Chey initiates English scholarship program

Four boys from Chey School have been selected to participate in a merit-based English scholarship program. Part of the program involved traveling around with an English-speaking family for the length of their stay in order to gain a better understanding of the language and of western culture.  In this article, Jack Reynolds and Jamie Stafford describe the week they spent travelling, collaborating and recreating with the scholarship students.

Chey Scholarship Program (first steps)

During July 2011, I made the journey to Cambodia, returning to the country for the second time to work with the Ponheary Ly Foundation. I was traveling with my close friend, Jamie and the rest of his family. With some prior experience, I had some idea of what we were going to do. Memories of the year before ran through my head. I fondly remembered serving children food, teaching English and computer classes, and kicking around the soccer ball (or football depending on your country of origin) with the kids of the various schools sponsored by the Foundation last year. This year, however, Jamie and I would be doing something a little different.

The Ponheary Ly Foundation was sponsoring four boys selected from Chey School, the local school just outside Siem Reap, to be a part of a merit-based English scholarship program. Part of the program involved traveling around for the length of our stay with us so that they could gain a better understanding of the English language and of western culture. You can probably guess who those two native speakers were. Jamie and I were very excited to help out in a unique way. Personally, I remember feeling excited about making a personal connection with the kids I was helping. However, with the anticipation there was also a little anxiety. Jamie and I couldn’t help but feeling a little nervous about the week ahead. Many questions ran through our heads as we wondered how we would possibly be able to keep them entertained for a week.

The morning after we arrived, Jamie and I traveled to their village to meet the kids for the first time, we went to their homes (to get a sense of where they were coming from and meet their parents (most of which were working in the fields). I can remember standing in the intense heat with my friend Jamie and four Cambodian children. It was there thatJamie and I first got to know our new friends.Their names were Sievchhinh, Marady, Van Yut, and Thavy. Quite honestly, it was a little awkward at first. But we had a feeling that as time passed we would grow close.

The week ahead was full of fun and excitement for everyone. The average day composed of the following: a bike ride with the kids at six in the morning, breakfast at the Seven Candles (the guest house in which we were staying), an hour and a half of English lessons or games, a fun activity of their choice such as rollerblading or swimming at a hotel pool, lunch at a local restaurant, more activities, games, and teaching in the afternoon, and finally dinner. After all of that we would usually just collapse in our room. The Cambodian heat was intense, and even our four friends succumbed to it after a long day.

Restaurants were always fun. Jamie and I would first tell the boys that they absolutely could not speak in Khmer during the course of the meal. Although they sometimes found it difficult to talk amongst themselves in English, they tried their best to make it work. After the rules were established we tried our best to be as engaging as possible. We always had a lot of fun, usually exchanging stories and even jokes, interspersed with word and number games. Jamie and I learned our fare share of Khmer along the way, and even came to love the more traditional Khmer dishes, which the boys encouraged us to try, after we introduced some of our favourite western dishes to them.

Towards the end of the week, we became very close with the boys and had a lot of fun becoming their friends. But the most difficult part was the close of the week. We had normal western lives to return to, where internship programs of this type are typical at secondary school level.  These boys will return to their village school, and sparse accommodation with perhaps few chances at staying with a western family again. Role models are important in this country where so few opportunities exist for children to be singled out and recognized. Jamie and I realized that we helped them experience a new vista in their lives. For us we take home the memory of close friends, who taught us as much about giving as we taught them. I’ll really miss their perpetual enthusiasm, positive energy and caring friendship.

Both Jack and Jamie are 17 years old.

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