Time to say goodbye! Roman leaves Tonloab

Vannak and Roman on top of Bayong Kor Mountain
Vannak and Roman on top of Bayong Kor Mountain

After half a year at our learning center in Tonloab, Cambodia, fellow Roman says good-bye to his colleagues and friends. In this blog post, Roman reflects on his last days in Cambodia.

It is now time for me to say goodbye to my home in Tonloab. Spending half a year in a learning center in rural Cambodia was definitively the best experience of my life. But before I am going back to cold Europe, let me take a look back at the last weeks here in Tonloab.

As a student of development and international relations, I have analysed my work and the learning center from a particular angle. Throughout the last weeks, I came up with the idea of writing a report of the successes and challenges of the daily operations and recommendations for BOOKBRIDGE as a whole. Being “on-the-ground” for an extensive period of time was a unique opportunity to gain even more knowledge about the learning centers. This is also useful for BOOKBRIDGE as a whole. As I have mentioned before, sustainable initiatives (if possible) were at the heart of my efforts throughout these six months. Much time and a lot of discussions with Vannak (Head of the Learning Center) were needed.

During Christmas time, I launched a fundraising campaign with friends and family to finance new chairs to establish a new classroom. This room has indeed potential to be used more effectively. The reasons for establishing a new classroom are two-fold: high demand and financial returns. Firstly, demand for English courses at the center, especially among the older students, has grown during the last months and some rooms became a bit crowded. Secondly, more income would secure and sensibly increase the sustainability rate. Vannak, Constantin and I made a one-day trip to Phnom Penh where we bought the chairs – and the new classroom became operational in two days! It made me very happy to see how all the students and staff were excited about it.

A new classroom for the learning center
A new classroom for the learning center

The fundraising initiative also permitted the purchase of a long-term investment: new teaching material consisting of student books, work books and most of all class audio CDs. Teachers have expressed their interest for these class audio CDs, which will make classes more interactive and enrich them with more native speaking exercises. These CDs are not available in Cambodia and much too expensive in Europe. After searching for a while, I found a very affordable set in Korea. Since Monika (BOOKBRIDGE Country Manager for Sri Lanka) had a contact there, we could ship them to Cambodia. Within only 1,5 weeks, the package arrived in Tonloab. It was like Christmas all over again!

We also made some interesting improvements in the classrooms: teachers suggested to move the whiteboards to another wall so that the children get less distracted by what is going on outside. Class management was hereby improved. Within two days, the learning center changed quite a bit and made a huge step forward both in terms of quantity (new classroom) and quality (new English material and new disposition within the classrooms).

Vannak already prepared a new flyer campaign for the learning center for students after Chinese New Year, which is widely celebrated in Cambodia.

Brand-new English teaching material for every level!
Brand-new English teaching material for every level!

These last weeks were also an opportunity to do some sightseeing in Takeo province. Constantin and I visited the Pre-Angkorian temple and the beautiful pagoda in Angkor Borei. The fastest way to reach this quiet little town is to rent a speed boat from Takeo City. During the trip, endless rice fields, hard-working but always smiling farmers surrounded us. The beauty of rural Cambodia enchanted us even more when we reached the Phnum Dar temple overlooking never ending rice fields. Vannak, Constantin and I also visited the magnificent Phnum Bayong Temple above Tonloab where we prepared a surprise for the upcoming BridgeBuilder Summit in March in Germany. This will be a good opportunity to share experiences and best practices and keep BOOKBRIDGE moving forward. As you see, my journey with BOOKBRIDGE is not quite over yet.

I can summarize my six-months experience in just four sentences:

  • Learn by doing: I have learned more in these six months than in four years of studying.
  • Get to know the people: you can learn from them as well.
  • Take everything as an experience: let things happen.
  • Act as if you are part of the community: the more you act from within the community, the better are the chances for success.

I am leaving Tonloab with my heart full of memories, the feeling that we have accomplished something and knowing that Vannak will lead this learning center to new heights. He is definitely one of the persons that has an impact on me, along with all the Cambodians I have met.

One day, I will be back for sure and, even if I am looking forward going home, I am sad to leave Tonloab.

Good luck BOOKBRIDGE Learning Center Tonloab and thank you for everything! I will miss you!

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