“I’ve always wanted to volunteer overseas”
but never really saw through with it. There was always something more important, some location more “worth” visiting or just simply the lack of that little nudge to actually get down to actually volunteering.
In November 2015, I set my mind on finally fulfilling my volunteering. The first step of this process was to book my air tickets to Phnom Penh.($280 with Malaysian Airlines with a transit at KL)
After a few hours of deliberation and intensive research, I then decided on venturing to the ASEAN International School in Angkor Borei.
The ASEAN International School
is located in Angkor Borei, about 85km south of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.
The school’s director is Mr Sophea Koy, who with the help of another 2 full time teachers and has to run 3 sessions of classes a day from Monday-Friday. Most of the students in the school are from the village within the vicinity and range from 4-17 years. However, during one of the night classes I taught, there was an adult who was working as a police officer who was 42 years old!
The villagers in the area are thrown into a life of poverty since birth. Despite of the lack of comfort such as warm water for showers or a basic bed that so many of us are used to, they learn to enjoy the simple things in life and are content with what they have. Perhaps ignorance is bliss to them, but still it came us a reminder to me to really appreciate what I have and that happiness is really, a state of mind.
The students know the importance of English as a means of getting them out of the vicious poverty cycle and are earnest learners. They really give their full attention to any volunteer teachers who can impart any knowledge to them.
The school is really shorthanded and any help at all, whether it is one or two days to a few months would be deeply appreciated. The kids also brighten up to a new foreigner in their midst – I was the only foreigner in the whole village when I visited!
Getting to Angkor Borei
Upon landing in Phnom Penh Airport, a Tuk Tuk will cost you minimally about 7 USD to get to the city(About 45min)
I invested in a sim card as at the airport as some form of safety (Yes, Google maps work here) in case I got lost. It only costs 3USD for 3GB of data, buy it at the airport exit where you can find English speaking vendors.
To get to the village, you will have to take a minivan from Mondial Centre between 8am and 10am. The driver does not speak any English, so it was kinda scary as I had no idea if it was the right bus! More locals joined in my van and I made out someone saying “Angkor Borei”. The van left when it had a full load of passengers. The journey to the village took about 2 hours and cost me 5USD(or 20000Riel)
The minivan driver, I discovered later, is friends with the School Director and will drop you off at the school when you arrive in the village.
Lodgings at the School
There are 3 main classrooms on the school premises and it is fully paid for by the school director, Mr Sophea Koy. The classrooms are equipped with basic tables and chairs that are evidently weathered. Teachers teach using primarily a whiteboard.
There are 3 sessions a day in the morning, afternoon and evening(for older students). The school’s director Mr Sophea has to singlehandedly fetch the young ones to and from school after each session, sometimes making trips twice per session as the school is only equipped with one minivan.
Teaching and Interactions with the Students
Other Stuff to Do
Angkor Borei is a small area, where there isn’t the usual multitude of tourist attractions to visit. However, it truly is an experience to stay in such a undeveloped area to get a first hand taste of how it is like to live in an environment where everything is moving at a slower pace. Being able to observe how life is going on for these sturdy people in such a harsh environment is truly a humbling experience.
Volunteering at the school, though for a short period of time was a really meaningful experience for me and really opened up my perspectives on life.
The kids really brighten up when they see foreigners coming down to teach them, and it may be their only chance of any interactions with foreigners from outside their little town.
With 3 sessions a day, and only 3 permanent teachers, the school is always open to anyone who is willing to volunteer to teach English, or just to mingle with the students. Whether it is just a few days or a few months, any help would be greatly appreciated!
Students from more modest backgrounds in the school do not pay any school fees and the other students pay 50USD a year for school supplies and the teacher – Which is barely enough to pay the teachers and to buy study material for all the students.
You can help by…
1) Making a donation to the School
2) Volunteering to teach English at the School
Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website at http://www.aseanschool.info/index.html for more information!
Some Background Information (For Phnom Penh)
Most Cambodians do not speak much English, only the Tuk Tuk drivers and perhaps some of the older students do.
The official currency is the Cambodian Riel. However, they also accept USD as well. (1USD=4000Riel). It is the only country I’ve been to that returns me change in 2 different currencies. The smallest USD denomination they work with is 1USD, any part of that they would return you accordingly in Riel.
Typically motorbike rides cost between 1-3USD(for 1 pax) and a tuk tuk ride will cost between 2-5USD(up to 4 pax). Taxis are available as well, but I did not get to use it. Motorbikes would get you around faster as they can squeeze through traffic.