When I travel, I like to fully integrate myself in the cultures of a country. I eat their food, spend time with the locals and participate in their traditions. I find there is no other way to travel. So naturally, while visiting Cambodia, I wanted to see a traditional dance show.
There were posters in our hostel for a show that is held at an orphanage and performed by the orphans. I so badly wanted to go and show my support to these children, much rather than go to a show held at a major hotel for profit.
As we arrived in our tuk-tuk to ACODO orphanage, we were quickly swarmed with beautiful children all eager to greet us and thank us, practicing their English. I was shocked how many children were in the orphanage and even more shocked to learn that until recently, they all slept on the floor in a room together. They have only just gotten a separate girls and boys floor.
The dance was beautiful and I was in awe. These tiny children performed such a magical dance with confidence and poise. They were decorated in gold and bright pinks and reds. For a moment, I was entranced.
Heather and I both had heavy hearts for these children and without discussion agreed to cancel our bus to Phnom Penh the next day and stay an extra day in Siem Reap to come back to the shelter and spend the entire day with the children.
When we arrived the next morning, we were again greeted with smiles and excitement. Then we were approached by the director of the orphanage, “Okay class starts at nine and there is a break around 11 for lunch and class will resume again until two. One of you will work with the children 12 and over and the other 11 and younger.”
Heather and I looked at each other with panic, “Teach English? I thought we were playing for the day!” We sat down to discuss a lesson plan and both panicked just in time for the school bell to ring.
I stood there, in front of 10 orphans 11 and younger in an attempt to teach them English. Some of the children were nearly fluent, some couldn’t even say hello. Needless to say, class was interesting but I was moved by how the older and fluent children were gentle and kind to me as I struggled to come up with a lesson plan. We practiced the alphabet and they helped the younger children and shared their knowledge. They were so happy and eager to learn.
When it was time for break, Heather and I both met outside our class rooms laughing at our failed attempt to teach. But although we were unable to have a structured lesson plan, the children were thrilled to practice our language; our nerves and lack of preparation went un-noticed.
There were over 60 children at the orphanage, Heather taught 10, 12 and over and I taught 10 of the younger children. That is only 20 children. The other children were in school, they had sponsors who were paying for their schooling. The rest, did not get to go to school and unless a volunteer comes to teach then English, they do not learn the language. Prior to Heather and my class, they had not had a teacher in 2 months.
As we bid our new friends goodbye we couldn’t help but think what the future held for these orphaned children. I like to think the adorable three-year old boy, his clothes brown from playing in dirt and chasing a grasshopper around the building, might get the chance to go to school, learn English and have a life of happiness. With the help of other volunteers and donors I think it is possible…