Susann and Marco supported the learning center in Takeo, Cambodia, for a number of months. In this blog entry they talk about their experiences and impressions: of their work, the center, and above all the children they worked with every day.
“You have to be happy to make someone happy” says a proverb. Happy and determined: my husband Marco and I were both of these in 2013 as we were finally able to fulfill our long-standing desire to do something selfless and travel to a developing country. We decided on Cambodia, a land with many facets and friendly people and (unfortunately) a tragic history that is still palpable today.
With our heads full of ideas and the task of filling the learning center in Takeo with life, we landed in Takeo at the end of January 2013. Everything was inspected quickly. We bought coloured paint, painted the walls, decorated the rooms, cleaned books, and looked for a learning center director and an English teacher. With the help of BOOKBRIDGE team members Lisa Thimme and Martina Knittel, the Cambodian Country Manager Sokhan, and the participants of the Capability Program, we managed to create a beautiful, friendly learning center for children and young adults in just four days. On the 5th day, the learning center was opened with drums and trumpets (literally!). The children could hardly wait to inspect everything, read the books, and try out the games – in a word, to explore the learning center.
The following weeks and months were full of hungrily-read books, stories read aloud, picture painting, songs, puzzles, games, and a great deal of learning. During these activities the “little” ones learned English words like animal names, colours, numbers, fruits and vegetables, and much more. Together we created a memory game that continued to amuse the children even months later – a game by children, for children. With the “bigger” kids, Marco practiced English pronunciation; together, they read Harry Potter every week. Some days, as many as 100 children visited the learning center. It was wonderful to see how the children embraced the newly redesigned center and came to visit in their every free minute. (And it is nice to know that they continue to do so, even in our absence!).
Soon, the walls of the learning center were covered with the English alphabet and maps of the world, Cambodia, and the Takeo province. The children were excited to watch us mixing the paints. So Kate and Christ – two Peace Corps volunteers who also actively supported us – started a really neat painting competition. Marco and I encouraged many of the children to paint how they imagine their futures and what they would like to be someday. The children were incredibly proud of the small pieces of art that resulted from the project. Some of this artwork is included in the new Bookbridge calendar.
Thanks to many donations of funds and materials from family and friends, we were able to provide the learning center with a large selection of games. The children were so exited every day to look into the brightly coloured wooden games box and to select a game, puzzle, or toy car. The larger children used the learning center for reading and studying, sometimes as a meeting place with friends, and to learn English in the English courses.
Together with our learning center leader, Sokoeurn, we found three Cambodian student volunteers who work in the center, in addition to their study programs and other jobs, for a small stipend. Together with Sokoeurn and two librarians, they ensure that the center remains a clean, friendly place that invites children to learn and play.
After five months, we returned home with heavy – but very happy – hearts. We more than met our goal. It was the greatest experience of our life, and the smiling faces of the children the best form of thanks. It is nice to know that we have created such a wonderful, peaceful place that is open to children of all origins, ages, and social backgrounds, and it is above all nice to know that such wonderful people are continuing and expanding on our plans and contributing their own ideas. Thank you BOOKBRIDGE, Sokhan, Sokoeurn, Sopheak, Manich, Samnang, the English teachers, and the librarians! We hope to be able to continue to support your work- we are available at any time!
Each of us can do our small part to ensure that the children in the poorest countries of the world have a better life. It is very simple and doesn’t require much – you just have to do it. You can make other people happy, when you are happy yourself…