When SJCS teachers Julie Schroeder and Jen Patton talked about their summer plans, it began with talk of working on an organic farm in Denmark. They ended up somewhere completely different: teaching English to 6th graders in the capital of Cambodia. They found a placement agency called UBelong that helped guide them away from something abroad called “voluntourism”…companies which profit from those coming overseas hoping to do some good.
Julie and Jen were only in Phnom Penh for three weeks but their experience was life changing. They stayed in a volunteer home where they met the woman who helped create the school. She’s the recipient of the CNN Service Award for the incredible feat of teaching at a dump-site where noticed the same children picking up the recycling for money almost daily. Instead of trying to bring them away from this place that they frequented, she brought school to them.
During their three weeks in the classroom, Jen remarked that she would love them as much as she does but that for those moments, they exist together…and that is a pretty beautiful thing to witness. She also commented that seeing the kids in poor conditions makes you want to take them into a new home but then over time she realized that, “to love them was to help them where they were…not to take them out of their home…they’re so proud of their culture.”
Despite the environmental conditions, rampant poverty, and other challenges, they both agreed that the struggles of being a teacher are not that different from what they experience here. Julie maintains, “just like our kids, they seek love.” She says they both witnessed a truly special moment that showed how much of a community the children have created for themselves. On the last day of class, Jen and Julie had a small party for them with a sweet, crackers and juice…all held in the middle of a monsoon. When there wasn’t enough to go around, there was no grabbing, no complaining. Instead, “what they had they would share with one another.”
Both Jen and Julie have expressed genuine hope to go back to Cambodia, this time to work in curriculum development so that they can facilitate a way for students to excel in English which will help them get jobs in tourism when they are older.