As I cycle up to the front of school campus, I see three students about 8 years old peering through the gate and watching Steung Meanchey come to life. Their faces beam with excitement when they recognise that the black bike is the daily arrival of their volunteer teacher, and their arms are already open and welcoming before I make it to the security gate.
Welcome to CCF. The modest sign above the school gate reads ‘Cambodian Children’s Fund’, giving no indication of the heavenly happy and appreciated home and school to many of Cambodia’s children who, prior to CCF, found their way in life by scrounging on the rubbish tip. Given the (almost) unimaginable chance of Scott (Neeson), they swapped their days searching for recyclable rubbish to come to school: to receive an education with the mission to push themselves and their families from the undeserved daily burden of survival to the pillar of self-sufficiency.
This isn’t a place of sympathy, and only a very mild dose of empathy is required. The kids have no time and no desire to wallow in the harshness of life: they have dreams to fulfil, skills to perfect, and a world to conquer. As I teach the daily English lessons, I’m followed around the classroom with 28 eyes hungry for knowledge, 14 determined students who don’t rest until they feel they got it right. But kids will be kids, and just as soon as they lose their timidness of the new volunteer, the jokes abound. I quickly learn that this is a place of humour, of love, of respect for education and what it can bring.
A toddles cries in the corridor, and I suddenly lose two students momentarily who go to console the child of a staff member. At lunch I witness the older ones give extra helpings to the youngest. And as I leave the lunch table, a very confident teenager slides past me and gently reminds me that I promised a lolly to the newest student on campus. She strikes a deal: my failure to respect this tomorrow will result in the need to bring her one too ! She walks away giggling, and I note the point that I must hit the supermarket tonight. But I am impressed that she struck the deal in perfect English.
With a brief moment’s rest before afternoon lessons, I sit to read Cambodia Daily to catch up with the events in the country. Within seconds I’m sandwiched by 8 students who want to learn the English words on the front page. I give them 6 new words and their definitions, but they look at me as if I just ate chocolate in front of them without sharing. So I provide a few example sentences and correct their pronunciation at least half a dozen times. Having satisfied themselves that they have committed it to memory and understand, they kindly ask to use my laptop to learn the words to the new Justin Bieber pop song. I turn the laptop on, open the newspaper, and at the same time, receive the smallest tap on my left shoulder. ‘Hello’ says a timid but gorgeous looking boy.
After afternoon lessons, I pack my belongings and realise that I’m missing one bag. I look two steps ahead and see that one of the students has already lugged it down one flight of stairs homeward bound. I descend to fetch my bike, and commence the evening ritual. At least 7 students stand by to wish me a good evening, 9 students hang on to the back of my bicycle and ask me to stay for dinner, the youngest dances through the courtyard with a big smile on her face, and security yet again patiently wait the 15 minutes it takes me to get out the gate with all this fuss. I wave a feeble wave as I concentrate on entering Phnom Penh traffic on a vulnerable bicycle and the risk of monsoon rain.
Volunteering used to be about everything we can give someone else, but I cycle home with that weird feeling that these kids have just given me 10 times more than I’ll ever be able to give back. You’ll just never meet another group of more welcoming, more grateful and more humble kids than the ones that CCF breed. Obviously it’s not without effort, and every little bit helps, in whichever way you can give to the kids at CCF.
Would you volunteer for this group again?
For the time you spent, how much of an impact did you feel your work or activity had?
Did the organization use your time wisely?
Would you recommend this group to a friend?
When was your last experience with this nonprofit?