When winter break was approaching last year, I was contemplating either taking a trip with my family or studying for the March SAT at an academic institution. Neither option was particularly appealing, but on a Sunday morning at church, I came across a bulletin about a trip that our church would be taking to Siem Reap, Cambodia, at the end of December. The church would be working with UNICEF to help rebuild roads and homes and teach young Cambodian children English. This piqued my interest, as I had never visited Cambodia before, and I had done some volunteer work with my church before feeding the homeless and teaching English to children from multicultural families.
Upon arriving in Siem Reap, all of us were given some background on the educational situation in the country. There was a dearth of basic infrastructure, including adequate classrooms, supplies, hygiene facilities, and even qualified teachers. This is why NGOs and churches have been raising money to modernize schools, train teachers, and sponsor scholarships that allow children of poor households to stay in school instead of dropping out to work.
|[Leading the students to English class in Siem Reap. Photo Credit: Jaeun Shin]|
After getting some initial training, tips on the local language, and ground rules, I had the chance to visit an elementary school on Night Market Street and spend time with the incredible children there. They were so kind and open to me that I still carry those memories close to my heart. Even though those children live in an environment that lacks many of the amenities that children in my country take for granted, they were so happy to be learning and always smiled. The first class consisted of young students around 7 to 10 years old. The teacher was teaching words that begin with the letter “S.” For the first 10 minutes, the students copied down everything the teacher wrote on the board. The kids got a little boisterous when they noticed us observing their class, but as I walked around the room, I saw that all their work was neatly written.
When they finished their writing, I was assigned a small group of four students, and we practiced pronouncing the words they had learned. After reviewing the words a few times, the teacher started calling on students to recite the words on their own. My group really did a great job and made me proud. To challenge the students a little more, we began erasing the words off the board and had individual students come up and write them out again. They were excellent in this lesson, and as I looked around, I saw students who knew the words well helping those who were having some difficulties.
After the English class was over, there was a recess, which allowed me to play with the students outside. There weren’t any sports facilities, such as a basketball court or soccer nets, but the dirt field did have some remnants of track & field lines, so the children had fun racing each other. My group wanted to take pictures with my phone, so I let them take photos of their friends.
Along with the educational part of the trip, I also participated in paving the walkways around the school, as the roads consisted basically of dirt and had some holes in them, and sometimes kids got hurt while walking to and from school. The concrete we used to pave the walkways was provided using funds donated by my fellow churchgoers, so it felt really good putting the money to good use.
|[Church and UNICEF members making a paved walkway. Photo Credit: Jaeun Shin]|
After six days in Siem Reap, the time had finally come for us to depart and I felt really sad, as I had become attached to my group of four cute students. They even made a thank-you card for me written in English. As I hugged each of them, I promised that I would be back next year. Even though this upcoming break will probably be a hectic one for me, as a junior, I will definitely be going back again.
Sophomore (Grade 10)
Seoul Scholars International
Jaeun Shin email@example.com
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