A New Way of Life

Posted by on May 28, 2013 in Cambodia, Featured | 1 comment

Cambodia is a very interesting country. It’s traumatic history is very recent. It’s prestigious temples of Angkor Wat are world-class. It’s capital is reinventing itself. It’s people are some of the most genuine we’ve ever met. And it’s children are inspiring. Kat and I spent two weeks working and teaching English to some of these kids in Phnom Penh at an orphanage known as New Way of Life (NWL) and our experience could not have been more enjoyable. 

After teaching English at a small school in Nepal and working at a children’s home in Thailand, quite honestly, we anticipated more of the same from the kids at NWL – short attention spans, occasional rowdiness (and quarrels) among a few, and varying levels of interest in their foreign teachers. But, individually and collectively, these little ones stand alone. They waited diligently for our 8:00am arrival every morning, pencils and notebooks in hand, eager to learn. And their attentiveness rarely wavered (nothing that wasn’t quickly cured by a five minute game of Simon Says or Bingo). One of the more unique things about the children at NWL was that every single one of them wanted to learn. It’s rare to have more than a handful of students truly interested, so it was a treat to not worry about those who didn’t care to be there. 

The children at NWL ranged from five to fourteen with a mix of family backgrounds. As we’ve realized through our volunteering in Asia, the term “orphanage” isn’t how we may normally perceive it. While more than half of the kids are truly orphans, others come from parents who are unable to afford an education for their child or even simply take care of or feed them. Sixteen of the twenty-five kids at NWL were true orphans. The remaining nine came to the orphanage as if it was an educational day care and returned to their homes as soon as the time ended. The orphans were looked after by the house parents and a long-term volunteer, Theara (our main contact and translator). By the end of the two weeks we had developed a strong friendship and mutual respect with the adults and an amazing connection with the kids.

Everyday the house father would pick us up in his tuk-tuk (his side job to help fund the orphanage) for the twenty-minute ride across town. The morning consisted of teaching two different groups – a smaller, more advanced class of four kids and a younger, beginner class of sixteen. Somehow, Theara knew that Kat was way more advanced in the English language than I was and therefore paired us accordingly. While Kat spent her mornings with more dialogue and conversation, I was teaching elementary words and practicing how to read and write simple sentences. After lunch and a rather generous Cambodian siesta, Kat and I taught the afternoon class together. This group was relatively intermediate and we expanded basic vocabulary and played countless word games. While class standouts or favorites had previously been easy to pick out, the kids at NWL were so well-balanced and helpful with each other, that they’ll always be remembered together. On our last day, we rewarded the children with a party. It was priceless to watch each child (and adult) cautiously approach the strawberries and donuts that we had provided – two foods they had never tasted before because they were too expensive.

All three places that we have volunteered at have been special and unique in their own way, but our time at NWL seemed to be the most impactful. Being in some of the poorest countries in the world, you’re always left to wonder what will happen to these children. The kids at NWL have left us with the most hope even though their country could very well be in the worst condition. Looking into their eyes, you know how fiercely they want you to teach them, how much they would give to be your son or daughter, and how badly they want you around forever. It’s this visible and intense interest that gives them promise. Promise for a country that needs them – to recover, develop, and prosper out of the third world. It seems as though the children understand that the future of Cambodia is in their hands. That tenacity in their eyes is in direct response to the weight on their shoulders.

Volunteering in Cambodia was eye-opening. With a genocide that wiped out almost 1/4 of it’s population a little over thirty years ago, the country is rebuilding and Phnom Penh is at the center of it all. Its residents would prefer to not talk about the mass killings or extreme poverty, but rather the country’s optimistic future. In my opinion, a country’s vitality has never seemed to rely so much on its younger generation. I know that there is an undeniable confidence among them and I am proud to have met, taught and befriended some of the individuals that will push Cambodia into a brighter future.

One Comment

  1. Keep up the good work you two. Very proud of what you are doing. Looking forward to seeing you in a few weeks! Go Bruins!

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