Volunteering as a teacher in Cambodia

In the teacher education in Finland, we have a joke that the three main reasons to become a teacher are June, July and August. I have to admit it feels pretty amazing to have such a long summer vacation to truly reset to zero and charge again. I felt like I wanted to try something new. Maybe even do something useful while enjoying my first long summer vacation.

I’ve had this dream to volunteer as a teacher somewhere abroad, so I booked a trip to Asia for 6 weeks and started to look for volunteering jobs on Workaway. Teaching English and IT in Asia sounded like a good choice, so I contacted a small private school called Angkor Legacy Academy in Lolei Village, Cambodia.

I arrived to Lolei late in the evening on Saturday the 30th July and stayed for 10 days. The village is located 15km from the city of Siem Reap. The school provides free English classes at 3 different levels from Monday to Friday for the children in Lolei, aged 5-12. Sovannarith, the founder of the school, also teaches Chinese in the evenings. Luckily, he gets many volunteers year around to help him with the English classes because he is also running a food programme in Lolei to help the people living in poverty. In addition, Sovannarith wants to start computer classes for the children once the school gets a better internet connection and more computers. The local primary schools don’t teach English or computer skills, which are key subjects to get a job and break out of poverty. Find out more about Lolei village and Angkor Legacy Academy (ALA) here.

Angkor Legacy Academy in Lolei Village, Cambodia.

In her blog, Melody from California describes the school, the village life and the work of volunteer teachers as I also find it a year later. You will find her post about volunteering in Lolei here. The muddy rural roads were flooding from heavy rain and drying again, leaving deep tracks on the road. On my first day, we tried to fix the road by digging and filling in the potholes together with Sovannarith, the village kids and the other volunteers to make it more even, and therefore more safe for motorbikes and bicycles. It was amazing to see how eager the kids were to help with sumi hard work even when it started to rain. They knew how to make the most out of it by bathing in the mud puddles!

Fixing a road in Lolei.

Monday was the first day as a volunteer teacher. Since we were altogether six volunteers, three per class, it was easy to split the groups and organise teaching so that everyone gets support with their learning. At the beginning, I found it challenging to get the students’ attention because we didn’t speak the same language. However, I must say I’ve never seen such motivated students to learn English than the level 3 groups (age 10-12). Already after the first day, I realised how good their comprehension was even though we were still studying the basics.

As the volunteers come and go all the time, the students aren’t used to any classroom routines, except saying good morning to the teacher. However, even in 6 days of teaching it was possible to create some small routines to calm down the class and make sure they have a peaceful learning environment. We started with raising our hand when we want to share something and respecting the others by listening what they want to say. They also really enjoyed playing games and singing songs in English. Moving on to a next exercise by clapping rhythms or playing a little game was an effective way to catch their attention. Having these little playful exercises as part of the lesson plan seemed to make a big difference as well to their learning, as these children are used to more formal school culture.

One of the three classrooms at ALA.
Learning vocabulary by drawing together.

With level 3 students I got to try a little bit of programming. As I think programming is more than just learning codes, I wanted to introduce digital thinking to these children. The goal was to understand how you can give orders to the computer by using codes. Since we only had one day for programming, we split the class so that I took two students at a time to play a coding game while the others were learning the directions and orientating in English with the other two volunteers. We played Programming with Harvester, where you practice some basic programming tools like different functions and loops. The students loved it! They got the idea very quickly and were able to follow my instructions in English. I was happy to see so many enthusiastic faces when they cracked the code! ”Good job!” *high five*

Programming with code.org at ALA.