Constantin is BOOKBRIDGE fellow at our learning center in Takeo, Cambodia. Having arrived in October, he will work three more months with the local team to improve the learning center and its offers. In this blog article he writes about his first steps in Cambodia and how piano classes, electronic music and business development perfectly fit together.
My journey to Cambodia has started at the end of last October. On my first day I got picked up at the airport by Ra and was shown around Phnom Penh. We bought a simcard for me, and I got to stay in a tropical looking guesthouse. As my fellowship only began in November, I had the great opportunity to travel around Phnom Penh and get a first impression of the exotic buildings and culture this country has to offer.
After a few days in Pnom Penh, Ra and I headed to Takeo City, where the learning center is located. After a bumpy two-hour ride we arrived and were warmly welcomed by the heads of learning center, Sreydieb and Sopheak, and all the teachers and students. I couldn’t remember all their names at first (I’m quite confident with that now though). I also got introduced to my guesthouse, which was said to be located just a five-minute ride away from the learning center, but to be honest it feels more like one minute – maybe because of the strong community feeling the people have here.
In the first two weeks Sreydieb, Sopheak, Ra and me conducted a couple of workshops on defining everyone’s roles and responsibilities, my goals for the coming six months and also on giving some key facts about the Cambodian culture and the past development of specifically this learning center. I set my goals and activities to establish extra courses in sports (mainly football) and music, such as piano lessons and self-made electronic music, and attracting more students through marketing initiatives regarding that. I also support Sreydieb and Sopheak in terms of strategic planning and facilitating organizational development and to help teachers and staff with desired learning quality improvements.
After a few weeks, I decided to donate an electric piano with proper keys to the community with the support of my family. I bought it in Phnom Penh and transported it to the learning center. The students were quite excited when they first saw the new piano. To make them become more familiar with it I played a couple of songs for them first and created short presentations. A couple of weeks later I had already organized the first taster courses, and initially about ten students signed up for it and began to have their first piano lessons – and in most cases even their first personal musical experience.
Concerning the advertisement with posters and flyers the focus was on „play your favorite song and sing along to it“ rather than classical piano courses, because I experienced that Karaoke is an essential part of Cambodian culture. As regular studying and practicing is quite a decisive factor in learning to play the piano, the strategy behind course enrollment forms, where students have the option to pay in advance and get a discount, was to indirectly force students to come more frequently and regularly. Though, the challenge is and will remain, just like with many English courses to make the vast majority of students calculate the difference and realize the advantages of that concept.
In the coming weeks I will start to apply the co-teaching/mentoring method, which is commonly practiced by fellows with the English courses, on the piano lessons and teach Sopheak to learn the piano to become a teacher and perhaps take over the lessons one day. Simultaneously, Asami, a volunteer from Japan working for JICA, started supporting me in my efforts and gives piano lessons to a couple of students. When I leave in May, chances are good that she can continue to give lessons as well as to take over the piano teacher mentoring of Sopheak as she will stay about two years in Takeo.
In terms of football I joined a lot of football matches by chance. So far, I played with students on the learning center’s football field, the high schools pitch or at the learning center in Tonloab with fellow Roman whenever I could. At the beginning of my fellowship one goal was to organize proper football courses with skill drills and tactics. However, it is challening to reach an adequate number of students, to find the time and sustainability in general. Could occasional events or a BOOKBRIDGE football club possibly be easier to organize? We will see! In addition to physical activities like football or ping pong, we expanded the range of free learning activities at the learning center and conducted workshops on environmental pollution and SMART-goal setting for our students.
While the Pilot impact assessment was conducted in Tonloab, I met Roman, another fellow from Switzerland, and the BOOKBRIDGE team from learning center Tonloab for the first time. I experienced the daily work and challenges in particularly this learning center and joined Roman in his co-teaching efforts in a couple of classes. We also re-recorded the BOOKBRIDGE song and processed/edited it with my knowledge in electronic music production and Roman’s video editing skills. In my opinion it is very important to connect fellows on the ground as the exchange of experiences and advices can help to understand the challenges, possibilities and responsibilities of one’s work better.
I decided that I will also join some English classes and increase my efforts on improving the learning quality in the next couple of weeks. I must say that I am very fortunate to be a part of BOOKBRIDGE and glad for the opportunity to work in such an interesting culture and with such friendly people, whom I am happy to offer new and broader educational opportunities.