Emily Hariton: First Volunteer at the Srayang Dormitory

Emily Hariton is the first volunteer to stay at the Srayang Dormitory for 9 days to work full time with the students. Read about her personal experiences with the students.

July 10, 2012

by Emily Hariton, PLF Volunteer


My experience  at Srayang was the culmination of not only my previous volunteering in Siem Reap, but also personal work and educational experiences over the last few years of my life. After a visit to the dormitory in June with the PLF crew to attend a meeting with UNESCO, I was immediately enticed by the possibility of volunteering there. I casually commented to Lori that had I came a few months later to volunteer, I would have loved to have volunteered up there. Lori responded by saying that I could head up there now if I would like and even though it took me a few days to truly commit to the invitation, I knew in my gut right away that I wanted to be up at that school.

The classroom space

I have a small background in working with preschool aged children, some experience with primary aged children, and I currently coach high school sports back in the United States, along with being a psychology student. All of that contributed to my week at Srayang. From our 30-45 minute exercises at 6 am to endless games of UNO and Jenga, I pulled ideas from all of the different areas of my background.

Emily and some of the boys

The greatest challenges I encountered were the language barrier and coming up with activities for almost the entire day. The Khmer-English Dictionary became my sacred text as it often bridged the gap I frequently faced. Being able to look up and translate words as simple as “after”or “help” joined our worlds together. For much of what I came upon, simply pantomiming or drawing also did the trick. Because I arrived at the very end of their school year, there was an exceptional amount of “free time” that I felt I needed to fill with educationally intentioned activities. By assisting their Khmer teacher with their English classes every morning, I was able to get an idea of what level they were at and could then formulate activities and exercises based around that. The result, to name a few, were a handful of activities like sight-word bingo, memory with letters and words, pictionary, unscrambling a sentence, and determining if a word/sentence is past/present or singular/plural.

relaxing at the waterfall

Of course, with the many challenges I faced, there were endless moments of triumph. For example, watching a student who, at the start of my stay refused to answer a question in English class, have the confidence to answer that same question at the end of the week. Another exciting development was how the girls used the volleyball court a fair amount. At our initial meeting with the students, the girls said that usually only the boys played volleyball. Of all the sports I love, volleyball has never been a strength. We decided to allocate a time when only the girls would play on the court and although a volley would usually only last 1-2 hits, the excitement never dulled. A highlight of the week was when, during one of the torrential downpours, one of the girls turned to me and asked, “volleyball?”, and I looked outside, looked back at the girls, and replied, “sure”. The following hour was a mud slide of a game with endless belly laughs and drenched clothing.

Volunteer sleeping quarters, latrine, bucket showers and a very big spider. Prepare yourself~!

After my time at the dormitory, it is safe to say that this type of volunteering is not for everyone. Light sleepers beware, as the night song consists of crickets, geckos, howling dogs, hard rain falling, and sometimes wind blowing. Using a squatter will also likely be an adjustment for some and bathing by bucket as well. It is my understanding though that there will soon be a shower head in place. However, you will learn as much from these students as they will learn from you. At the end of the day though, this experience is about them. As a volunteer in this program, my job was to contribute to their way of life and even though they were often the teachers, I feel confident that I, and future volunteers, will bring a world of possibilities to their lives.