In October Sallie and I travelled to Siem Reap to visit our partners at ConCERT Cambodia and Treak Community Centre. We have done so much work with them online in the last three years, but this was our first in-country visit since the pandemic and it was wonderful to be back!
Treak Community Centre had to close on a number of occasions during the pandemic and they are only just back to full-time opening. So it was fantastic to see that, rather than going backwards as might be expected, their curriculum and the opportunities they offer to the children have widened in the last three years. As well as teaching their classes online, the teachers, led by Dara and Viphou the head and deputy head, have taken the opportunity of more flexible time and contact with e-volunteers to learn about new subjects and teaching methods. They now have a full general studies/social and health education programme in places – for example children are learning about healthy eating and road safety. Dara has many plans to expand this further – I look forward to seeing how this progresses!
It was great to meet up with Carolyn, one of our volunteers, and see the work she was doing with the teachers to develop the teaching of phonics. Any of you familiar with the Jollyphonics method of teaching will know that learning sounds is very important for learning to read, and this is reinforced through songs – Carolyn had brought these songs with her and the sound of children singing ‘s-s-snake in the grass’ and ‘a-a-ant on my arm’ formed a background sound track to most days at the school.
Now Treak is fully open again they are welcoming in-country volunteers to work alongside teachers at the school – it was good to see how their different skills were being utilised without interrupting the normal life of the school and to hear about how several people who had volunteered online during the pandemic had followed up with in-country placements during this year. Dara and Viphou are keen to keep the e-volunteer programme going too, and Dara and I spent some time thinking about how e-volunteers could be incorporated into classroom lessons as well as being used for teacher training. We experimented with the idea of an e-volunteer listening to children read online – first with me on my laptop in a different part of the school so if necessary I could run up the stairs to see the children I was working with face to face, and then by bringing in a volunteer from the UK while I sat with the children. It works well – definitely an idea for a future e-volunteer placement!
A couple of weeks after we left was the annual Treak Trek – the sponsored cycle ride to raise money for the Community Centre and which has become an important team-building exercise. We went with them on one of their practice rides one Saturday morning – not I hasten to add on a bike but in a tuk-tuk following on behind! It was great to feel part of this event – and I am filled with an increased admiration for the 4 volunteers who joined them on the Trek – 540km over 10 days – what an achievement!