Sixty Minutes of Inspiration
Today was another one of those days that was thought-provoking,
uplifting, and inspiring. This morning we had a new guide, who took us
to his own village and showed us his own house. That experience will be
a part of a post that has been brewing for a week or so. I’m going to
do this one first as it is fresh in my mind.
We just got back from JWOC (yes, they pronounce it jay walk) which
stands for Journeys Within Our
Community. What a
great experience! We didn’t really know a lot about what we were in for
this afternoon, other than we were there to volunteer in a class, and it
would involve speaking english. So far, so good.
Before I tell you about the class, and what we did, I want to give you a
little background about JWOC and the educational system here in
Cambodia. The latter is easy. Its pretty minimal. Students may go to
school from ages six to fourteen. After that there is really not much
for them. Students may go to a private school for further education, but
they are pretty expensive for most people in Cambodia.
JWOC has programs in five key areas: Community Assistance, Clean Water,
Microfinance, Free Classes, and Scholarships. The scholarship program is
the heart of it all. Since 2005 JWOC has provided 120 scholarships for
students to get a university education. However, these students must in
turn give back by volunteering their time on another JWOC program. The
instructor of the class we participated in this afternoon was one such
At the JWOC center in Siem Reap they have students from age 4 all the
way to 60. The classes are open to anyone in the community and range
from english, to sewing, to gardening, to computers. The class we worked
with was a hospitality class. You can think of it as an enrichment
course for students who are interested in improving their english so
they can work in the hospitality industry. One student wanted to be a
hotel receptionist, another told us he wanted to be guide.
We started out the class with everyone introducing themselves. There was
much smiling and laughing and clapping as we went around the room. Their
enthusiasm was infectious. After the intros we moved on to some role
play. The instructor paired us up, and I played the role of a
tourist who wanted to book a room, while my student played the role of
someone at the front desk of hotel. I had a list of features that I
wanted in my room and he had information about what they had available
and the associated prices. He was into it! First he had to clarify
several points with the instructor, and then we started out. After
working our way through a fairly lengthy conversation, he said. “We
need to do this again. We need to be the best so that we can perform for
the class.” So we did it again.
When the teacher asked for volunteers to do their role play for the
class I think he might have been a little disappointed that there was no
choice based on merit, but he was undaunted and quickly volunteered us
for the job. Here we are in the front of the classroom playing our
Jane also had an excellent student, that I wish I could have talked with
some more. He wants to be an engineer, and is enthusiastically studying
math and physics.
After the role playing was done we had about 20 minutes for free
conversation. They divided the class in two, and put each of us with one
group. The instructor said that since I was a professor they could ask
me about anything. No pressure. We were all grinning from ear to ear
even though they were a bit shy about asking questions. They wanted to
know about where I was from, and what kind of crops we had, which led to
a little discussion about how cold it is in Iowa. One of them was
wearing a Chelsea shirt so that led to some quick conversation about
football. Then I asked about what I should see or things I should eat. I
think they were all impressed when I said we had already tried Amok and
One student had been holding back and I could tell he wanted to ask me
something, but he said he was to embarrassed. With a bit of coaxing he
finally asked me: “what good are computers?” Well, now that is a
question. Nobody laughed at him for asking it. What good is something
that I take for granted and use all day everyday? So we talked about how
you could use computers to learn things, anything you wanted to know you
could find out. Only one of the students in my group had heard of
Google! We talked a little about their markets and how they bought
everything they wanted at the local market. I tried to describe how I
used the computer to do my shopping. I can buy anything I want on the
computer and a truck brings it to my house in two days. I may just as
well have sprouted a second head.
Our hour was over in no time. But we left with such respect for these
students. They were so enthusiastic and supportive of each other. It was
a class like nothing I’ve experienced before.
Afterward we had a chance to talk with the education coordinator here in
Siem Reap. She is an American from Connecticut who has been here about
five months and had some nice insights to share with us. It is true that
these students value education in a very different way because it is so
special. She told us about the collaborative nature of the Cambodian
culture and how important that is to their educational experience.
Something that I never would have really understood before spending time
here. But I’m glad that I did.
Here is the class with all of us all together.