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The Joys of Teaching in a Cambodian Village

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Posted to Riptheroadway.com

As we approach the small open-air building that serves as a schoolhouse on this small island in Cambodia, we can hear excited greetings ringing out.

Voices of young children repeat “Welcome, family!” over and over as we approach and smiles grow on the faces of our group of three dozen travelers.

We are here with Avalon Waterways as part of the cruise line’s program for its voyage on the Mekong River.

Two girls eagerly wave for me to sit down. It’s Sunday, but kids come for special classes to learn English in remote villages like this one. The name of the village is Angkor Ban, but we could be in any number of similar locations along the river with towns that are home to inspiring and energetic children who love to learn.

We will be serving as teachers at the school, mainly focusing on helping the kids ages 7 to 12 learn the proper pronunciation of our tricky English words.

My students, ages 10 and 12, are eager to hear all about my life. The children in Cambodia are often much more outgoing and curious than their parents and grandparents. This becomes increasingly obvious during our voyage, whether meeting these kids at the schoolhouse or having encounters with them as we walk through other villages and towns along the Mekong.

Ary is 10 and Soriya is 12. They take turns asking for my biographical details. The questions are well-practiced.

“What is your name?”

“How old are you?”

“Where is your home?”

“How many brothers and sisters do you have?”

I ask the same questions and learn details of their lives. When I look up, I see the room full of students and adult visitors from the United States, Canada and New Zealand folded into tiny stools and hunched over tables. The classroom is a din of chatter as one-on-one lessons begin after the quick formalities.

I am supposed to be the tutor but, when I look down, I realize that I don’t need to give any particular directions. An open book has appeared on the desktop. While I had briefly glanced over the scene of the room, the girls had excitedly whipped out the stories and begun reading line by line, with little fingers tracing a path along the sentences.

I repeat words that they are struggling with and ask them to take turns reading a page instead of both reading at the same time. We find a rhythm and work on especially hard words like “would”, “could” and “three.”

I am stunned at how the children crave learning; Their smiles and earnest demeanors melt my heart. I am not the only one who finds the experience incredibly rewarding.

My fellow cruisers all beam and relate the stories of their interactions with these wonderfully upbeat children who live a land far away from theirs in much more humble conditions. But they have taught us more than we could ever hope to teach them in our too-brief hour together.

Some of us come to the front of the class and join youngsters reading sentences from a whiteboard. They giggle at the way the Americans can say the same word such as “tomato” differently than the Canadians and the Kiwis.

We hear from students who volunteer to come up and tell us all what they want to be when they grow up. Lawyers, doctors, footballers and tour guides are among the top picks.

However, “teacher” is repeated the most. My kids, Ary and Soriya, also have told me they want to be teachers when they are older.

All of these kids might not realize it, but they already are great educators, letting all of us who meet them learn that the most basic things like a happy outlook, warm spirit, love of family and a thirst for learning make you a richer person than any material possessions ever will.