I hope everyone who read that read it as David Bowie or else I’ll be very disappointed in you.
As I eluded to in my previous post about my Christmas, I’m no longer working for KYA (the NGO where I was originally placed). I’ve switched to teaching English at the People’s Improvement Organization School here in Phnom Penh. It’s something I never thought I would want to, much less something I though I would ever be doing. That in and of itself is a disarming sensation. Throw in the fact that I’m teaching a class of a little over 100 kindergartners (between the ages of 3 and 5) that A (a fellow Winnipegger!) taught for a whole year and it’s downright terrifying.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I should start with an explanation of why I chose to leave KYA.
Honestly, before my first week in Cambodia had come to a close, I’d already had a change of heart. I don’t know what it was in particular but I suspect it had something to do with the unfettered enthusiasm that the kids have here. Just walking down the street to explore my neighbourhood, kids shout “Hello! How are you? What is your name?” and then run away, giggling.
On top of the kids seeming so different than the kids I’m in Canada, there was the fact that KYA didn’t seem ready to receive any volunteers, despite the fact that they’d had at least one week’s notice (and I suspect longer) to prepare. In the end, we only “worked” for one day that first week and most of that day was comprised of not doing much (I recall looking up gadgets for my tablet on Amazon and I bought an ebook on my Kobo app sometime during the day) since the only task they asked us to complete was to “check over the website for issues”, which took around half an hour.
That day turned out to be quite indicative of how the entire business is run–ineffectively. Don’t get me wrong, KYA has done and is doing some amazing things, made clear by the hundreds of young people who attended their workshop to learn how they could all make a difference for the future of Cambodia and the young Khmer volunteers doing whatever they can to help. They spread awareness of the corruption within the government, the severity of gender inequality within Cambodia (a topic discussed in more detail in this post) and work hard to break down Cambodian traditions to make youth the authority figures of the next generation. Further, they have a lot of projects that are sure to change the look of Phnom Penh in the future, including programs to end gender-based violence and developing their own volunteer tourism branch that will generate some income so they’re able to become less reliant on foreign donors–money that brings with it an obligation to do what the donor wants, even if it doesn’t fit into what KYA’s purpose is–to function. Becoming less reliant on donors by building a social business has the added benefit of accomplishing one of their other goals: increasing youth employment. Before you say anything, they’ve already created a system to prevent corruption within the agency.
However, throughout my time at KYA there were many examples of inefficiency that I think was enhanced by the complete lack of communication amongst themselves. With that, I think they also need to figure out how to use the volunteers that are there effectively. Here’s a little story for you: After the youth workshop wrapped up my second week here, I was asked to write a report on it. I kept notes from the workshop but they were dodgy, at best, since nearly everything was in Khmer and my translator was easily distracted (damn you, Lionel Richie!). I didn’t have a lot to work with but I tried to do my best to piece things together into a coherent report.
Here’s where things get interesting. I received an email one day from someone who worked upstairs asking if I could proof-read his report about the three-day workshop. Obviously, the proofreading wasn’t an issue but I was quite upset at the fact that, not only did I not know that someone else was writing the report as well (lack of communication) but that, because this was the only thing they’d asked me to do, I also felt a little useless. Not that I thought that would be working on frontline issues and everything but I expected more guidance than “write a report” and maybe to be included in some brainstorming sessions.
That being said, I think I was disillusioned when I came into this whole NGO thing. I learned quickly that I would need to come up with my own things to work on, in hopes that KYA could use it one day, if I didn’t want to go crazy. I started to do some of that but found it quite difficult with such little guidance and I didn’t really know what they would like to work on in the future. I didn’t feel underappreciated by any means (they did take me to Kampot, after all–more on this adventure soon!) but I consistently felt that my time here could be better spent.
After a couple weeks, I did talk to the head of CVF about switching placements but, apparently, it took some convincing on CVF’s part to get us a place at KYA so she asked me to give it another week or two. I took her advice and had some great experiences with KYA but, ultimately, decided that I still wanted to give something else a try. I was with KYA for five weeks before I switched to PIO School, where I will be for five weeks in total–the remainder of my time in Cambodia.
PIO School is not an ordinary school. Ordinary schools in Cambodia charge tuition, charge for uniforms on top of the price of school supplies and paying off teachers so their children receive passing grades. However, the fact is that the average yearly salary here is $750–about $2.00 a day–with 30% of the population still earning less than $1 a day and these people cannot afford all the things that ordinary schools demand. The children of the least affluent sector of the population, therefore, generally don’t attend school and, instead are expected to help their parents sell things, collect garbage or beg.
These kids are the ones who come to PIO school. They come in whatever clothing their families can afford, (some of which resembles what children at ordinary schools would wear but it’s not a necessity) and they get a shot at learning to read and learning a bit of English. Some of them still help their parents collect trash at night or on the weekend but, while they’re at PIO, they can still be kids, which is a refreshing thing to see. Plus, they’re really cute and very affectionate.
I’ll post more soon about what it’s like teaching over 100 small children English but, I’ve just started real teaching because I was just observing the two other volunteers for the first week to see what they do and where the kids are at. I can tell you that they’re very excitable and often have trouble focusing for long periods, like most kids. They are also very affectionate, hugging and jumping on me every chance they get, and they have a huge respect for adults. Whenever a teacher walks into the room, they stand and recite some kind of respect for teacher speech. Whenever we’re finished singing a song and I say “Sit down”, they say in unison “Thank you, teacher”. If there are already several people out of the room going to the washroom (and I know there are only two stalls on our floor) and another asks to go, I tell them “Not right now. Please wait”, they say “Okay” and go back to their seats. No fussing, no tantrums. I may have to steal one*.
Happy New Year, Internets!
Mega (what the kids in my class call me because they can’t say my name)
*Just kidding! I need room in my backpack for cookies and toilet paper! Please don’t arrest me!