smiles were the fuel inside my veins when I was bicycling the hardest 8 km trip in my life to the village school every day in the middle of the hottest hour. It was around 40 degrees, and the sun didn’t give me any mercy from sweating like a small pig on the schoolyard. I haven’t shouted ‘Hello’ as my times in my life as I did when I had to be greeting all the neighbors on a way. Doing that in the heat and of course when teaching loud kids I lost my voice a couple of times. But it was worth it.
I had some awesome kids to hang around with. The first class was the teenagers from 12-16. The second a bit younger and the last one and the biggest were 42 eager 4-6 years olds. I can easily hear the “Meeeee, meeeee, meeeee, teacher meeeee” in my ears when I recall a moment when I asked a question and at least half of the class wanted to answer. Oh, my, that was somehow sweet, I actually do miss them. Though at times so annoying too. I had to teach them a concept of order and discipline since that was something new at least at my village school. When I started, I was so exhausted after the days since the kids were just coming and going as they wanted in the classroom. If somebody saw something interesting she/he might just leave outside with a few others following. Or then one might go and get an ice-jelly in the middle of the class or whatever. They were also making a lot of noise and didn’t know how – rudely said – to shut up at all. Bigger ones had some discussions during the lesson, what had happened at the state school earlier the day. And the worst was that some of the smallest students were so eager that they came to school at the same time as the bigger ones; they just came in the back of the one and only classroom that we got and started to play there. I decided that this won’t work in my class and started to build my school rules. I can still be surprised, but the kids actually started to be quiet and stayed in the classroom. That was quite a good and needed base for their English learning.
I was teaching together with Samnang – the local Khmer teacher. (This is the system and also very useful to translate things.) What a lovely person, so kind and warm hearted. However, the English level of the local village teachers is low, since in the countryside teaching is what it is. Unless you don’t afford to go to private school is the state school system quite modest in Cambodia. In fact, they don’t really teach English there, so it is good that there are volunteer organizations who take care of this in the afternoon after the state school. In the end, English skills could have a significant meaning in succeeding in life. The tourism is increasing all the time and changes go all the way to abroad. If one out of the classroom could already rise from the poorness and go up in her/his life that’s a success. And she/he will definitely remember to circumstances she/he left from and bring the country further with the wisdom and perception. I hope. There were a couple of such kids; I could notice them on the first day. I hope they will get far. One of them Manet won a Finnish flag in the quiz that I held on my last day. Such a bright boy who wanted to be a teacher – I hope he will become one and teach so many more kids.
If I were the president of the whole wide world, I would make everyone do a voluntary work period at least once in their lives. This stupid sentence describes how good the experience was. Even though I was there teaching, I learned myself a lot. I learned from the others and the country. On my first week, I still got frustrated. I found that the system and the teaching method didn’t work out, I was frustrated about the language barriers that I faced with my co-teacher, I thought it was a bit disgusting to play all those slapping hands games that the kids wanted to do all the time with their dirty hands… etc. Then one day a Wales guy Ben came to visit at the school, and he was so naturally good with kids and also just had this amazing positive attitude and sincere character when he was discussing with Samnang and people in general, and I was watching this and thought: God dammit I can do this! This is what I came here for! And everything got better by just shaping the attitude and adding a bit more patience. That’s what I got during my voluntary period. In general, everything doesn’t go that smooth in Cambodia, so I hope this patience and good mood that I have learned here – to smile even though it’s not always the most optimal – stays when I get back to Europe. I’m also still learning about being sincere. Not always doubting and thinking what someone is trying to achieve or what do I get in exchange. That’s something we all should learn. Just being friendly for instance is a good start – and we all know how much other people affect us. After that being considerate is the next step. Abroad ‘the sharing is caring attitude’ is always so lovely.
After being a month in Takeo, I don’t want to complain in a long time! I have seen the very basics of living. The people there might eat just pure rice if they don’t at that moment have anything else. I also saw some really really tiny fish in a bucket at Samnang’s place when I was visiting his family. He said he caught them yesterday for food. I thought they were a cat’s food… So one thing I promise to do is to loose down a bit. I don’t need much. All I want to be is just as smiley as Cambodian people. That’s funny actually. Even though being so poor in the countryside and especially when having such tragic history how the hell can they be so smiley?! I don’t get it, but it’s amazing. So this country hopefully also taught me a long-lasting smile.
On my last day and after leaving I felt like a saint. So satisfied I was with myself and happy after really doing this experience.
Thanks to a few amazing relatives of mine I also managed to raise 240 euros for the Ben Mao village school and the New Futures Organization’s center/orphanage. Next time when I go to Africa, I hope more people will participate!