twam chapka love

Raising awareness about education among children: our Twam experience in Cambodia

Twaming: opportunities can be right next door

During our positive trip around the world, we dropped our slightly tired backpacks in Siem Reap for a month and a half after 5 months of traveling. 1 month and a half to continue developing the social project Cours avec Moi in Cambodia, in the field, and use the opportunity to rediscover (again and again, we can’t get enough of them!) the amazing temples of Angkor.

Since our mission is more geared towards what we know how to do (management, admistration, communication, fundraising, etc), we don’t need to be on site all day, at this organization that teaches French.

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We need some peace and quiet, a good internet connection and our keyboards to work on Word and Excel. So we opted for a lovely little apartment in the Wat Bo neighborhood, and therefore live a more sedentary life in the middle of our long trip: grocery shopping, cooking, chatting the night away with neighborhoods, taking a scooter to work. And every now and then, going to the restaurant!

One of them caught our eye after driving by a few times. It’s hard to miss: the « Love U » sign is in bright pink neon letters surrounded by a giant pink neon heart. One night, we decided to eat there, a few days after settling in our apartment. We received a lovely welcome, and a young man, in slightly hesitant English, explained to us the concept of the restaurant. That is how we met Okdam, one of the founders of the project. He explained that he and his partners started the restaurant to finance their studies, as they are all in their early twenties and go to the university nearby. But they also use the proceeds to finance their nonprofit work: regularly, the « Love U » team, led by Okdam, goes to schools in the countryside not only to distribute school supplies, but also to push the kids to keep studying hard and stick to their studies. Indeed, many children in Cambodia drop out in their early teens to go to work and help their families.

During that conversation (you can figure our interest was piqued), we asked to know more about their actions. And as luck would have it, that Saturday, they were going to a school 70km from Siem Reap, in Okdam’s village, for a morning of games, distributing supplies and raising awareness on the importance of education. Very shyly, he invited us, and seemed quite surprised when we enthusiastically agreed to join the « Love U » group.

A single morning Twaming can teach you a lot

That Saturday, we got up bright and early to be there on time at 6:30 am. Everything is perfectly organized by these big-hearted college students: we load up the boxes of supplies in the bus, meet the other members of the group who’ve joined to help. The bus is full, mostly with Cambodian students: there are 4 foreigners, us included, all customers of the restaurant. In the bus, we are briefed (in khmer, so we didn’t get everything, but we got the gist). We are given bars of soap to give the kids a lesson in hygiene, we learn the 4 ways of saying hello (hands joined with the fingers on the forehead, eyes, nose or chin depending on the person you’re saluting) which we will in turn have to teach the kids. We are also asked to think about activities we can do with them and on what to say about the importance of a good education. Indeed, there is no better model than motivated Cambodian college students coming from underprivileged families to motivate young khmer children from the same background!

We’re split into groups, and to ensure perfect immersion, the foreigners are each put in a different group. That way we are each part of a group of more experienced members of the collective who will tell us what to do and make us participate in the activities. And off we go!

We start with an assembly: Okdam, the leader of the group, gives an introductory speech to the attentive children. All grades are there: from the little kindergardeners to young teens. Okdam seems happy as there aren’t many kids missing. 15 minutes later, we split up into our groups: Stephanie starts by helping teach the kids the right gestures to properly wash their hands while Emmanuel fills balloons for the upcoming games. It all goes by fast from there: we start distributing a morning snack, notebooks and pens, we sing, dance, and play around in the courtyard. It’s all very festive. Then, we go back to the classrooms and teach the proper Khmer hello.

Stephanie’s class asks her to join the activity because the kids want to learn more about her. So she does what she knows, what she does every time she starts a drawing lesson with kids, in France or abroad: “Draw me your house.” She draws her own first on the blackboard, leading to a few laughs, and then they each show her theirs. They all have one thing in common: they’re on stilts and made of wood, whereas in India, during our last Twam, they were one floor and all had a fan hanging from the ceiling. The members of the « Love U » collective ask her to give the drawings grades: she could only give them all 10/10 as she was so happy with the kids’ level of implication! However, she supposes that the members of the collective wanted her to give differentiated grades: a culture difference we haven’t yet fully understood (we’ll ask next time we go to Cambodia!).

Then we finish on a more serious note: the different members’ speech to convince the children to continue studying hard. It’s really fascinating: each one tells a little about themselves, their personal history. Ambition, the desire to learn, the will to give themselves the opportunity to succeed are all very present in these young adults from the « Love U ». Seeing them share that with the next generation is really something.

While we are used to volunteering for longer periods (at least 1 month), we recommend these kinds of short TWAM experiences: it’s short indeed, but you still leave it with lots of new learnings. A dialogue was started, we were able to bring our little contribution, following the guidance of the members of the group, to have a positive impact.

There you go, after 2h30, it was time to leave the school. Except… we didn’t know a great surprise was coming!

Twaming fosters cultural exchange: hooray for the Cambodian nap!

The bus stops a few hundred feet further, along the red dirt road. A Khmer lunch is waiting for us in Okdam’s mother’s house! We go up to the second floor of the wooden house on stilts, and sit on the floor in small groups to share a delicious meal.

Some rice, vegetables, fish in sauce, chicken, more rice, green mango with chili is all we need to be happy. It’s another chance as well to exchange with the students, learn more about them and their motivations. Okdam’s mother and sisters take great care of us, and have a good laugh when Stephanie brings the bowls back to the kitchen. In response, she’s told to go back to sit down, and we’re brought a mat: it’s nap time. Indeed, the afternoon nap is sacred in Cambodia! People get up early, often before dawn, but they take a nap at noon, for at least an hour. Around us, everyone is already sleeping… the life of a Twamer is a sweet one indeed!

Go to the Travel with a Mission website to find your own TWAM project!

Check out all our posts about volunteering and Twaming by following the link!

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