Sunday, 20 December 2015

A Typical Day in Phnom Penh – Vibrant, Unique, Chaotic

COUNTRY: Cambodia
PROJECT: Education
WRITTEN BY: Timothy Fuller

Vibrant. Unique. Chaotic

These are three words that describe the city that is currently my home – Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

For the last three weeks I have been teaching English in a school in Stung Mean Chey
(the name of the municipal garbage dump in the northern part of Phnom Penh).

In an excerpt from their website, the People Improvement Organization shares the origin of the school I am now volunteering in.

“PIO opened its first schoolrooms at Stung Mean Chey in August 2004, running classes around the kid’s work schedules at the dump so they could still earn a living. As the school was located right in the centre of the community and is provided free of charge, more and more parents are allowing their kids to attend … Today it is a different story with over 400 children attending class – we are now struggling to keep up with the demand for more classroom space.”

Now that you understand a bit of the context of where I am, I want to share with you what an average day in the life of a volunteer teacher looks like.

7am: Most days I will wake around 7am and continue preparing my lessons for that day.

Whilst we only spend 3 hours teaching a day, the students are able to get through a surprising amount of content, so I always feel more comfortable having an abundance of teaching activities up my sleeve. This time is spent printing new worksheets, marking the work from the day before hand or laminating resources to use around the classroom that day.

10am: Breakfast. I always seem to sneak in just as the staff are trying to close up.
Maybe next week I will be more on time …

11am: Lunch! No I am not kidding, because we start teaching at 1 and don’t finish until
4 our only option is to have a really early lunch. Most days we will have lunch at a local restaurant.

However, once or twice a week we get to enjoy a meal at Friends the Restaurant. Friends the Restaurant is run by Mith Samlanh, which has worked to build the futures of former street children and marginalized young people in Phnom Penh since 1994. So that is a nice treat every now and again.

~12pm: At around 12pm we will jump in the minibus and start our journey up to Stung Mean Chey.

As I said above, Stung Mean Chey is in the northern part of Phnom Penh and travel times to the school range from 20 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the – often insane – – traffic.

1pm: At 1pm we jump into the classrooms and begin our lessons for the day. I have been lucky enough to be given Grade 4 and their local teacher, Teacher Sreymom is a simply tremendous teacher. I was lucky enough to observe her teaching on our first day and she has stayed with me in the classroom ever since. She is always there to help me translate some more complicated concepts, to give me advice on what activities are working, and what are not, and finally to help me keep the riff–raff in line. The lessons are around 50–55 minutes each, with a 5–10 minute break in the middle. I absolutely love my students! It is completely unlike teaching in Australia. As English is not a compulsory part of the curriculum until Grade 7, every student that is there is there by choice. The students actually want to learn, and I love it! The students are always full of energy, excitement that makes teaching so much easier for me, as I often find myself feeding off their positivity. I would love to go into more detail, but I will save that for another entry.

4pm: The school day finishes at 4pm and the students go home. Trying to navigate from the classroom to the ground level is often a challenge with the sudden rush of 400 students coming down a single staircase. But being 6’5”, almost every will stop in awe and without fail say “Teacher so tall!” It is through this crowd of gaping mouths and a wash of high-fives, fist bumps and the occasional hug that I make my way onto the street, where each day a new student will take my by the hand and walk with me to our minibus to begin our journey home.

6pm: Most nights we will go out as a team and find a new local restaurant to try (with varied levels of success). Our dinner experiences are the most unique I have ever experienced and whilst we may sometimes leave the restaurant still hungry due to miscommunication or due to some highly suspect ‘mystery meat’, we will normally leave with a smile on our face, having at least enjoyed the new experience and each others company.

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