By William Stafford, age 11
The past three years, William has joined his family on their annual trip to Siem Reap to volunteer and visit with the PLF. Last year and he was excited to share his love of chess with Tchey School and join the soccer club his older brother helped to start for a special match on the school fields. During this year’s trip he returned to host a chess tournament, demonstrate a series of science experiments, and bring football to the students in Romchek. Here are his thoughts and commentary from his third experience with PLF!
This is now my third summer joining my family, who has volunteered with the PLF for the last 8 years. Last summer, I had the idea to introduce chess and so my father and I came armed with 20 chess sets of resilient quality that could be used in PLF supported schools. We spent the time last year teaching chess to both students and the teachers. This year, we decided to see what progress had been made and so we decided to host a chess competition between two of the PLF schools.
One year later, it was like chess had gone viral. As we arrived at Tchey School to host the event, kids were playing chess everywhere. Progress was incredible in that it seemed everyone could play or at least understood the rules. PLF had specially organised for two of their schools: Knar and Tchey School to compete in the chess tournament. The event was held at Tchey. For many of the kids at Knar, this was a rare opportunity to get on a bus and leave their village. The excitement as the bus pulled into Tchey to join the fun could be felt everywhere.
My father and I organised the competition and since we could not pronounce Cambodian names, we assigned everyone a number. We organised the event so that winners were successively paired with other winners. The tournament lasted about 3 hours with each player getting to play about 4 games.
The kids from Knar played really well and quickly beat their Tchey opponents. So we then matched the best players of Knar to see who would be the best players overall. Two girls from Knar won and were awarded the first ever PLF Chess Trophies for 1st and 2nd place. You can see how happy they are as Ponheary, my sister and I give them their awards.
These kids don’t have games at home so it is difficult to have fun outside of school. It was touching to see them take such pride in their newfound chess ability. Things like chess give these kids a chance to be kids. The day overall was really special.
This year, I also wanted to introduce some cool science experiments. I got the idea from a book called Fun and Wacky Science Experiments. I selected 9 different experiments on the basis of materials I could easily bring. My challenge was to lead successive classes of around 20 kids each, several times.
I began by demonstration, and then gave the students materials to try on their own. We did stuff like looking at the amount of compressed gas in a Coke bottle by dropping Mentos in. We build a mini volcano, a small car out of matchboxes that moved on magnets, we used rulers to measure reflexes, we dropped things to understand gravity and I showed then how gas is used to inflate and deflate balloons.
These kids rarely have a chance to do interactive learning. So they seemed to really appreciate trying an experiment first hand. It also made me realise how difficult it is to be a teacher when you have to lead a class for an hour!
Cambodian children have little chance to have these types of field trips. Everything is new and everything feels special to them. It makes me realise just how much we take for granted in the West where these types of activities are part of everyday school life.
PLF has taken on a new school far from Siem Reap called Romchek. This school is from a disadvantaged area, and kids barely have enough food. Classes are really squished in and typically two grades sit in one classroom back to front. The teaching is not the same quality as it is at my school, so I can imagine the difficulties the students face. Basic reading and math skills are far below national average. Romchek is a good example of just how dire the circumstances are in many schools in this country. At Romchek, we hosted a meal, giving the kids a chance for a little nutrition, while Ponheary taught a class on math in Khmer. While the food was cooking, I decided to bring some footballs to see if I could start a game.
Football is well loved in Cambodia. Within a few minutes of setting up some makeshift goals, we got a great game going. I was not used to playing in 40-degree heat. But we all had a great time.
It was our usual action packed volunteer schedule thanks to the PLF. But each experience makes you realise how special it is to be a part of the PLF’s mission. The kids are so keen to learn. They make every event feel special through their enthusiasm and deep appreciation.