By Michael Brodie – My First Day: 7/8/07

After a day of introductory discussion, where we got to grips with the way that JWOC works, today we began our four weeks of volunteering. My name is Michael Brodie and I am part of a group of seven Oxford University students, representing the charity TravelAid, who are working in conjunction with JWOC. After the first day, we decided to separate into small groups in order to give our full commitment to each of JWOC’s projects. I am concentrating on integrating the new scholars, who are to be selected this month, into JWOC’s programme and on creating brochure for the organization. I am also going to be teaching English at the language school at Wat Thmei.

The morning was spent beginning preliminary work on the brochure. We began to think about the layout and what we wanted to include – we think interviews with villagers in receipt of loans will be an interesting starting point. The afternoon was more eventful. I taught my first lessons at Wat Thmei – a Buddhist temple which doubles as a memorial site for the victims of the Khmer Rouge. The number of skulls on display is a harrowing reminder of Cambodia’s tragic past. But the future appears much brighter, if my teaching experience is anything to go by! Despite being thrown in at the deep end in my first class (when I asked what I should teach, the monk who usually teaches the class simply replied ‘English’), the fact that the students were so dedicated and willing to learn made the class both enjoyable and rewarding (I hope on both sides!). I was struck by the smile of one student which beamed from ear to ear throughout the whole lesson and afterwards as he came up to thank me repeatedly for teaching him.

Of course there are problems to overcome. Try teaching a computer skills class when there is a power cut!! Also, Wat Thmei, because it is a tourist attraction, attracts a few street children, one of whom came up to me crying in hunger pains. This experience brought me back down to earth after the ‘high’ of teaching and made me realize the many problems Cambodia still faces.

However, despite sobering moments like the one above, I now have a great thirst to become more involved and I can foresee the next four weeks being a great experience.