Orphanage School in Siem Reap, Cambodia

There were a couple of brochures on Non-profit orgs for poor children & orphans in the area at our guesthouse – Siem Reap. I had written a couple through websites I found.. a few asking for large sums of donation, a few that did not need volunteers right now. I made a all to one org that looked legitimate, and spoke to a volunteer there. He actually came to the guesthouse yesterday evening to meet with me.

This morning , the boys went to see Angkor Wat again. I decided to take a tuk tuk to this school 15 min away, a bit off the tourist path. Theres not much I can do when visiting for the day but to share laughter with the kids and a few help here and there. There were about 100 kids there from 3 years old – 18. 2 young girls from Holland were volunteering there for the month (on vacation), and an old guy from Australia who had been there for a month helping out, named PaPa. (he says in Australia he teaches classes in the Prison system).

There were 3 classrooms total. One class for the young kids up to 8ish? Another intermediate for 8ish-13ish. And the one I helped out in were from 13-18. The curriculum was incredibly loose, I did not see any lesson plans, the kids are of all levels, not seeming to learn too much but basic English. The teacher is a local Cambodian young guy who says they learn the basic English to hopefully work in the hotel industry later (Tourism). 20% of the kids they say are orphans, the rest of the kids of extremely poor families. All these were from word of mouth so I dont know how accurate it is, but they said that some government schools require parents to pay 10$ a month for a child to attend school, and at this school, the families are too poor to afford it.

I had lunch with the 3 other volunteers after the morning shift of 8-11 students. They said none of them had seen any parents, that these kids ride a bike or walk to school. All of them from broken families, a missing mom or dad, raised by grandparents/aunts; parents who are Tuk Tuk drivers, in sex trade, drunks, passed away, etc.

When I first got there, they took us to a government run school a block away to tour it. Now this looked more like a real school we see in the States, HUGE acres of land, students all in proper uniforms (white on top, navy on bottom), at recess, playing around. There were proper classrooms, appropriate books on shelves and dry-erase boards. I had noticed in one class a sticker “Room To Read Funded” and my was INCREDIBLY delighted to see that. That organization is one that I am fully confident in and support. Its run by a guy named John Wood, who write “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World”. I picked up that book a few years ago at the book store and read of the story. I urge you all to read it, or visit the website and donate. The jist of his biography is that he was working in Microsoft in the booming later 90’s, making hundreds of thousands of dollars. He took a random vacation to Kathmandu, Nepal and found a school, with about 2 books there, that past travelers had left. His heart shattered and decided to do something about it. He started the organization “Room To Read Foundation” – roomtoread.org, and raised money for books , to rebuild schools, bikes for kids , clothing… He has successfuly built schools all over SE Asia now and is expanding daily. It is an established organization with chapters in the big cities of US.

Seeing that sticker made me feel more confident in that school, that the children will have stable education. The government is incredibly corrupt here, with 10% of the population making 90% of the money, run by corrupt politicians and gangsters. They claim the government system to be a “Republic”. The school systems are poor, one day the schools there, the next day it may be gone.

In the class I was in, there were about 11 students, each of them got up the moment I walked in, and in unison “Hi, how are you today? Thank you for coming. Have you had breakfast today? May I sit teacher?” They are all soooo enthuasiastic to learn English. You rarely see that in a class at home. These students feel that if they learn English, they will have a better future by working in Tourism, or a heavier dream of working abroad one day. The teacher didnt have much of a curriculum but basic English on the board like “stay, like, play, sleep…” which we learned in first grade. The students were pretty fluent in English at a grade level. They encouraged me to ask questions to them, and vice versa, to practice conversational English. I asked them what they all wanted to do when they grew up. “Teacher, lawyer, Dentist, Manager…” For some of these kids, these goals are out of reach. A volunteer pointed out to 2 sisters who were 14 and 18 in back of the class, he said the girls family had no money to put them through a university.

The kids were eager to learn ANYTHING. When we ran out of English sentences to teach, they asked me to teach them Mandarin. So I wrote on the board 10 basic things to say, hi, how are you, what are you doing, blah blah. Now who I am to stand there and teach them English & Mandarin with no teaching experience? Yet they were so ecstatic to write down these new knowledge in their journals… Fast learners they were too!

We know about these situations while reading it and seeing it on the news, but there I stood at this dilapidated playground they called a school and felt completely helpless. Yes they took donations, but who knows if the founder will really put it to real use? Who knows if these kids will have to leave school at age 9 to help work for the families? Like all the kids I saw working at Angkor wat and in the city in the morning, when do they have time to go to school? Many of them probably make more money working to sell postcards to the tourists than to go to school and work for their corrupt government. I felt so helpless standing there, it didn’t matter how bad I felt for them, or how much love I can spread that day, or help them better their conversational english that day. The futures of these poor children and orphans are very uncertain.

I think the best thing to do would be to donate to organizations like Room to Read and many other NGO’s outside that are trusted to build these schools. Typically I’d say to leave it up to the community, but I cant be fully confident that the locals 1) will be completely honest with the money donated, and 2) have the capibility of keeping a school together, esp with such poorly trained teachers w barely any curriculum.

It’s 1:30 now, the tuk tuk is about here for me to go help out for another few hours at the school for another group of students coming in. And then I’m out of the city. I become another person that has come and gone in these children’s lives. Hopefully my smiles and a few words will make some impact!

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