In the 13 months since I heavy-heartedly left SCAO last September, Cambodia was rarely far from my mind. When I was awarded a research travel grant this Spring, I decided at once that I would return to this country that enthrals me so.
As my moto driver pulled up at the school in early October I was welcomed by hugs from the Center kids who we’re sitting in Mrs Sopheap’s shop. While I walked toward the classrooms to introduce myself to the new Red Cross volunteers, my heart was warmed by the sound of my name being squealed from all sides. That first day was a mixture of familiarity and newness as I was reunited with former students and SCAO family members and introduced to the changes that the organization has undergone in my absence.
The most significant change was the living quarters for the volunteers. What was once a shared bed upstairs at the Center amid the SCAO family is now a modern house a short bike ride away toward the main road. This is likely a welcome improvement for the majority of volunteers given the updated amenities and increased privacy. I for one miss my never-a-dull-moment days at the Center where the SCAO family quickly became my own family. Nevertheless, I understand and appreciate the motivation behind the move. The Center kids are now more able to live a steady life without being constantly uprooted by the comings and goings of volunteers.
Otherwise, much proceeded in the same way as my last stay with SCAO. I resumed teaching both English and computer classes. I was very happy to see familiar faces in both who had excelled in the past year. Particularly, I loved seeing last year’s computer students now assisting in teaching this year’s classes, keeping up their own knowledge and instructing their friends and classmates.
I was fortunate to teach a range of English levels this year. The ABC Beginner class taught me the basics of Khmer as I showed them how to spell in English, we traded terms for “apple” and “book”, and I grew to appreciate the difficulty of pronunciation in a foreign language. In teaching some of the more advanced English classes this year I was able to engage some of the students in very interesting discussions about their hopes, their loves, and their lives in Cambodia, going beyond the standard “How many brothers and sisters do you have?”. This personal exchange of knowledge and culture is invaluable to me.
My time with SCAO this year has been a welcome return to old friends and has fostered many new and equally unforgettable ones. I wish luck to all those who dedicate so much time and love to this wonderful organization. I hope to see you all again someday.