Oundle School Classics teacher, Catriona Harrington spent three weeks of the summer break volunteering with LRTT (Limited Resource Teacher Training) in Cambodia. Her role was to work with a group of twenty-nine other educators from all over the UK and the US to deliver a training programme for the Cambodian teachers, many of whom had received little or no teacher training, and some of whom may not have even been able to finish high school, let alone progress to university
Catriona commented, “Before I applied for the fellowship, I didn’t know much about the country, but I learned quickly why the Cambodian education system needs support: the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s killed off 25% of the population, targeting intellectuals in particular as a means of enforcing an ‘agrarian utopia’. As a result of this, an entire generation grew up illiterate, with no education, and the country is still rebuilding itself and its education system after the horrors of the genocide.”
During her trip Caitriona visited and observed teachers with her observation partner in two NGO schools: FKC or ‘Freedom of Khmer Children’ (which her tuk-tuk driver often confused with KFC!) and ‘Together for Cambodia’.
Catriona added, “What struck me was the disparity between schools in the UK and these schools. We take our unlimited resources for granted: books, paper, pens, post-its, exercise books, photocopying etc. are a given, as are computers and internet access. Because these schools rely on donations to serve their communities, such items are a luxury.”
During observations and conferences, the UK and US teachers attempted to deliver a condensed version of all they as teachers learned about teaching during their own training. Their sessions ranged from teacher reflection to classroom management and group work.
Catriona concluded, “What was truly touching was going back to the schools after each conference day and watching the teachers implement some of the strategies we had taught them. Their gratitude for any small difference we may have made was also incredibly humbling.
One thing I took away from the programme is the need for ‘volunteerism’ to be sustainable. If you are thinking of taking a gap year in a country like Cambodia to do some volunteering, great! But think about what your role is: will you be making a lasting difference that will continue to have an impact even after you leave, or will you be one of ‘those’ volunteers whose social media is awash with cute photos of you playing with some children? Make sure you research programmes that put vulnerable groups first.”
The NGO schools in Cambodia are always in need of donations, and you can donate either money or resources by visiting their websites: http://www.khmerchildfoundation.org/