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I’ve been interested in learning how to Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) for some time so, last summer, once I knew we were heading out to south-east Asia for a few months, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take the plunge.   The course was surprisingly difficult considering I am a native English speaker and, as a former lawyer, not an uneducated person. 

My studies were specifically geared towards teaching English as a volunteer by including such modules as teaching large classes, teaching using limited resources, as well as teaching English to young learners.  With the course completed, all that remained was to find somewhere I could practice my newly acquired skills. 

It dismayed me to discover that most opportunities to teach English as a volunteer around SE Asia would involve the payment by me of a hefty fee, the commitment of a continuous period of time (often of at least a couple of months), or both.  I was opposed to the first on principle as I didn’t feel I should have to pay for the privilege of giving my time and expertise, nor could I commit to teaching in one place for several months.  It looked like my plan was not even going to get off the ground.

However, my searching paid off when I discovered KNGO Volunteer (short for Khmer New Generation Organization), a non-profit organisation based in Bospo village near Battambang, Cambodia.  After contacting the founder, Sun Saveth, with the dates of my arrival in Battambang, he invited me along to teach some of the 250 children involved in the project.

Apart from learning English, the children are also provided for, and educated on, a variety of health-related topics including basic dental care, they are taught elementary application skills with donated computers and improve their social and environmental awareness through recycling and tree planting.  The organisation has many projects planned for the future, but as in all these matters, the issue of funding creates restrictions on what can and cannot be achieved at the present time. 

I was warmly welcomed on arrival at the school and when I entered the classroom to give my first lesson, the children and their Khmer teacher all stood up to chant their greeting.  The children were adorable, bright, confident, very respectful and seemed to delight in being taught by a native English speaker.  They asked me lots of questions about where I was from, my family and what I liked and disliked. 

Our lesson went well, in a classroom with no glass in the window frames, rickety-old desks and with only a blackboard and chalk as classroom aidsOh, and did I mention that there was no electricity?  We were in the middle of one of the regular eight hour power-cuts that blight most areas of Cambodia.  At the end of the one hour lesson, the children stood and thanked me for giving my time – and then almost without exception came forward and either gave me a “high five” or hugged me, before they left.  As you might imagine, I was very moved and humbled by this experience.

But what happened next was astonishing.  I noticed that three or four children appeared to be scrabbling around on the floor under the desks and chairs and when I looked closely I could see little brooms in their hands – made from very thin twigs bound together with tape around a bamboo pole – and they were sweeping the classroom floor between lessons!  Amazing!

I certainly smiled the next day as I was on my way to the school by tuk-tuk for a pre-lesson meeting, when a number of children I had taught the day before saw me passing by, and came running down the track after us shouting ‘Hello teacher’.

I got a good feeling about the Khmer New Generation Organisation and have vowed to continue with my efforts to assist them, once I get home.  You can follow them on Facebook if you like or, if any of you can find it in your hearts to donate your time, money or ideas, I know how gratefully they will be received.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi