Featured writer: Marianne Elizabeth
I’ve been interested in learning how to Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) for some time so, last summer, once I knew we were heading out to south-east Asia for a few months, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take the plunge.
My studies were specifically geared towards teaching English as a volunteer, by including such modules as teaching large classes, teaching using limited resources, as well as teaching English to young learners. With the course completed, all that remained was to find somewhere I could practice my newly acquired skills.
It dismayed me to discover that most opportunities to teach English as a volunteer around SE Asia would involve the payment by me of a hefty fee, the commitment of a continuous period of time (often of at least a couple of months), or both. I was opposed to the first on principle as I didn’t feel I should have to pay for the privilege of giving my time and expertise, nor could I commit to teaching in one place for several months. It looked like my plan was not even going to get off the ground.
However, my searching paid off when I discovered KNGO Volunteer (short for Khmer New Generation Organization), a non-profit organisation based in Bospo village near Battambang, Cambodia. After contacting the founder, Sun Saveth, with the dates of my arrival in Battambang, he invited me along to teach some of the 250 children involved in the project.
Apart from learning English, the children are also provided for, and educated on, a variety of health-related topics including basic dental care, they are taught elementary application skills with donated computers and improve their social and environmental awareness through recycling and tree planting. The organisation has many projects planned for the future, but as in all these matters, the issue of funding creates restrictions on what can and cannot be achieved at the present time.
I was warmly welcomed on arrival at the school and when I entered the classroom to give my first lesson, the children and their Khmer teacher all stood up to chant their greeting. The children were adorable, bright, confident, very respectful and seemed to delight in being taught by a native English speaker. They asked me lots of questions about where I was from, my family and what I liked and disliked.
Our lessons went well, in a classroom with no glass in the window frames, rickety-old desks and with only a blackboard and chalk as classroom aids. Oh, and did I mention that there was no electricity? We were in the middle of one of the regular eight hour power-cuts that blight most areas of Cambodia. At the end of the one hour lesson, the children stood and thanked me for giving my time – and then almost without exception came forward and either gave me a “high five” or hugged me, before they left. As you might imagine, I was very moved and humbled by this experience.
But what happened next was astonishing. I noticed that three or four children appeared to be scrabbling around on the floor under the desks and chairs and when I looked closely I could see little brooms in their hands – made from very thin twigs bound together with tape around a bamboo pole – and they were sweeping the classroom floor between lessons! Amazing!
I certainly smiled the next day as I was on my way to the school by tuk-tuk for a pre-lesson meeting, when a number of children I had taught the day before saw me passing by, and came running down the track after us shouting ‘Hello teacher’.
I got a good feeling about the Khmer New Generation Organisation and have vowed to continue with my efforts to assist them. You can follow them on Facebook if you like or, if any of you can find it in your hearts to donate your time, money or ideas, I know how gratefully they will be received.
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Read more from this author at: Our Travels Around the Globe and Flying South for the Winter
How do you react to all the negative publicity on the net about KNGO? I have to saythat it has put me off going!
Hi Maggie and thanks for your interest in my post.
I can only speak as I find. As I mentioned in my article, I discovered that most opportunities to teach English as a volunteer around SE Asia involved the payment of a hefty fee upfront, the commitment of a continuous period of time (often of at least a couple of months), or both. I didn’t feel I should have to pay for the privilege of giving my time and expertise, nor could I commit to teaching in one place for several months.
My volunteering opportunity with KNGO lasted for only a few days in February this year and I found them to be a genuinely humanitarian organisation doing excellent work for local under-privileged children.
I was not required to donate any monetary funds to undertake my volunteer placement nor was any pressure put on me to do so at any stage.
I was travelling with my husband and we stayed in a hotel in the centre of Battambang, making my own way to the school each day by tuk-tuk (which I paid for myself). I chose to take some pens, notebooks etc to donate to KNGO. I repeat – at no time was I asked for money.
I saw nothing to raise any suspicions that KNGO is not a genuine organisation providing a much needed service to local children.
You sound like you were thinking of making a trip out to Cambodia, Maggie. If you want to take up some references from former volunteers then you should contact them via this link http://www.kngovolunteer.org/formervolunteers.html
By all means, make up your own mind, Maggie – but talk to people who have had a genuine experience there before you decide. At the end of the day – if you still want to teach there, why not do as I did? Stay in a hotel in Battambang and offer your time teaching rather than your money. That way you know that the children are receiving all that you are giving.
I had a genuinely wonderful, yet humbling experience with KNGO and I wouldn´t have missed it for the world.
Gosh Marianne, what a super reply!
I am thinking of travelling to Cambodia for 3 months in September and to work for2 of the months. But it is so difficult to decide where to go! To stay in Siem Reap or to go to a less touristy place like battambang. I have no intention of sending money up front as in 2009 I went to Nepal and the agency didn’t turn up. So I had to do my own thing. Thank God I hadn’t sent money.
I am dithering around like an idiot at the moment. Two months ago I was accepted in Bhutan — got really excited and then the government decided I was too old !!! I am 66. God, was I mad! Apparently all their teachers retire at 58.
Anyway, if you have any advice about Cambodia I would love you to keep in touch. Thanks ……Maggie from UK
If you click through to my blog link on Our Travels Around the World (which will pop up if you click on where it says my name at the head of this reply) you can look back through some of my posts for our travels through SE Asia, made earlier this year. We visited Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Cambodia.
You might find these posts interesting, as we spent a little time in Battambang, as well as over a week in the Siem Reap area. The difference was for me though, that the ONLY teaching I did was the few days I spent at KNGO – the rest of the time we were moving around, staying in some lovely little guesthouses.
It´s easy and cheap to get between places by bus so I would say give them both a try. The temple complex at Angkor Wat is a MUST visit, but we also had great fun riding on the Bamboo Train, taking a cooking course and walking around the amazing local produce market in Battambang. Have a look at my photos, Maggie. They will give you a flavour of the area.
Only you can decide where you volunteer your time, but when I was visiting KNGO I met another volunteer from Edinburgh called Amber, who was a single woman travelling alone who was staying at accommodation very close to the school that she had arranged through their website. It was VERY cheap – something like $5-10 USD per night including food.
Why don´t you send Sun Saveth (the volunteer co-ordinator) an email, have a chat with him and see what you think? Ask him about accommodation – maybe you could go for a week and, if you like it, stay on longer. You can find his email address on the contact page of the KNGO website http://kngovolunteer.org/index.html Tell him you were talking to me, if you like!
As for keeping in touch – when your comment was forwarded to me by email, it includes your email address in the UK. Would you like me to email you and we can keep in touch that way – rather than play it all out here?
I hope you manage to find somewhere to volunteer, Maggie. The world is crying out for people like you. 🙂
Every good wish.
Hi again Marianne,
Great post! I was thinking of teaching abroad and was wondering what TEFL course you used to prepare. I’ve been looking into some on my own but many are very expensive or have a bad reputation. Then again , I’ve heard some have found placement without taking a TEFL course. Any advice would be much appreciated.
I did the i-to-i combined TEFL course which included a weekend face-to-face course where you meet up with other students for practical experience, along with working online at your own pace. I loved doing the course, though if I´m honest I found it difficult at times. I was surprised by this as I am a native English speaker and not an uneducated person. However, I managed to muddle through! Here´s the link to the i-to-i site – there seems to be a special offer on the course fees right now. http://www.i-to-i.com/tefl/
I think it IS confusing with the sheer number of TEFL courses on offer. Some people say that you must have a CELTA qualification, or equivalent, in order to secure a position, whilst others insist that the kind of TEFL course I did, together with my Masters degree and some voluntary teaching experience is enough. It´s a difficult call, I know.
Good luck anyway, whatever you decide.
I don’t know your background but as a teacher for 30+ years, in addition to thinking about various courses, take a couple of days and go into your local school at home and ask to work a bit. Believe me, if you are not right for it, teaching kids can be hell! It isn’t an easy jobI know agencies say that all you need is a sense of fun . It isn’t true. I have seen many people driven to despair. It doesn’t make much difference what nationality they are.
Good luck, I hope it works out ‘cos it is great if you get it right!
Coming from a teacher with 30+ years of teaching experience, Maggie, that must be the most sensible advice EVER! 😉
Thanks for all the advice, everyone. I checked out the website you sent me and it seems feasible for me- the one thing I was worried about with an on-line course was not getting to experience teaching before hand but Maggie’s suggestion makes a lot of sense… I might as test it out at home before I’m let loose with a handful of international students. Thanks again for the advice , I’m more devoted to making this happen for real now 🙂
Yaay! That´s great news Shantaya.
Sending you lots of luck and best wishes for your new venture.
You already have a good start. You can also try volunteer work at a children’s hospital. That is badly needed. Daycare is a good place to gain experience although you don’t want that.
You can observe children’s behavior in a variety of situations, and you are exposed to a variety of ages. Volunteering to be a teacher’s aid in Kindergarten would also be good.
ooh.. thanks for sharing this post!
i have been to battambang before but never have participated in teaching english at a school. many of my nieces and nephews live in the area and it makes me wonder what their school environment is like.. i should accompany them to school some time to find out.
thanks for sharing the small details too like how the children were cleaning the floor between classes. it shows how diligent and hardworking they are, even between lessons. i only hope that their futures will be bright and that they will have more opportunity as they get older.