Let me introduce myself: my name is Alec Forbes and I’m currently living in Siem Reap volunteering with JWOC. In December I graduated from the University of Oklahoma in the United States with a degree in Electrical Engineering and found myself wanting to travel and do something new before I started a career. I found myself looking for places where I could volunteer abroad, seeing new things while also serving local communities instead of just being a tourist.
When I found JWOC, I knew it was where I wanted to be. I strongly believe that education is vital for children, so the Free Classes program seemed like a perfect fit. JWOC stood out to me in particular because of the scholarship model – I think it’s so important to focus not only on education for children, but also to help students go to college to pursue higher education. In addition, it’s a great model to have the scholarship students volunteer their time back at JWOC. This helps the organization and, just as importantly, gives the students an opportunity to develop real life experience that will be valuable once they graduate.
After only a few weeks, I know I made a good decision. It’s immediately obvious how much of a community has developed around JWOC. Everyday after class, dozens of kids stay to run around in the yard, to play with Lego, or to just sit and read in the library. My desk is in the library, so I get to see firsthand how much the kids enjoy this – I can’t count how many high fives I’ve given, how many times I’ve been proudly shown an art project, or how many times I’ve been accidentally hit by a toy car. I love to see the that kids have a place to socialize and learn in a safe environment. You can tell that JWOC is not just a class to these kids, but rather a big part of their life.
Over the past few years one of JWOC’s goals has been to expand the free classes program beyond just English into topics like science, computers, and photography. Most of what I’m doing is helping develop these programs, both expanding existing curriculum as well as developing entirely new courses. Right now I’m mainly working on the science curriculum, expanding the course to 16 weeks and making each lesson more hands on for the students. I’m hoping to take as much lecture out of the classr
oom as possible, instead teaching students through projects and activities that allow them to be hands-on. As my time here progresses I’m also planning to do the same for computer classes, finding ways to easily let kids develop programming and engineering skills.
One thing I’m particularly excited about is the opportunity to go to the 2nd annual Cambodian Science and Engineering fair in Phnom Penh! I’m helping to make an exhibit for the fair demonstrating what we’re teaching kids at JWOC and showing how interesting science can be. JWOC had an exhibit last year that was very successful, so there’s a high bar for anything we do! I love that I get to be a part of helping not only JWOC, but also helping Cambodia as a whole develop a national identity in science.
What JWOC is doing in the Siem Reap community is amazing, and I’m so glad I get to help. It’s been a great first few weeks here, and I’m looking forward to continuing it over the next couple of months!