One of the pressing needs in rural Cambodia and working with local schools is to enhance the quality of learning. Leaving aside the question of content and what is being taught (or not, think financial literacy, sex education, technology etc), one of the basic but tricky question for us as a charity is how to inspire students and teachers alike. Curiosity and positive experiences can be fantastic motivation to pursue ones learning journey.
There are many ways to address this and our preference is through storytelling. As part of the Khmer Writing Competition earlier this year we received 400 submissions from our six partner schools. The seemingly simple topic was ‘What is my story?’.
The starting point for the 30 students and their teachers was therefore a visit to a hotel. Some of them have never seen a hotel, never seen a swimming pool or even a lift, let alone appreciate that hospitality is a large employer in Siem Reap (Angkor Wat). The tour through one of our partnering hotels was absolutely fantastic and provided an opportunity to see all facets of the operation and to ask some interesting questions such as ‘How much is a room per night?’. Of course the tour was helped immensely by the fact that the chefs kindly provided some pizza which always goes well with all students as well as teachers.
As we called it a night, I watched the children and their teachers excitedly recall what they had just experienced in the city. They kept repeating the stories over and over, as if they never wanted the day to be over. It was their way of keeping their experiences alive for as long as they could before they returned to their village lives.
That was when I realised, I had a lot to learn from these children. Their reactions validated why PeopleStories Foundation exists. To give hope. To prove that poverty does not have to define you. That despite the circumstances they were born into, there are many ways to break free, and it all starts with having a good education.
Before they all went home, many of them came up to me to give me a hug to thank me for the trip, but I can’t help but feel that maybe, it’s me who should be thanking them!