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Matthew in Cambodia

Matthew (CIPFA)
Phare Ponlue Selpak (PPS), Cambodia

4th July 2011
Hello from Phnom Penh! I flew in here from Thailand on Sunday, and the main change since I visited seven years ago is the volume of traffic.

You can really smell the difference! I am staying in the Riverside area, a place of bars and restaurants where you can sit out and gaze at the river, traffic chaos and hawkers going about their trade. I must admit to finding it quite relaxing.
I have been working for a few days now, and it has been really interesting. I am working for a tiny charity called Meakea, who try and support very poor families in an area of villages outside PP. They do this by providing English language teaching, basic health education, house building for very poor families and a small amount of micro-lending. My roles is to help them with the financial side of things such as how they prepare the budget, watch what they spend, and report this to the people who provide the finance. The main problem not surprisingly is a lack of money! 
My office is based in PP quite close to S21, the school where thousands of people were tortured during Pol Pot’s era before being sent off to the Killing Fields at Choeng Ek to be slaughtered. This very recent history makes PP a fascinating and somewhat poignant place to visit. There’s loads of other things to see and do here, but the lack of old people is very noticeable.
So far at work, it has been a case of getting used to the differences, the main one of which is working in extremely warm conditions. I also lost a couple of hours the other day because of a power cut caused by one of the fairly regular violent rainstorms. Apparently this doesn’t happen very often – I certainly hope not.
I have also been out to the school where most of Meakea’s work is based to meet the team and see what they did. Everyone was extremely friendly and seemed pleased to have the chance to speak English with a native speaker. I just hope they could understand my flat Northern vowels. Until next time...
Tuesday, 12 July 2011
Teaching in the countryside
So as I have an English teaching qualification (not particularly well used, but never mind), I said yes when I was asked to do some teaching at the school supported by Meakea. I did some planning, but that soon went out of the window as I eventually ended up teaching a group with a completely different standard of English and became more and more curious as the class numbers grew further and further past what I expected. So the first class ended up being a question and answer session (Are you married? How do you pay to be here? What’s the difference between school here and England?).
After that were two more classes of even more kids, and then I noticed that some had different books from each other. What had happened is that everyone wanted to be taught by a foreigner, and just came and sat in the class! It was all highly enjoyable, and although I am not sure how much anyone learned (the flat Northern vowels are confusing); they all asked when I would come back and really got stuck in with unbelievable enthusiasm. I also got to see what few resources the teachers and students have to work with and how it would really change how you would teach – no electricity and text books that have been recycled for years for example. It was a fantastic eye-opening experience.
There were 4 kids in here who decided that they wanted to learn English the day I got there. I hope I didn't put them off. It's difficult to describe quite how enthusiastic everyone was, but I guess it's seen as a way of getting on.
After this I went out to look at some of the houses that are being built for poor families in the area. This poverty is of course relative, as no-one out there could be described as anything other than poor, but again it gives an insight into the homes that the kids at the school come from. A big problem is keeping the kids in the school as it places a big burden on the families who want them to either help in the fields or work in the factories in the city. And the position people find themselves in certainly isn’t lost on them. When I asked one student what he knew about England, he said all he knew was he would never be able to visit. There’s not much you can say to that. 
Other than this I continue to work on the financial side of things in PP and I am continuing to get to grips with the different issues you face here. There are loads of ex-pats here who all have a take on things, but obviously losing a generation of the population has really had an impact – those people would have been the leaders now. There is a massive willingness to learn amongst people I have encountered and I am constantly asked ‘how are things done in your country’, but the lack of resources is obviously a handicap. Still, it’s fun trying to get things done. It just takes longer. Much longer.

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