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Settling into School

all seasons in one day 33 °C

After our first two days of settling in, we got stuck into our volunteering. As we mentioned in our last post, we didn't have too much to do during our first week really because Susie had another volunteer in her classroom (an annoying German guy who wasn't able to teach anything which made it quite painful to sit through the lessons!), and John's Khmer teacher was teaching his classes about Pchum Ben, the Cambodian festival that took place the 2nd week we were here (more about that later!). So we had quite a chilled, but slightly frustrating first week. We both wanted to get stuck into things, but there wasn't much chance to really.

The school is very well resourced, but there doesn't seem to be much help for the Khmer teachers, and the English lessons are variable at best! There's a lot of parroting, and read and repeat, and the student's aren't encouraged to use their brains very much. Their knowledge of English vocabulary is therefore pretty good really, and they can translate all manner of English words, but they are pretty incapable of answering simple questions or making sentences themselves! At the start of every lesson, all the students stand up and say "Good morning teacher" in chorus. You then have to respond "Good morning, how are you today?", and they all reply "I'm fine thank you (well they actually say sank you!)and you?". But they reply like that no matter what question you ask before, so if you asked them what they did last night, they'd reply the same. It's really cute for the first couple of days, but soon you're willing them to tell you how they really are!

That said, they are all really really keen to learn, and they all want to give you the answer or read out the sentence that needs reading or whatever. They don't call you by your name - partly because it's more respectful in Cambodia not to use names, but also partly because they have a lot of volunteers and they probably can't remember them all - so they all call you "'char", which is their shortened version of teacher, and you have continual shouts of 'char, char' whenever the kids need help or attention. They all try their very hardest all the time and so they are great to teach. We're teaching them their 'topic' classes, which means two lessons on the topic of the month (while we're here we've got 'The World around Us', 'Religions and celebrations around the World' and 'Past and Future' as our topics), one arts and craft lesson, one maths and science lesson and one games session per week. Arts and Crafts and Games are fun but language is definitely an issue for the other lessons! Oh well, I'm sure some of it will go into their brains somewhere!
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Our trips to and from school are pretty manic too! We've been cycling it everyday. It's about 5km to school, and Cycling here is a real experience anyway - to start with they drive on the right, so that's confusion number one - I'm mostly dealing with it OK, but every now and again I get confused - especially on roundabouts! It also doesn't help when people drive on the wrong side of the road, if they can't cross the traffic to the correct side! Luckily it's mostly mopeds and bikes on the roads, rather than cars, so nothing moves too fast! I'm going to film my bike ride to school one morning though, because it's impossible to describe the mayhem!

Our first week went by pretty quickly, with settling in and getting to know our way round and about. Then the second week was a funny one because the school was closed all week because of Pchum Ben. We had to go in on Monday and Tuesday to do some cleaning/maintenance work, but that was all. John was feeling pretty ill on those two days (and the weekend before) so he didn't come into school, but left Susie to brave it alone! The work consisted of lots of scrubbing the classrooms clean, painting some benches (2 weeks later now Susie still has paint in her hair!) and entertaining the kids that came along to "help"! They weren't the most fun two days, but I suppose they were necessary for the school! Susie did have a fun hour or so though when one of the dinner ladies taught her how to make her a little bird model out of palm leaves!
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Susie's beautiful bird :)

Then this third week, we've actually got stuck into teaching. We're teaching religions. Susie's class spent 2 days learning about the religious buildings and symbols of 3 religions, 1 day learning about the water cycle (it's rained a lot here so she thought that'd be appropriate!) and 1 day making Buddhist wheels, in the same way you make snowflakes out of paper at Christmas! John's class spent two days learning about Buddhism and Hinduism (which confused them entirely since the religion here is really a combination of the two, plus some animism!), and then had it (supposedly) easy for two days while his class had some computer lessons. The school has gradually accumulated about 8-10 laptops which they are starting to use to teach the students basic computer skills. However John was helping on their first lesson, so he had quite a hard time trying to explain what a mouse was and how to use it!

All this week has had the extra added difficulty of the fact that we had some pretty torrential rain on tuesday night, and so a lot of Siem Reap is flooded.
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The view from our room of the road outside

We biked to work on tuesday morning, but it was through nearly knee depth water most of the way there and back!
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Which is the river, which is the road??

All the kids, and most of the teachers, have flooded houses. Some of them are apparently waist deep, and all the areas around their houses are really flooded too. This has meant that the kids are pretty exhausted, as none of them are really getting any sleep, and also that our numbers are pretty flexible, since some kids are coming morning and afternoon because their state schools are closed, and some aren't coming at all because they're having too much fun swimming in the swimming pools they've suddenly gained by their houses!!
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On a walk to see some of the kids homes

On wednesday and thursday we got a lift into school and back by landrover, because the floods are getting deeper - not because we've had more rain but because our journey to school is alongside the river, and the river has burst its banks, and more and more is flowing down! Then on friday school was cancelled because the guy who drives the landrover had to go away and so nobody could get there.

Anyway, that's a vague update on our lives in school. We've been up to a lot else outside of school, but that'll have to wait for another post!

Posted by Susiep539 02:57 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia siem_reap globalteer grace_house Comments (1)

Arrival in Siem Reap

all seasons in one day 30 °C

We successfully managed to get to the airport in Kuala Lumpur. The panic about what we had printed off from the night before was justifed, as technically we needed the other piece of paper, but the guy on the bus let us off with a typical "stupid westerners" tut! On arrival at the airport we spent our last Malaysian money on a early morning breakfast of chicken and chips (we were good though, we went to Marrybrown, a Malaysia fast food place, rather than McDonalds!) and a cookie! Checking in was all surprisingly easy and stress free, and the only slight confusion came as we went through the gate. There were 3 flights going out of the same place, and nobody really seemed to know which way it was to which flight! As nice as I'm sure Hong Kong or the place in China that the other flight was going to are, we thought we'd really rather get on the plane to Siem Reap! We managed eventually, and got settled on the plane for our flight. We were slightly confused to hear that it was 2 hours, since we'd thought it was only 1, but it turned out the time difference was to blame, and an uneventful flight later we landed at Siem Reap's surprisingly lovely airport.

For those of you who don't know, we are spending 6 weeks in Siem Reap, volunteering with a charity called Globalteer. They run projects all over the world, but we are teaching in a school called Grace House in a small village about 3km from Siem Reap. We got met from the airport by Rose, who is a local who works for Globalteer, in a tuk-tuk. A tuk-tuk is a rickshaw with a motorbike rather than a bike (it gets its name because that's apparently the sound they make!). She took us to the Globalteer House, where we will be staying whilst we're here. It's a little further out from town that we were expecting, but the house itself is lovely. We have our own room, which is en-suite and very nice indeed. The only bad thing about it is that it's on the 3rd floor, which means there's 64 steps (we counted) to go up and down everytime you want to get some water or want to go out. Luckily there's a little restaurant on the 4th floor, so we're not too far away from food anyway!
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The view from our room

Rose left us to get settled in and to relax for a few hours, after we told her that we'd been up at 2am. We spent the time sleeping, watching TV (we're loving having a TV with 70odd channels after not having had a TV for 3 weeks!) and eating lunch upstairs, which was very tasty. After this, Rose took us into town and showed us things like the supermarket, the swimming pool, where the main restaurants and bars are, etc. It's a really nice town, and all the people seem really friendly so that bodes well for our time here! After that, we went back to the Globalteer House, where all the other volunteers were collecting. There were about 9 other volunteers here when we arrived, all female, mostly Australian, although there were two Brits and an American as well, and a mix of ages, from our age upwards. They all seem friendly and on the first night we went out for dinner with them all to a very tasty (if slightly more upmarket than we're used to) vegetarian restaurant. We had a nice chat with a British girl who is our age, who said that most of the rest of them are on slightly bigger budgets than us backpackers, seeing as most of them are here on holidays from their jobs at home, rather than as part of longer travels. We'll have to watch our money situation!

The following day, we were taken by Rose to visit Grace House, the school we are volunteering in. It is run by a British couple, and has been opened for nearly 2 years. We were shown round the school and introduced to the classes we'll be teaching. John is working with the teenage class, and Susie is helping with a class of 8-12 ish year olds. The kids all come to the school for 2 hours per day, and so there is one group in the morning and one in the afternoon. This is because they go to state school for the other half of the day. Grace House also provides help for its students for state school, by providing uniforms, exercise books and bikes for the children from the poorest families. They also provide community help by giving rice, repairing houses and taking people to hospitals/doctors when needed. They also have one room that is used by local women (mostly mothers of students at the school) to make handbags, which are then sold at shops in towns, and they are currently setting up a classroom that will be used to teach electricians, as the current training in Cambodia is apparently very insufficient, and quite a lot of people die from electric shocks due to dodgy wiring.
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John's Class

The kids in both our classes seem lovely, and are very keen to learn. Each class has a Khmer teacher who runs the English program (to give it some continuity) and our job as volunteers is to run the other class of the day, which is a kind of general knowledge class, on the topic of the week. Neither of us have very much to do for this first week though, because Susie has another volunteer in the same class as her, who is leaving at the end of the week, and John's Khmer teacher is planning the other lessons on Pchum Ben, a festival that is next week, which unfortunately means there isn't any school next week.

After our first couple of days in Siem Reap, we felt fairly settled in, and that we knew a bit of what was going on! We'll blog again soon to let you know about the 2 weeks since we arrived!

Posted by Susiep539 21:24 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia siem_reap globalteer grace_house Comments (0)

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