Two Volunteer Teachers

Ann Wiener and Kathe Jervis came loaded with 20 cameras and volunteered at Tchey School from February 2-15. This is their brief report:

As teachers, we believe that curriculum should be developed from what is at hand. Other than valuing careful planning and being willing to abandon all advance plans on arrival, we had no idea what we were getting into when we volunteered to teach for two weeks.   We did expect that digital cameras could help us look through children’s eyes, especially when we had no idea how much language we would have in common. So we brought entry level Vivitar cameras from NYC.


5am computer class at Tchey

5am computer class at Tchey

Lori requested that we teach a two-hour extracurricular special project that she called the Sunrise Class – a group of 19 students, ages 12-18 – who were studying Microsoft Office on 10 recently donated solar-powered Dell computers.  Every morning at 4:30 am – when it felt as pitch-black as any middle of the night ­– we left Seven Candles with Sovann, our ever-reliable tuk tuk driver, and arrived at 5:00 am to find almost the whole class waiting for us in the dark. In that Sunrise class, we produced one camera for each student and set the goal that every child work toward creating a power point presentation with photos and English text.  (The kids thankfully turned out to be much more fluent with their computers than we were, but our native English speaking gave us a leg up on expertise.)

After our first day at school, as it happened, we visited a Silk Farm designed for tourists that was only ten tuk tuk minutes from school.  We jumped at the chance to build curriculum from a local experience that we could never have envisioned before we arrived. We organized a Saturday field trip for the Sunrise students. They took terrific pictures.


Tchey students visiting the Silk Farm and making a poster with their images to narrate what they learned.

Students also took the cameras home one night to take pictures of “what interested them” and came back with pictures of their fields, mango trees, ducks, cows, pigs, and cousins, grandmothers, and baby brothers.  To provide another photo op, we toured Angkor Wat, had lunch in town, and ice cream from the Lucky Mall supermarket. Children continued to create power point slides from these experiences, and after they worked to correct their English text, each student formally presented at least one “perfect” English slide.

Student photos of the temples

Some children had an astonishing eye for their local environment and framed remarkable photos.


photos of the student's home life


We also taught two mid-day hour-long English 2 classes with about 24 children in each class.  Students’ spoken and written English varied widely.   We had brought masking tape to make “nature bracelets”, an easy popular American science project that asks children to go outside to collect anything they want for their bracelets. The general idea is to compare with classmates, draw, write, and learn new vocabulary.  That simple idea worked fine, and could have been extended, but the serendipity of this local Silk Farm was too tempting. We piled the English 2 students into tuk tuks and toured in small groups with Khmer-speaking guides. We brought worms, leaves, and cocoons back to the classroom. Students looked closely with magnifying lenses, drew with colored pencils, and wrote what they saw on index cards, all the while using new English words in context.  When we arrived at Tchey, students were learning singular and plural nouns.  We built on their lessons, practicing over and over the pronunciation of “mulberry leaf” and “mulberry leaves”, among other hard-to-explain English oddities.

We certainly encourage teachers (and others) to volunteer. Staying at the family-run Seven Candles with the Ly family, and their many children, gave us a view of Cambodian life we could never have had as tourists. The guest house and foundation staff (one and the same at times) organized and supported us, our emerging curriculum, and our team teaching with the regular teachers Sokvann and Rithy.  We thank everyone for our unforgettable learning experience. We had a wonderful time.