School was back in session for us recent graduates. Since Hannah’s Hope no longer accepts volunteers, Hout found a school along his commute route, Savong’s Happy Sunshine School, that was willing to accept three American volunteers. We hailed a tuk tuk to the Happy Sunshine School 20 km outside of Siem Reap. It was a rough ride. First we got lost, due to lack of street names and addresses. Then our chariot got stuck in the mud, so we walked the final kilometer. Barefoot, in ankle-deep rocky red mud as motorbikes and cows passed us. We were quite a sight when we finally arrived at Happy Sunshine and met with its leaders to determine our placement. I made the mistake of writing “English and Microsoft Office” while Silken and Nicole just wrote “English”- they put them in the English class while I ended up in a computer lab with Cambodian tech geniuses. Instead of teaching, I sat furiously taking notes on the instructor’s Khmer Photoshop lesson, so I could hopefully assist them during practice time. I only succeeded in confusing them more. Thankfully, the professor keeps excusing me earlier each day to teach English with Silken and Nicole.
I highly suggest volunteering with your friends; it will make you immensely appreciate them in a whole new light. When I entered the English classroom, my heart melted watching Nicole and Silken lead 30 Cambodian children through different occupations. I couldn’t believe the girls I’d danced on fraternity tables with just a few months prior had turned into graceful, respected positive role models in a blink of an eye. It made me really proud. Silken and Nicole had begun teaching them occupations, and to help them dream big we created worksheets that said, “My name is_______, and when I grow up I want to be a _______,” and then the student drew a picture beneath. Turns out, some of the back-row troublemakers wanted to be policemen and pilots. Lots of the girls wanted to be doctors. Most of them come from homes where these occupations have never been talked about, if they have a home at all. But their wild imagination and dreams are more powerful than any material possession. These will carry them through difficult times and incentivize them to continue learning.
The children at Happy Sunshine come from a variety of backgrounds, which is apparent from both their clothes and chubbiness. The school used to be an orphanage before Cambodian legislation changed, so now children are only allowed to come during the day. Some of the children live with family; those without relatives live at the school’s guesthouse. Although they come from vastly different backgrounds than my elementary classmates, the Khmer classroom vibe feels the same as in America. There’s the boys drawing dragons in the back, the cliquey girls in the middle drawing princesses and writing us “I love you” notes (cue our hearts melting), and the front row of A+ students eagerly raising their hands at any opportunity. The class loves Simon Says, which Silken gave a refresh by introducing moves like “Disco,” “Brush Yo Shoulders,” and “Shimmy.”