I’m beginning to notice a pattern in Phnom Penh and the nights before we have to get a bus….we always end up drinking! This time at Good Morning guesthouse, we got chatting to an English couple, Robyn and Max. Over some beers we learnt that they had spent the last 11 months living in New Zealand, and were making their way through South East Asia before heading home to Watford. As the guys at the hostel did their typical, “more beer, and cheers” routine, I started to worry, especially when we had a long journey and work the next morning. It was hard to say no when Robyn and Max asked if we wanted to go for a beer at a 25cent bar and watch the Euros final, but we managed it and will hopefully see them again in Vietnam!
We caught the local Sorya bus to Kratie. It was a long journey, the bus stopped often, as it did in Thailand to collect more passengers and post. Though they seemed to offer more of a hop on, hop off service, with the bus still moving as passengers disembarked! We made friends will a girl from Brazil who had travelled Vietnam, and was now in her final stages of Cambodia before heading home. Luckily for us, she was sat next to a man from Cambodia who could speak English, and managed to get him to convince the driver to turn town the god awful Khmer karaoke videos.
Khmer karaoke - love songs, bad love songs. Set to cheesy or violent music videos, which tell you a mainly depressing story and have the option for sing-a-long with the words displayed at the bottom. Thankfully for us, nobody sang along!
The 5 hour journey took us 6.5, and we were dropped at the front of the Mekong river. Kratie has a similar feel to Siem Reap, more laid back and friendly. The river front is also well looked after, with a paved walk way and a few restaurants. Though our tuk tuk driver drove us away from the city and into a little village….it was here that we found our new home, Kratie English School.
Kratie English school is ran by a local man named, Rith. Rith opens up his home to volunteers from all over the world, and for $5 a day you are provided with a bed, tea, coffee, water and 3 traditional Khmer meals a day, prepared by Rith’s wife. The accommodation is in a traditional Cambodian house, so we have had to get used to flushing the toilet with a bucket, cold showers, fans and many power cuts. Though the beds are comfy, and the whole family welcoming so we are more than happy to have this experience.
Rith has two children, Tola, whose 9 and Vita, she’s only 4 and very shy! Tola attends public school, 8 -11 in the morning, and then comes to one of the English classes in the afternoon. In the evening Tola teaches English to the beginner class. He also likes to download apps on volunteers phones, including Kyle’s, and play lego games until the battery runs out.
When we first arrived at school, Kristy, a volunteer from New Zealand, was teaching an afternoon class. This included Tola and three other children. Whilst observing, Rith, told us that our first class would be at 5pm that evening….we totally weren’t prepared for that. Thankfully, Kristy had some worksheets on nouns, adjectives and verbs, so once we had refreshed ourselves on what they actually were, we were ready to go.
The class at 5pm had more children with a mixture of abilities, but with careful explanations and patience we were able to assist them with completing their worksheets. Just as we were getting into it, the class was cut short as a storm set in, and as the classrooms are outside it’s just not possible to continue, so the children gathered their things and quickly made their way home.
That evening we had a lovely noodle dish, enjoyed outside with Kristy. This was followed by a power cut and an early night. Luckily for us the fans powered back on for a good nights sleep.
In the morning we walked through the village to the laundry shop and it was like we were local celebrities once again. All of the children came running from their homes to wave and shout hello. Though one hello is not enough, you have to say it and wave until they can’t see you anymore. A bit like when you leave your nana's house.
The next few hours were spent lesson planning in the sunshine, and at lunch time Rith provided us with another delicious home made meal. At ten to two class were sat ready and waiting for us begin the days lesson. This class are an absolute pleasure to teach, they pick things up quickly, are eager to learn and are keen to get involved with games…especially hangman, that seems to be a favourite. There are also two Korean boys in this class who are some of the cleverest children I have ever met, we have to think up extra work on the spot to keep them engaged as they finish most things ahead of everyone else.
An hour quickly passes, and your’e left with 2 hours to chill and prepare for the next class. Which is exactly what we did. I even tried to Skype my mum, but the incoming storm and torrential rain caused yet another power cut, so that chat was short lived!
Now 5pm class is a little more challenging, as the abilities range from basic to intermediate and they all need a lot of attention. You can frequently hear “teacher, teacher” being called. So we split the class into two groups, Kyle took 1 child and I took 9, yeah I can see how that was fair too!
It was Kristy’s last night so after tea, Khmer food and hand cooked chips (amazing), we sat up chatting about our travel plans and next volunteer options. It’ll be fun to see how we cope without her tomorrow.
The next morning we woke to breakfast on the table outside, some kind of coconut pastry filled with a sweet bean paste filling, they were weird but delicious. At 1.20pm our class started to arrive, they are way too eager, so we set them up with a game of hangman until everyone was here. The days lesson, past, present and future tenses. They were brilliant, working together to help each other fully understand. The only difficulty with this class was the heat, even the kids were struggling, where’s the rain when you actually need it?
We were exhausted after the first class, and the 2 hours we have in-between lessons seemed to fly-by and it was time for class number two. I don’t know if it was the hot weather, or the fact that the kids had heard that there were two cool English teachers in town, but both the intermediate and high school class were full! As I got chatting to the high schoolers about jobs, university and where they would like to live in the future, most of them wanting to be doctors or teachers, living in Cambodia to help other people, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Kyle when all the children in his class were fighting for his attention. Though it will teach him for his lazy antics yesterday. We're finding that an hour goes way too quickly, and I am always left feeling overwhelmed by the passion and commitment that these children show towards learning. I feel like they would love to stay an extra hour, and to be honest I wouldn’t mind it if they did either.
After we had finished yet another delicious Khmer meal, and Kyle had stopped playing football with Tola, we got chatting to Rith about his school. Set up in 2015, Kratie English school is a non government funded operation. Rith relies on gifts and donations from volunteers to keep the school running, so the more pens, paper and learning supplies people bring the better. Children do not have to pay to come to the school, but will occasionally share food with the family. Rith hopes that one day he will be able to extend his school, and build actual classrooms to allow more children to attend. You can find the school on Facebook, by searching Kratie English School, or on the Workaway website, just search teaching English in Kratie.
We decided to do a class on time with the 2-3pm class the next day, this meant drawing many circles and making them look like clocks. The other great thing about teaching in Cambodia, you have to make all your own worksheets multiple times as there are no computers and printers, unless Rith is free in the afternoon to get them copied for you. The children enjoyed a break from English, and once time was completed they wanted to show off their maths skills, which were probably better than mine and Kyles to be honest.
The evening classes were a lot quieter today as it was raining, the older kids don’t do travelling in bad weather, and we were also joined by 4 more teachers…this resulted in too many of us and not enough children. We made it work though, and managed to spend some one on one time finding out what skill level each child actually was.
That night we had the longest power cut yet, so we played card games using only a torch. Safe to say I’m rubbish at Shit head, President and Bullshit…the latter may be because only two of us actually called Bullshit!
Our fifth day of lesson planning was made easier with the addition of more teachers, splitting into 3 groups to take a class each. As two of the new arrivals are French, they are paired with me and Kyle, and the subject for the two intermediate classes, Geography! Now anyone that knows me will know that this is quite possibly the worst choice of subject for me, I don’t even know where York is on a map! The 2- 3pm class loved it, and picked up continents and capitals in no time. Unfortunately for me, the 5 - 6pm lot weren’t feeling it and just wanted to do a word search and play hangman. Thank god it’s Friday!
Tonight, after a delicious fish curry and a long cold shower were sat with Tola, whose playing Lego again, whilst we update Rith’s website in the hope of attracting more volunteers. If you’re reading this and coming to Cambodia please take a look, the children can’t learn if theres nobody here!!
We’re looking forward to a much needed day off tomorrow, and will spend the day searching for the river dolphins, of which there are only 80 left! Fingers crossed we see them. Then hopefully we will find some time to enjoy the sunshine and chill at the pool round the corner…heaven after a busy working week.
Love Carrie xxx