Three summers ago, my Cambodian friend and teacher invited me to teach at several schools in her home country. Every summer since then, I’ve consistently taught English at the Program Advancing Girls’ Education (PAGE) in Siem Reap. The non-profit organization provides meals, housing, and schooling to 36 girls–whom, without it, would never have had the chance for higher education. All girls live in one facility, where they attend high school in the morning and additional classes in the evening. Even with their busy schedules, some familiar PAGE girls welcomed me at the airport.
The next day, despite having end-of-year exams in a month, the girls were energized and ready to learn. The large majority are comfortable reading and writing elementary English but have a difficult time with listening and speaking. Slowly and with simple vocabulary, I began with two points: First, I don’t speak Khmer, so we must communicate through English. Second, don’t worry about mistakes; just speak! I stressed that language is acquired through focused immersion and practice. Since they already study ESL in school, I considered what unique aspects my instruction could bring. One class was dedicated to particularly difficult phonetics. Khmer speakers have trouble with sounds unique to English (some being “sh, ch, v,”) and syllables ending in “s” sounds (for example “house,” may become “hou”). For the three hour class, we tackled these difficulties and learned voiced and unvoiced consonants. Another highly requested topic was keeping conversation. As we practiced, I isolated stating opinions as a good method of maintaining conversation flow without using a flurry of stale questions. The girls wanted to tailor their conversations towards visiting American, British, and Australian donors.
This year, PAGE requested help with their facilities. The three-month Cambodian rainy season brings several structural challenges, such as the dirt road leading into PAGE becoming difficult to traverse. Thanks to the CSGC Cost Grant and the Shum Fund, the dirt road leading into PAGE was paved. The funds also allowed us to replace the old wooden power utility poles with concrete columns and to equip buildings with lightning rods—just in time for the rainy season! After a class, the girls challenged me to one of their favorite games: Connect Four. I was comfortable, having recalled playing in America before and being pretty good. That changed after playing 16 rounds with a laughable 6% win rate. The girl’s energy, tenacity, and sharpness never cease to amaze me. I look forward to sharing the upcoming educational field trip to Angkor Wat and Peace House building in my next post.