John, Australia

A volunteer review from John (22), who stayed at SCAO for five weeks

My name is John Gilbert; I am 22 years old and from Newcastle, Australia. This is a brief description of my experience as a short term volunteer at S.C.A.O. I have now visited S.C.A.O. twice in the past two years. The first was in 2011 for a period of two months and the second is now a five week stay in

When I first came in 2011 I was 19 years old (about to turn 20 years old). I was greeted by Mr Sameth and Alice (another volunteer from Australia). It was very welcoming with the usual plastic chairs, table and water laid out for my comfort. After that day I spent the weekend in Phnom Phen and returned
on Monday to start teaching. At this point I didn’t know what to expect or how the classes were run exactly but with the aid of the other volunteers I soon found my feet.

We started at the basics….ABC. These classes were run in the morning and every volunteer taught a small group of children. As the day progressed the classes usually increased in difficulty, with the evening classes being the most difficult. Srey Lat and Hom were the main teachers for the evening
classes with possibly some help from a volunteer or two. These classes were fun and exciting but there was obvious need for structure and organization.

Between classes we usually stayed around the center and played with the kids. At this point much of the area around the center had not yet been developed so there was lots of land for football, volley ball and different types of chasing games. If it was time to relax a bit, there was also a coffee shop just a short walk down the road. Love the iced coffee! Although it’s a short stay, you feel a strong connection to the kids and that feeling also seems to be reciprocal.

The volunteers who stayed at the center became long lasting friends. They have similar interest (as to be expected between people who volunteer) but also In my case similar looking, so similar that Niki (A German volunteer) and I convinced many students we were brothers. The combination of the children at the center and the volunteers provides a sense of family and produces lasting memories.

After leaving and returning to Australia I realized almost instantly I had made a mistake. My time at S.C.A.O. was such a happy experience that usual life was mediocre compared to life at the center. It was necessary for me to go home, however I knew that eventually I would return.

After two years I came back to Cambodia. This time I was greeted by almost all the children (some were at school). It was a great feeling to be remembered. I still kept in touch with a few of the older kids through Facebook and seeing them was just like catching up with old friends. When I turned up it was a surprise to see how much development had occurred in the area. The road was a paved road, buildings were all over the land where we used to play football and the small lake opposite the center was being filled with soil and rubbish. The toilet at the school (which looks like a throne) was one of the few things that didn’t change.

On Monday I started teaching. The teaching style had now changed. Classes were arranged to coincide with the Kmer schooling system which changes the students from morning to afternoon class every month (and visa-versa). Also the volunteers only taught one specific class. My class was ABC advanced, which I taught with another volunteer Gemma. The classes were much more organized compared to my previous volunteering experience and with books that recorded what the previous volunteers taught, It was much easier to continue the students learning rather than repeating what had already been taught (which was what was happening frequently before). Having your own class also furthered my experience as it gave me skills that can easily be used back home such as; teaching
skills, public speaking skills, understanding the processes of learning and patience.

The kids at the center were much like before just with some small changes (like their height). They are always up for games and a bit of fun. As having already been at the center it was easy to fall back into the functioning of the S.C.A.O. family and it also made it easier for the kids at the center to ask
me for help. So soon I found myself teaching some of the kids mathematics, guitar and helping with university studies. For the second time I felt at home at the center.

The volunteers the second time around were just as great as the first time around. I even got to meet up with Nora (a German volunteer) who also volunteered with me the first time around. A great coincidence! The volunteers are very much a big part of the S.C.A.O. experience.

The improvement in the old school and the successful development and running of the new school is an outstanding achievement to the volunteers, supporters and the S.C.A.O. family. It was great to return and see the improvements and just as great was being able to watch the kids growing up. My part in the school is small but as a short term volunteer you still feel some sense of accomplishment.