Here, Daniel, a Travel Aid volunteer, explains how the summer activity programme was done, from the first steps of planning and advertising through to working with the children…
During our month long stint at JWOC, the foremost task of the TravelAid team was to conduct a three-week summer activity camp for children in the surrounding community. While some of these children have been attending free English classes at JWOC for the past few years and were already expecting some summer activities to be held during this time, there were still many who have not had the time or opportunity to attend these classes and would not have heard of JWOC. Thus, in the week before the summer activity camp, we not only had to plan and prepare for the activities for each day, we also had to go out to the nearby villages to advertise our summer programme.
Our advertising efforts turned out to be an unexpectedly interesting and enjoyable experience. Our primary means of advertisement were through posters and flyers that we distributed in the neighbourhoods as well as word-of-mouth: if our activities are creative and novel enough, more children will turn up as days go by! The Khmer high school interns that were partnered with us were most helpful as they translated our requests to shopkeepers and villagers to put up posters in convenience shops and village common areas. As we walked down the main road, we also stopped children on their ways to and from home and promoted our summer programme to them. Coming from countries where people are pretty wary of strangers and whatever they intend to ‘sell’, our hearts were warmed as we saw how readily the locals welcomed our uninvited visits.
Visiting a squatter village during our rounds of advertising offered us a peek into the lives of some of the poorest people in Cambodia. These villagers don’t own the land their houses are built on; many of them just don’t own enough to do so. It is among these people that JWOC works: through lending small loans to people who would otherwise have no access to credit, through installing wells and providing simple hygiene training, and most relevant to us, through the provision of free classes for children whose families cannot afford to send them to school. Many of these children we visited in the squatter village were very enthusiastic about what we were offering them – a chance to have a few weeks of fun, games and activities while picking up some simple English at the same time. The summer camp also attracts children to attend proper English classes at JWOC, thus setting the stage for a longer term impact on the community.
While we planned for the summer programme, we consulted our Khmer partners about the appropriateness of the activities. Although we were targeting children between the ages of 7 to 13, we had to keep in mind that most of them had, at best, elementary English comprehension skills, and so in explaining games to them, we had to ensure that the rules were simple. The advice of our Khmer partners was invaluable: in one instance, they vetoed a game because it would have been too difficult, and even dangerous if not explained properly, for the young children to play. More importantly, we had to have good rapport with our partners in order to communicate our ideas to them and make sure that they were on the same page as us. And so after a week of intense brainstorming and planning, we were ready with a schedule packed with handicraft, painting, sports, games, song and dance, and reading sessions.
As we carried out the programme over the following three weeks, we found that although not all of the activities were exciting or entertaining, the children were grateful to have the opportunity to draw and play and spending time meaningfully together. Many of them came day after day after day, some even arriving an hour before the official start of the day, hoping to have someone spend time reading or playing with them. In all, it was a exhausting but pretty successful summer, hopefully we have enriched the lives of these children in one way or another!