Why do we travel? Do we seek adventure? Or a tranquil getaway from our busy lifestyle? Or maybe a busy getaway from our tranquil lifestyle? Whatever the reason, we know that travel opens our eyes and broadens our minds to diverse cultures and beautiful distractions from our usual, and at times monotonous, lives.
Cambodia is a country riddled with ancient temples and burdened by a horrific history. It is laden with mystery that will capture your sense of adventure.
However, it is also one of the poorest countries in the world.
Of Cambodia’s population of more than 14.82 million people, over 5.48 million people are under 18, which makes education a necessity but one that is not met. Only 45 per cent of boys and 44 per cent of girls attend secondary school and many children are left without a hope for income or knowledge of the outside world. Children in Cambodia are extremely vulnerable, with sex tourism a major problem and one third of sex workers being children. An education can reduce this vulnerability and an education with English incorporated can reduce it further.
When I first travelled to Cambodia as a tourist, despite it being only for a short while, I felt a pull to return as a volunteer due to the astonishing cultural differences that jolted my perceptions of normality. I had sampled a morsel of Cambodia, but this had only roused my palate – and I’m not just talking about their national dish, Fish Amok.
I volunteered at Greenway, an English school in the capital city Samrong of the province Oddar Meanchey. Samrong is a city ‘off the beaten path’, with labyrinthed villages that drip with green foliage, and bordered by rice fields that drip with rice wine. Only a two-hour drive from the internationally renowned Siem Reap and twenty minutes from Thailand, this impoverished city is not accommodating to tourists but has an unmistakeable subtle charm for those looking for a more authentic experience.
While the rigidity of Samrong’s customs was admittedly a little confronting at first, the people are open and friendly and it is easy to feel welcome. They seem to always give, despite having so little. Their lives are shaped by poverty but not defined by it, and the children of Samrong welcomed me with their relentless happiness. They attended Greenway English School on their own initiative.
Greenway is an outdoor free-of-charge school, with huts as classrooms decorated with English words and pictures. It relies solely on donations, where every donor is credited with a painted sign upon their contribution. Next door is a tiny shop selling snacks, fruit and, most importantly, soft drinks kept cold in an esky.
I would often find relief from the Apocalypse-Now-esque humidity with fresh watermelon and coke on my teaching breaks, of which there were many. Teaching periods consisted of two three-hour sessions, with three 20-minute breaks. The children attend primary school for only half a day and so can attend Greenway either before or after school. The students in both the morning and the afternoon classes came from very poor families of the surrounding villages, yet this was veiled by their effervescence and cheeky chatter.
The clues to their poverty are the surrounding wooden houses and the outfits they continue to wear day after day. Their resilience and optimism were inspiring; rather than playing with electronics, they would invent games using shoes. It was easy to fall in love with them and after one week I was hooked. Most of the children seemed to have no inhibitions when it came to meeting the volunteers; they were immediately accepting and giving. If only I could pronounce their names…
As the world is increasingly dominated by western institutions, the ability to speak English in Cambodia can provide an escape from penury. This was the case with the creator of Greenway, Nuth Ya, who was brought up in poverty with his three sisters by his mother after his father passed away when he was five. A philanthropic businessman today, he largely attributes his success to his fluency in English and hopes to inspire children in similar circumstances. English is not a part of the curriculum in most Cambodian schools and its importance is not emphasised as a quality that will guarantee a job. Donating to English schools such as these are a practical way to help break the cycle of poverty for these children.
In Cambodia, where a meal costs $3 and a beer 50 cents, a little money goes a long way. These small projects can easily go unnoticed in the West even by large charity organisations; however, their contribution to education is extremely important to the future of Cambodia. As attendance for the children is free, the school does not profit from their enrolment.
Nuth Ya hopes to have over 200 children attending Greenway by the end of the year and needs to attract the necessary funding. You can help by donating: even a small sum will help pay for the classrooms, school books and general wellbeing of children in need.
To donate, you can contact Mr Ya directly:
Phone: +855 97 30000 44