Well - we’re back again! Ten months ago we said our goodbyes hoping to be able to return to our schools in a short time. However illness, work, family commitments and so on have delayed our trip. As we made our way up Road 6 in the school tuk-tuk we were struck by the even heavier traffic and crazier driving all around. We picked up Geoff, a long-time volunteer who works closely with the English teachers, and set off for the school to meet up with old friends, exchange news, chat and try to remember our bits of Khmer.
The village looks a bit different, yes the sandbags were still around, the flood water near the entrance to school was deep, but some house building had been in progress. The village was about its usual business of shopping, cleaning and caring for the little ones. We recognised some people, waved and were welcomed back. It was a great feeling!
School has not yet re-opened after the 'long holiday', but we were not surprised to see many children in the compound and also in classes with their teachers.
It's always a bit difficult getting a new year under way - but this year is going to be worse than most as the major Pchum Ben holiday begins two days after the official start of term. This is officially a three-day holiday during which time everyone returns to their home village to be with their families and prayers are said in Pagodas for ancestors, but in practice it will last from Thursday right through to the following Monday. So there will be one day's school on Wednesday!
As soon as we had arrived in school and been welcomed back with genuine warmth (and none of the 'oh, here come the interfering old Barang teachers again!) - the heavens opened and the school disappeared behind sheets of torrential rain.
Our English meeting got underway, Jim had cycled in and was just able to avoid the storm, but was soon interrupted by the arrival of Sral and Sek San bringing in freshly chopped coconuts with straws so we could drink the water inside.
Beats an apple for the teacher every time!
Against the background of shutters being slammed and children quietly discussing the displays in the English room, we learned of the successes of the English programme. It was good to celebrate the positive responses of the teachers and to grapple with the things that hadn’t worked so well.
Our three teachers Ratha, Hoy and Sineth have grown confident in their ability to speak their minds and share ideas. Some things, like the use and development of English using the Way Ahead books had gone well. Some felt at sea with the kindergarten classes that were beginning English for the first time this year. Controlling and trying to teach this tiny barrow-load of monkeys was proving tricky. We exchanged ideas and were given some things to ponder.
Our meeting finished, we went exploring again. Classrooms were being set up and we were able to admire the new gallery which contains a potted history of the schools and the contributions of donors and volunteers over the years. We met up with the family who run a little shop on campus and have always been so generous in their friendship towards us. (Mother gave Loll a scarf to wear the last time we left as she was so worried about the cold weather in the UK.) Geoff was able to help out with some translating as he is fluent in Khmer. He tells us he gets the best rooms in hotels and cheap lifts when he speaks the language. For us, we contend with sous'day or whatever.