From Volunteer to Full-Time Staff: Sopheak

Sopheak provides a typical free learning activity
Sopheak (right) provides a typical free learning activity
To many BridgeBuilders, Sopheak Tok is an old friend: Despite of her young age, she is with BOOKBRIDGE since several years. Starting as a volunteer in our learning center in Takeo, Cambodia in spring 2013, she became the center’s librarian one year later. Today, she is assistant to the Head of Learning Center. In this post, she writes about her way and personal development that has been closely connected to BOOKBRIDGE.

I am Sopheak Tok and I am turning 22 this year. I graduated from High School in 2011. I had to stay home for one year to help my family do farming and I sometimes run my own small business in order to save some money to continue my study at university. Then in early 2013, I went to university and I studied TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). In March 2013, I was looking for a school to improve my English, and then one of my classmates introduced me to BOOKBRIDGE Learning Center Takeo. I was so glad to study there with different students from around the town. One month later, I discovered that they were looking for volunteers and I was happy that I became the first local volunteer in April. Three months later, I planned to continue my volunteer work for another nine months. Luckily, at the same time the learning center needed a librarian to work fulltime. I was selected because from my work as a volunteer I already knew a lot about how to do books check-in and check-out and leading students in activities like cinema club, reading, drawing, singing and so on. So over time, I was promoted to higher positions.

Sopheak moderating the English debating club
Sopheak moderating the English debating club
Working for the learning center, my English has been improved a lot, especially speaking and writing. I know how to work with others and share my English knowledge by teaching basic English to students. I have also learnt a lot of organizational skills, f.e. how to keep the center clean and how to organize books on the shelves. Moreover, I can deal with it when kids make noise in the class or library.

Besides these tasks, I luckily was still able to manage my work and study time. For example, I had to work 6 hours a day from 7 to 11 am and then from 2 to 4 pm. After that, I took some time for self-study, homework, or assignment from university. Also, I had the opportunity to work with fellows or foreigners. In fact, when I first joined the learning center, I was working with two fellows, Marco and Susann. This couple inspired me to work harder, and I was curious to learn new things from them. In the meantime, volunteers from other countries who were already working in Takeo wanted to offer free activities at the center. They were Christ, Kates, Garlane, and Stainley from American Peace Corps. I felt a bit more confident and comfortable speaking with foreigners, which before I was not.

Sopheak uses student-centered activities in her English classes
Sopheak uses student-centered activities in her English classes
In 2014, a girl from Switzerland volunteered at the learning center for six weeks. She taught me a lot how to make the cinema club more interesting and get more students. She also showed me what to do to be prepared before, during and after watching the movie, what materials were needed¬¬, when, where, how long, what type of movie. We had so much fun working together, but we also took some personal time together after work to have a chat, eat out, and exchange cultures. She also taught me some English speaking.

In 2015, we had a native English speaker from American Peace Corps, Garlane, who then co-taught with me for two terms. She shared her techniques and how to do a lesson plan every class. While we were teaching together, our students were happier and enjoyed learning with us. Students’ parents also trusted learning center more because they knew their children studied with an English native speaker.

At the same time, a fellow from BOOKBRIDGE learning center in Angtasom, Malin, came to work with us every Tuesday. We were very close because we shared the same interests. And she was my first vegetarian foreign friend who seemed to give me a lot of trust. She encouraged me to read more books and make more friends. We also spent some personal trips together during holidays and she also experienced homestays with my family. We cooked Khmer and European foods and sweets together with students. She was amazing to me and we are still in touch since then.

Sopheak is in charge of the cinema club (here with young students)
Sopheak is in charge of the cinema club (here with young students)
For the last six months, I have changed so much as I have learnt a lot from Constantin, our new fellow. He shared his skills in playing the piano and playing sports. I learnt from him that it is popular in a developed country like Germany. He taught me how to use modern technologies like TV, computer, beamer, etc. We also exchanged our cultures and hanged out together through trips and parties at Learning Centre, and we ate and danced together with staff and students. I have also learnt how to sum up the expenses and income to make the learning center sustainable. I am very lucky to have worked with him.

Sokoeurn Touch, the former Head of Learning Center, has taught me to be punctual, hard-working and to make decisions, and has given me great advice based on his experiences.

It has already been six months since Sreydieb started her job as the new Head of Learning Center in Takeo. She loves and treats me like her sister. She always shares with me her personal feelings. She is kind and caring to me. We do the same routine work every day like cleaning, organizing books, check in and check out, teaching students, and so on. I feel warm and have fun co-operating and working with her.

BOOKBRIDGE has many new things to share from their learning centers in Cambodia and Europe like organizing and conducting meetings, workshops, and sharing experiences.

My live has changed and improved a lot: I am now financially independent and self-reliant when it comes to room rent, meals, and studies thanks to my good salary. More and more people have known me, especially children, and they like me a lot. So, I do hope that I can work for the learning center as long as I can because I get so many valuable experiences.

There are a lot of things I want to see at the center in the next five years. I want to see more students in the community to choose us for studying English. I want the center to look modern with a nice and comfortable learning environment, each room being equipped with modern technologies and creatively decorated with pictures, posters, and slogans. I hope students will be able to use their English to study, work and communicate with foreigners. Teachers and staff will have a healthy relationship with one another and have more commitment to work as a great team. I envision them being well-paid, skillful, well prepared, organized, punctual, and honest and have clear roles and responsibilities with their tasks.

More people in the community will give more trust to our learning center because we can offer good services and care and ensure security and safety for their children whenever they are at the center. For example, we will have a cleaner to help keeping the rooms clean and hygienic, a librarian to help taking care of books and leading students to read more, and full-time teachers to help providing different activities including learning clubs and activities such as speaking, writing, listening, reading, debating and critical thinking to spread knowledge to more students in the community. We will have someone good at marketing to help reflecting how well the learning center is doing in terms of marketing. We will have a receptionist who offers information to walk-in potential customers asking about school fees, etc. Besides, each class must have a balance between income and expense. Lastly, the learning center will have its own little cafeteria that sells healthy food and drinks to students as well as a security guard and a nursing system for students or staff suffering from an accident.

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