Hazel Cox - Teaching English and Other Subjects in Cambodia
When I first arrived in Phnom Penh, I was met by a Projects Abroad staff member at the airport. He let me contact my family to say I had arrived safely, set me up with some emergency contact details, and took me to the Projects Abroad apartments, the place I would call home for the next three months.
My Teaching Project
I spent three months volunteering in Cambodia, teaching at VDTO Bamboo Shoot School. During the time I was there, I saw a lot of volunteers come and go, but I was grateful I had chosen to volunteer for a longer period of time, as it gave me a chance to work with the children and see them develop and improve.
My morning class was large, with most seats filled. My afternoon class was a lot smaller, sometimes only 7 or 8 children. In both classes there was a mixed range of ages. I originally assumed the children were probably between 8 and 12, but found out later the ages in my classes ranged from 7 to 14.
When I first started my project, I was quite nervous as I hadn’t taught before, but the local teachers and other volunteers were friendly and tried to make me feel as comfortable as possible. By the end of my first week, I felt much more relaxed and into the swing of things. The language barrier was definitely the trickiest thing to overcome, but I managed with the help of the local teachers in the school, and by learning some of the local Cambodian language, Khmer. This helped me to communicate with the children much more effectively.
The Projects Abroad staff were great, and my Project Coordinator ran some language classes to help all of the volunteers learn and improve their Khmer, which I found useful for day to day life in Cambodia, as well as at my placement.
Dirty Day Activities
During my time in Cambodia, I was given the opportunity to take part in a Dirty Day. A Dirty Day is a chance for volunteers to help out in a more physical way to support a project. I was lucky enough to be able to take part in three of these days, and I am so glad I took the time out of my weekend to do so, because it was a greatly rewarding and fun experience.
My first Dirty Day was at a home for disabled boys. When we arrived, we spent some time playing with the younger boys before lunch. We set up tables and chairs, and then helped feed the boys who needed assistance. After lunch, it was time for most of the boys to nap so this is when we got to work. We emptied and cleaned out a sensory room to prepare it for mesh to be fitted on the windows (this would prevent mosquitos from getting in) and brought in new equipment.
In addition, we also built a ramp up to the schoolhouse to make it easier for the boys in wheelchairs to get to lessons - it was a set of steep concrete steps when we got there. To do this, we used large concrete beams to become the sides of the ramp, and then filled in the space with pieces of rubble and broken brick. We pushed planks of wood up against the edges of the ramp to keep everything in place. This was mainly important for the next step where we made cement (we mixed it up in a pile on the floor - no cement mixers here!). We filled in the ramp with cement then put enough on top to smooth it up to the edge of the schoolhouse and down to the ground.
And how did we know how to do all of this you ask? The tuktuk driver (who seemingly knows everyone and everything) had built wheelchair ramps before!
Traveling in Cambodia
While I was in Cambodia I took the opportunity to travel with other volunteers, I visited Sihanoukville and Koh Rong – a beautiful island with white sand and crystal clear water (it was also the only place we didn’t get stared at for wearing our bikinis!). I also went to Kampot, to the beach there, and to the seafood restaurants which are supposedly the best – I tried my first crab and shark there. From Kampot we went to Rabbit Island, another great place to spend the weekend. I also took a trip up to Siem Reap, to visit Angkor Wat and the Floating village.
We took advantage of the pool and the hot showers at our hostel (you get used to the cold water in the apartments, but sometimes it’s nice to have small luxuries again!). I had a great time experiencing these new places, partly because Cambodia is such a beautiful country, and partly because I was with my new family – because that was how it felt, the other volunteers had become my family.
Saying Goodbye to Cambodia
Eventually, my three months in Cambodia came to an end and it was time for me to leave, for a further three months of traveling. Saying goodbye was so hard, especially to the children at school, the only people who had stayed constant for my time in Cambodia. I was so touched to receive gifts from them, and we had fun on our last day together, playing games and dancing. I felt so proud of how far they had come since I had first met them, and was so glad I had the opportunity to teach them for those months. I made some amazing friends and ‘sisters’ (my roommates) during my time in Cambodia, and it was certainly an eye-opening experience that I will never forget.
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