An amazing couple of months in Cambodia

I am a volunteer teacher trainer and English teacher in Xavier Jesuit Secondary School in the north west of Cambodia. I arrived just over five months ago from Ireland and while it is a cliché, it really has been an amazing couple of months.

The ‘right time’

Despite the many challenges in modern teaching, I have loved my job as a teacher from the day I started my first position as a biology teacher in Cambridge. I love the students and the fact that everyday is different. I had always intended to do some long term volunteering, at some stage, but initially I wasn’t sure what I could offer without very much experience so it was only an idea for a few years.

After six years of teaching in England, I felt that it was time to start looking for the right opportunity to pursue volunteering. This research was exhausting, as you have to work hard to avoid profit-making organisations where your fee is the greatest benefit that you bring to the project. Luckily, I was pointed in the direction of organisations like Voluntary Service Overseas, Irish aid and finally Viatores Christi that matches skill sets with placements where you can be beneficial.

Xavier Jesuit School project Cambodia
Grade 2 students learn English at Xavier Jesuit School in Cambodia

The Xavier Jesuit Education Project

The project is a Jesuit run education one with the aim being to have four centres by the end of the 12-year plan. So far there is a community learning centre, a kindergarten and primary school and the latest one is the secondary school where I work. The aim of the project here is to move from rote based teaching and learning techniques to interactive, engaging and explorative learning.

The secondary school opened its doors to 33 gorgeous Grade 7 students in November 2016. They are the happiest children that I have ever met. I also have the pleasure of running some of the extracurricular activities such as a Science Club and sports clubs. Even in 30 degrees heat, every day they want to play after school.

The students come from the local village and we also have seven students on school scholarships, who are from families living further away that otherwise couldn’t afford to send their children to school. The villages around are poor but not in spirit, and the Scholarship girls are no exception to that: they get involved in all the clubs and activities with great enthusiasm.

The students in Grade 7 are a kind, eager and caring cohort. The innate happiness, enthusiasm for learning and life has left me awestruck since I began teaching here. The staff and teachers at the project are a dedicated community and I am very grateful for their kindness and support.

middle school students at Xavier Jesuit School
Middle school students at Xavier Jesuit School in Cambodia

A superpower smile

The people are warm and humble, with a gentleness that is very unique. Despite their harrowing past, the Cambodian people have a special superpower in the form of their warm smile. I don’t know anything else that can compare with this heartwarming gesture from a Cambodian.

I struggle to adequately put this experience and the ways it has changed my life into words. But it’s been a massive learning curve trying to learn a new language, teach and adapt to a new country and its culture— but an overwhelmingly positive one. I hope I can offer the students here even a fraction of what they have given me in the past months.

Author: Aoife Jenkins, Xavier Education Project, Sisophon, Cambodia, 20th April 2017

Jesuit missionaries and lay collaborators are working for peace, reconciliation and sustainable development. Our work contributes towards the attainment of human rights and the Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals 2030 and in particular SDG4 the Education Goal.