Learning Enterprises Student Volunteers Spend their Summer with the PLF

Learning Enterprises volunteers (Left to Right) Daniel Scott Smith, Brooke Heinichen and Maggie Klefstad teach at 3 different PLF-sponsored schools for the summer.

Learning Enterprises volunteers (Left to Right) Daniel Scott Smith, Brooke Heinichen and Maggie Klefstad teach at 3 different PLF-sponsored schools for the summer.

As you probably have read on the website, this summer has been very exciting here in Siem Reap. I have the opportunity to introduce you to one of these daily happenings: the partnership between the Ponheary Ly Foundation and Learning Enterprises (LE).Learning Enterprises is a student-run non-profit that takes native English speakers (or natively proficient English speakers) from universities in the US and UK to underprivileged, under-served, and often impoverished communities across the world to teach conversational English at no charge.

This year, we are in Panama, Poland, Croatia, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Turkey, Mauritius, China, and Cambodia. Because of the political unrest in Bangkok, the Thailand Program was suspended for this summer. As Program Director and Founder of both LE’s programs in Southeast Asia and having served in Egypt two years ago, I see LE’s project with the Ponheary Ly Foundation a special moment in LE’s history to be doubly effective and offer a potent level of service to those who are in paramount need and to the PLF, which has perfected the art of distributing resources in the most effective and targeted ways around Siem Reap.

This year is the LE Cambodia Program pilot year. It was given to me in its fetal stage in August 2009 after Megan Hansen (a board member of LE), Lori Carlson (president and co-founder of the Ponheary Ly Foundation), and many others got together and realized that a partnership between LE and PLF would help the communities surrounding Siem Reap. LE offers the Foundation four long-term volunteer-teachers whose sole mission in Cambodia is to serve. The PLF, on the same hand, offers LE an environment in which education can nourish (and be nourished) and prosper; instead of trying to teach conversational English to starving or sick children, the PLF systematically addresses the infrastructural and structural obstacles of the schools and their communities so that passing primary school is not a rare occurrence but almost universal. The LE mission, then, is just one component of the Ponheary Ly Foundation’s mission, and we are privileged to have such a synergistic partnership.

A summer of teaching abroad now contributes to a much larger cause, which takes a dynamic approach to overcoming rural Cambodia’s obstacles to education: from providing basic health care and electrifying classrooms to equipping the school cooks with bicycles and sponsoring and housing secondary school students. The PLF has received recognition from the Cambodian Ministry of Education, the Prime Minister, CNN, and many other influential interests across the globe, and the LE volunteers and I are proud to be a part of what I like to call the “rice-roots” effort to educate Cambodia one village at a time.

The four volunteers are here for just over eight weeks and teach in three of the five PLF-sponsored schools. Brooke Heinichen (Georgetown University), and Maggie Klefstad (University of Maryland) teach at Wat Bo each morning. Maggie and I (Stanford University) teach at Khnar, and Brooke holds English and computer literacy classes at Tchey. In addition, Brooke is holding classes three nights a week at the women’s dormitory, where secondary students from the countryside live and study.

Whether in school or not, our time here so far has been a nonstop lesson in social efficacy, Ponheary and Lori leading us in the forgotten countryside, Cambodia’s true classroom.