Monday, October 14, 2013

Life, the Universe and some Dedicated Teachers

The weekend was upon us, the sun was shining after the recent rains - so what to do? Well, let’s go in to school for a meeting with Sarin, the admin staff and the English teachers! Our English programme has always been run during the normal curriculum time for each day, but in order to include English lessons into the Khmer curriculum, we have to ‘steal’ some teaching time.  This is not really satisfactory, of course, and the government has recently announced that the final three grades in primary school should start learning English for two sessions per week.  Obviously, we at Spitler/Kurata school are way ahead of the game (yes – and, as it happens, using the Way Ahead course book), but we realized that we would need to blend in with the government requirements as far as we could, so made the decision to teach two lessons of English during the Khmer curriculum, but to increase the English tuition during ‘of-hours’ time.  This means that children who normally attend school in the morning would return for a longer session of English on another afternoon.  This they will probably do willingly.  There is no shortage of demand for schooling in Cambodia! (For instance Carly, our new volunteer, was working with Sineth and a Grade 3 class on Thursday afternoon.  They were asked if they would like to come in on Monday morning at 8.30 to do some extra English with Carly. Forty-five hands shot up - the entire class.  Carly – with the noble support of Steve – is working with those children at this very moment!)

The Dedication of the Teachers: A little case study.
Sunday Morning planning with Ratha.
Saturday evening Ratha rings. Can he come round to discuss his new schedule (timetable)? We (well – Loll) are ready for bed. Come Sunday morning we say. Ratha rings up at seven thirty. We manage to delay his arrival til nine. So amid glasses of water, papaya slices all enhanced by fresh lime, we set to to organise and bring the Kurata curriculum in line with Spitler school. Ratha has the advantage of his timetable never switching at the end of each month so things can be set in stone for the next year. Already we were looking at gaps and seeing where extra classes can be fitted in. Ratha is keen that everyone should learn English and wants to add additional classes wherever he has space on his timetable.  We try to rein him in a little!

Later as we chat we find out more about his life. Everyone in Cambodia has an interesting story to tell that tugs at the heart strings and brings us up short when trying to imagine the hardships that people have and still do suffer years after the rule of Pol Pot.

Ratha told us he was born in the province of Banteay Meanchey in Sophy village.     He went to primary school there and really enjoyed it, being especially fond of his Khmer teacher whom he still tries to visit when returning home. His father had died when he was only aged seven from a mosquito borne disease which we assume to have been malaria, and his mother had struggled to bring up his sister and himself through much poverty. She became a policewoman in order to keep her family.  Ratha continued to study and only began English lessons at the age of eighteen at a small private school. Lessons were expensive for him but he persevered and eventually gained a place for General Management at Build Bright University (BBU) in Siem Reap. He stayed with an uncle here and recently he, his sister and mother have begun at last to build their own house. This should be finished in November. It has proved a very expensive project but is much wanted.

Rather younger Ratha and Hoy
Ratha, along with Ann Hoy, were the first English teachers at Spitler school starting the embryonic programme back in 2010, which is when we first met them both on our first visit to the school with Danny Spitler. Without a doubt Ratha has always been keen to learn and happy to impart his continuing love of education to all the children he teaches. He now teaches morning and afternoon sessions at Kurata school and is a popular and hardworking staff member - who also manages to keep us on our toes!

Danny and Sarin talking to our little friend, Malin in 2010.

The building of the English block - 2010.

Around and About
Life around Siem Reap continues quietly but becoming busier as the tourist seasons kicks in. As the rains diminish and temperatures are not yet too high visitors begin to flock to this area to see the temples, visit the Tonle Sap lake and enjoy the life of a fast growing town. Those people that have not yet visited this area need to know what treasures we have around us. The faces of the locals, quite stern to start with will break into a smile after their initial shyness.

Tuk tuk drivers practise their English and are happy to try their luck asking if we want to go out to Angkor Wat at every turn. People operating at the many massage places will ask time and again if we want a massage, and the Doctor Fish operators still are friendly and chat despite not having our toes tickled by their mini piranhas! We hear how hard recent times have been for some and the hopes for making some money in the high season. We are greeted by old friends in restaurants, guest houses and shops who genuinely remember us from many months ago.

Sunday late morning we sit near the old market having a drink before meeting up with Jim for lunch. We watch as families clamber up on their motos, local people squeeze unceremoniously into tuk tuks, children come selling bracelets on the road side and another girl spends ten minutes trying to convince a large American to part with a few dollars for a book. A man walks by, carrying a box. He has no hands or lower arms, blown off by a landmine when he was a boy. He tries to sell books also. Another child appears attached by a rope to his blind father who asks for money. Almost everywhere there are the smiles amongst the heartbreak of a town going about its daily business.

AND FINALLY – Danny and Pam Spitler arrive today for a week long visit.  We are looking forward to meeting up with them again later – and to some planning meetings later in the week.  So more on that later.

PS:  A beautiful shot of Ratha in action in a classroom.  Exhausting stuff!!

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