In a small house just 15 minutes outside of Battambang town, in Odambang commune’s Bospo village, more than 20 primary school children listen enthusiastically to their English-speaking teachers. Sitting around a table stacked with a pile of well-read children’s books, this informal class, held specifically for rural kids, is made possible thanks in part to an initiative headed by a group of five young men.
Unlike any villa or office building rented by non-governmental organisations, this house is owned by Sun Saveth, one of the five founders of registered NGO Khmer New Generation Organization (KNGO). The self-funded group provides English classes for disadvantaged provincial children and employs the help of several Cambodian volunteers and foreign backpackers to teach the kids valuable language skills.
Becky Wielderhold, a 29-year-old American traveller and volunteer teacher, said, “I try to give something back to each country I visit, so I decided to teach English here during my week-long stay in Battambang.” She’s just one of many visitors to the town – where French-colonial architecture is a main attraction – whose work gives the children a chance to interact with, and learn from, a native English speaker.
Founded in early 2008, KNGO has operated without any financial backing since the beginning, but has its sights set on establishing even more free education. To do this, however, will require some monetary support. “We have sent out many proposals to various donors, but nothing has happened yet,” Sun Saveth says.
In terms of positive progress, though, through its website (kngo-home.org) the project continuously attracts travellers who are eager to experience Cambodian life through doing community-based volunteer work. “Most people contact us after tracking us down on the internet, while others hear about this teaching opportunity through their friends,” said Sun Saveth, whose older brother, now based in the US, is another of KNGO’s co-founders and played an important role in setting up the site.
As word of KNGO’s work spreads through both its own site and online discussion forums like Lonely Planet’s, travellers who have passed through Battambang and donated their time to KNGO’s project have inspired many more people to do the same. Forum member “pajos” wrote on Lonely Planet’s message board: “We had a truly exhilarating and rewarding experience last month when we were asked to give up an hour to teach English to kids at a school outside Battambang. I had one class and Pauline another. The thirst and enthusiasm for knowledge from the children was extraordinary.”
While this venture is currently running on nothing but donations from visitors to the school, it has enabled 50 pupils to experience a learning environment similar to that of children in cities with better access to education.