Thursday, November 7, 2013

Carly and Steve Blog

Our month volunteering at The Spitler School started with much rain, so our first cycling journey there was a challenging one! We followed Nick through his "short cut" which would have been very efficient, were it not for the puddles and mud from the regular downpours. Despite dodging water, that first journey to school was memorable in a much more positive way because of the amount of children who shouted "Hello Nick!" as we cycled through the village. We could tell straight away that we were going to be volunteering in a school at the centre of a friendly community and might even get to know a few local faces.

The school itself took us both by surprise in a very pleasant way. For some reason we both anticipated a smaller, quieter place with less going on. By contrast, the lively buzz of The Spitler School was instantly noticeable; I later learned from Loll that Spitler has almost as many students on roll as my secondary school back in England! There were enthusiastic lessons going on with songs and smiles and we felt instantly welcomed by both teaching and non-teaching staff. We were lucky enough to be there during one of Danny and Pam Spitler's visits; an occasion in which the community spirit of the place was beautifully depicted through staff speeches and student dances, witnessed by the full range of people associated with the school. I was really interested in the presence of many parents at this gathering and their participation in a Q&A session with Danny Spitler and Sarin; seeing local parents so involved with and interested in the education of their children was a great testament to the difference the school makes to the families in this area.

We were soon making our own way to and from school, which luckily coincided with the weather drying up. We now only had to dodge pot-holes and other cyclists - which were usually the children attending The Spitler School, quickly cycling past us with their typical eagerness to get to lessons! Indeed, something which stood out every time we were at school is just how much the children enjoy the lessons. They play happily together in their break-times but as soon as the lesson bell chimes they cannot wait to get into the classroom - running towards their teachers with an enthusiasm I have rarely seen in English schools.We noticed this fervour for learning in our session of English language games and reading activities in the library with a [much larger than expected!] group of students. Steve tried his hand at teaching, surprising me with being brilliant and himself with really enjoying it! After that session many students recognised us on our journey into school, greeting us positively by shouting "hello teacher!" just as they do to frequent, long term volunteers such as Nick and Loll. By our second week at school the rain and puddles were no longer an issue and the heat was eased by water from the friendly stall at the school. An even better way of dealing with the heat was stopping for a deliciously sweet sugar cane drink to revive us on our way home, which we felt was thoroughly deserved at the end of the day!

We both busied ourselves with our separate voluntary work and found our hours at the school flying by! Steve had his eye on any electrical work and maintenance he could do from the start and was soon commenting on what was already in place with "well, it works...but..."! Once he received specific instructions from Sarin a trip to an electrical wholesaler in the centre of Siem Reap was in order; what a contrast from the usual tourist areas that was as we tried to get the tools and parts necessary for the best price possible, bargaining next to the local electricians! I thought I'd feel guilty having fun with company in the classroom whilst Steve did sweaty manual work, but he was rarely alone when rewiring fans and lights. Over our last couple of weeks at the school children crowded round him during their breaks, trying to hold wires or pass him tools as they said hello and asked him his name. I'm sure this all really helped Steve focus on the electrical work in hand!

Of course, this inquisitive friendliness was not just due to the novelty of an English guy up a ladder in and around their classrooms! I lost count of the amount of children who asked me - individually, as well as in a whole class chorus - my name, how I was and how old I was during their English lessons. My daily work with Sineth - a new and typically enthusiastic teacher - allowed me to be with the same classes each week and it was lovely getting to know the children and seeing the development of their English skills as we worked our way through sections of the valued 'Way Ahead' TEFL textbook. A typical lesson includes songs with lively actions and plenty of speaking and listening opportunities, so it far exceeded my expectations of textbook based work! Sineth started teaching longer English lessons at the same time as I started volunteering so together we worked on how to make the most of this extended opportunity for learning. These lessons were for 'off hours' students so technically optional, but each day between 30 and 45 students showed up for extra English! Sineth was out of his comfort zone with 90 minute lessons and I was out of my comfort zone with younger EAL students, but together we experimented with more developed tasks, increased writing time and activities that got the students working in pairs or in small groups. I showed Sineth some of the phonetic and visual strategies that I use with younger or less able students in England and encouraged Sineth to have a go at student-led activities and games.

The children loved questioning each other, playing guessing games with new English phrases and had a good go at working for longer periods without a teacher leading them - this was a time when I really saw how supportive they are of each other as peers regularly helped each other with words or phrases they were unsure of. Sineth began to really enjoy the longer lessons and we both noticed the excellent opportunity they provide for consolidating the learning of new English language.

I really hope to keep in touch with The Spitler School through this blog (and Facebook!) as just a month volunteering there has had quite an impact on both Steve and I. What a fantastic place of enthusiastic teachers, friendly families, dedicated volunteers and students who love to learn English!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A month of volunteers.

One of the joys of being long term volunteers here is the relationships we have with other volunteers coming out. Recently we had the arrival of Olympians keen to share the message of keeping fit with children in both schools. Though they weren’t around for long we managed to catch up with them in town and share some ideas. At the same time we were lucky enough to have Carly arrive, fresh from her travels around China and Vietnam. Nick and I were able to meet up with Carly, and her partner, Steve, near Birmingham a few months before. They had been in touch with Michael Horton at ConCERT Cambodia and he had pointed them in our direction. We are always keen to welcome native English teachers of high quality, and having trained at Worcester University, as I had, we knew she would be a safe pair of hands! She and Steve worked some sessions in the library, reading, speaking and getting the children to listen. Soon Carly found her niche working with Sineth on a regular basis and exploring different methods of teaching.

 Sineth found the opportunity of team teaching with an experienced teacher and teacher trainer really helpful but challenging.  Cycling each day to school proved equally challenging for Carly and Steve, especially as the floods hadn't entirely disappeared for the first week or so. However they gamely persevered - and we reminded ourselves that these youngsters were facing nothing compared to our trips through flooded fields of a year ago.  So no sympathy there, then!

Steve an experienced electrician meanwhile had been given a list of jobs to do around the Spitler school campus and we caught occasional glimpses of him balancing on top of chairs – or even step-ladders – with wire cables in his mouth and metres of new, sturdier wire looping behind him.  Things are certainly beginning to look neater around parts of the campus, and many of the joins in the wiring have now been replaced with continuous, safer and more efficient lengths.   

This weekend we will wish them bon voyage as they set off for Thailand, Laos and India. As they have six more months travelling they hope to get to know much more of South East and South Asia. They are already exploring dates and ways of returning to Siem Reap  and our schools sometime in the future. 

As it happens a previous volunteer, Kim, is returning this weekend from Vietnam. He has settled into a journalism job in Hanoi after volunteering in Hue. As his parents are good friends of ours back in Saltburn it will be great to catch up with him and report back that he is indeed eating well and looking fine.

Edith Cowen University Trainee Nurses

Another project that has taken quite a lot of organising is the arrival of ten trainee nurses for two weeks. In collaboration with Billy Gorter at This Life Cambodia, Jim and Loll have helped build a schedule that takes each student into both our schools morning and afternoons to encourage good hygiene practices. They are also attending local clinics where conditions can be very basic for the poorest of the poor in our area. We have been heartened to see how well our hygiene aides have been doing in their jobs since their appointments last December. Regular classroom checks are made, hands – and sometimes even clothes - washed, and advice given. They also grapple with the perennial problem of head lice (not unknown in the West, either!), and have developed some effective methods which involve pounding special leaves and then soaking the powder in water before applying to the head.  Sounds pretty effective.

Zoe, Georgia and Kelly work with the Spitler staff.
The nurses have spent some of their time working with the admin staff and the Hygiene Aides, showing them how to wash their hands effectively, clean wounds and deal with broken limbs or snake bites.  They then did sessions with some of the children dealing with similar matters and stressing the importance of good habits – for instance in regular teeth cleaning.  It was most encouraging to see the response of the children to the question of ‘Who cleans their teeth with a toothbrush?’ (100%), but we became a little more suspicious when they all chanted – in unison – that they cleaned their teeth three times a day, usually spending 5 to 9 minutes in the process each time. A cursory glance at the children’s teeth – and the amount of sweets that they consume – would suggest that their responses were, at best, disingenuous!

A grade 4 pupil demonstrates how to manage a broken arm.
 Over at Kurata another group of trainee nurses worked with staff and children on a similar programme.  Here are some shots of Ross, Liberty and Kellie at work. First demonstrating teeth-cleaning techniques:

 And here a song to entertain our visitors:

They later went into a Grade 2 classroom where Soeu Savang (the hygiene aide) and other teachers helped to deliver the teeth-cleaning message and a toothbrush each.

One of the highlights of the visit was to work alongside the interpreter, Kan. He has worked really hard at listening to what the nurses have tried to convey and then delivering it with a big smile to the listening Khmers. Not only does he translate the grunts and groans uttered to indicate stomach- or toothe-ache from Oz to Khmer (including appropriate facial expressions), he also told the children to be sure to clean their teeth with fish-paste. This got a hilarious reaction from the kids, and Kan insisted on using the same gag with the next group. Not all things translate, however - and we still have no idea what the leaves were that Savang uses to treat head lice or what 'chalk' is also used for a similar purpose.

Soeu Savang

Soeu Savang, the Hygiene Aide at Kurata school, has been working in this role for nearly a year now.  Loll first met her when she attended her morning sewing group (preparing material for the English teachers) and was immediately struck by her speed in picking up new ideas, her winning smile - and her delightful baby.  So when it came to selecting a person to take on the newly-created role of school 'nurse' - Hygiene Aide - she was an obvious choice. 

Savang is 28 years old, married with three children, two of whom go to Kurata school.  She was born in Ang Chagn village and went to Srey Thom school until 6th Grade when her father died and she had to leave to help out at home.  She was married in a lavish ceremony when she was 18 and has continued to live in the village.

Her duties include keeping the toilets and surrounding area clean, cutting children's nails, checking hair and clothing for cleanliness and also performing first aid on minor cuts and bruises.  She was a very keen participant in the trainee nurse training session and also showed the Australians a few local cures for illnesses and head lice. It has certainly made a big difference having Savang working a few hours at Kurata and with Kangna performing a similar role at Spitler school.  Hygiene - we have to constantly remember - is a life-saver in this country.  And simple hand-washing techniques help to avoid the spread of dangerous and sometimes fatal diseases.  Judging by the furious scrubbing that goes on in the wash room, even when children haven't just come from a training session, the message seems to be getting through.