A group of Hong Kong people came to Cambodia through a Youth Exchange Programme to meet with Cambodian students and to travel with them to Vietnam. I helped to facilitate and coordinate the students.
After we visited the Genocide Museum and the Killing Field, the local Cambodian students were so upset. They have heard of Khmer Rouge but the majority of them had never been to the site and had never been told so much about the mass killing. Being present at the site where people were questioned, tortured, chained, killed, they were very upset and sad.
We then visited the Missionaries of Charity Sisters and Brothers. Similar to the MC in Calcutta, they receive patients with disabilities (mental and physical).
I asked one of my 17-year old students what she thought about the visit. She immediately said, ‘I feel that I’m very fortunate.’ (Her family is actually quite poor and has been sponsored by different charity groups.)
‘What will you do then?’ I asked.
She answered, ‘I want to help them.’
She thought for a while, ‘I will share what I have with the less fortunate people.’
At night, we had a sharing session. Most of the Cambodian students were very sad when they talked about Khmer Rouge. When it was my turn to share, I said to them, ‘in the morning, we learnt the history of Cambodia. In the afternoon, we saw the future of Cambodia. At the MC houses, the Brothers, Sisters and Fathers take care of the patients. Why do they do that? It’s because of love. The history belongs to the past. We need to learn from it. We don’t want history to repeat itself. As a teacher or a coach, I want you to learn how to love and create a better future for yourself and for your own country.’
Thanks to the Hong Kong group. They donated many English books and many other materials like stationery. There are so many books that I didn’t know how to sort them so I invited my students to come to help. I asked them to select the books they liked and they thought the primary school kids would like and I gave them a bag. They could only stuff one-fifth of the books into the bag. So I said to them, ‘I want you to sort two more piles. One pile will be the books you really want to take to the school library in your village but you can’t because we don’t have an extra bag. And another pile will be the books you don’t want to take at all.’
They started to do the sorting. Reluctantly, they chose some books and put them in a pile. One of my students said, ‘oh, I want all of them.’ I can understand how it feels. They yearn for knowledge but they don’t know where to acquire it. As I have mentioned in my previous blog, they don’t even know how to use keyword search on the internet. Perhaps, the teachers in their schools in the village don’t know that too. Or they don’t care about teaching them. I was told the teachers teaching in government schools don’t teach at all and then they will hold some extra private tutorials and charge the students for that. The teachers themselves don’t know much English but they still charge the students for their private ‘Cambodian English’ lessons (not ‘English English’ lessons). One of my students showed me a book she has been reading. It’s bilingual – Khmer and English. But when I read the English version, I was shocked. I found so many grammar mistakes. In a published book! Can you imagine that? I immediately told her, ‘don’t read this book anymore. You will learn poor English.’ Back then, she didn’t know about the donated books.
I secretly borrowed another bag from the Hong Kong group.
The next morning, I asked the students to take the books to their village as we and the Hong Kong group would go there to paint the classrooms and make religious icons. I put my hands on the ‘books-I-want-to-take-to-the-library-in-my-village-but-can’t’ pile and announced, ‘now, put this pile in this bag.’ They were so happy that they jumped up and down!!
When we arrived at the village, I asked them to clean the bookshelves and put the books nicely on them. I also asked them to write the names of the books on a sheet of paper. When they started writing, they asked me, ‘which one should I write?’ They were pointing at the names of the author, the publisher and the title of the book. After they have copied several books, they were able to differentiate which one was the title and which one was the author. But they still needed to confirm with me. I’m glad they did this exercise. They had learnt something new. 🙂 In fact, I have an agenda. 😏 Stay tuned. 😏