8 weeks to go. Siem Reap is calling, calling...
Auckland Travel Blog› entry 2 of 8 › view all entries
In 2004 I went to Cambodia for the first time in my life, really to meet an old friend and to look around a country that seemed mysterious and untouched. (How very Western of me. Untouched by whom?) While there I met Svay Savong whose dream was to open a school in a rural area, near Siem Reap, to offer free language education to students. English, Japanese, Korean and Thai are important second languages for locals in this region because they are a passport to gaining employment in hospitality businesses, tourism as well as many other agencies.
Within the the Cambodian schooling system (UNESCO figures suggest that around 30% complete high school) attendance is low (due to pressure to work in the fields) and also language education rare because those teachers who can offer it often leave the State system and go tutoring for a fee instead. They earn a lot more money. Good for them...but not so good for poorer families. So Savong's purpose is to provide free language education. Children at his school - 450 of them (in various shifts and as their families are able) are learning Japanese and English.
We built the school (Savong in charge, and a small band of monetrary supporters in Japan, New Zealand and USA) in 2005 and since then the school has been growing, and has been encouraging volunteers.
Unlike many other volunteer schemes where foreigners like me pay a chunky fee to stay for one month, Savong has encouraged a mix of really short-term volunteers (one or 2 days - after all, most tourists are in Siem Reap for around 4 days) or longer. He doesn't charge a fee, though he does ask for a donation that's comfortable for the volunteer.
Step by step we've seen the school grow and develop, and really the journey has been a fascinating one in which I've learned a lot about Cambodian ways. I'm going to share thoughts about this over the next 13 weeks or so - and if any other travellers have questions I'll be pleased to answer them.