Saturday, December 05, 2009

Shannon Ferrier - Clean Water Project (December 2009)

Late November / Early December 2009: Shannon Ferrier, a JWOC volunteer, spoke to scholarship student Sarann and accompanied him during his weekly volunteering with the Clean Water project. Here is what she wrote about her experience…

This morning I met Sarann, a 22 year old scholarship student at JWOC. In return for his scholarship, he volunteers every Saturday morning with JWOC’s Clean Water Project. He is in second year at University, majoring in Finance.

Sarann comes from a large family- he has 8 brothers and sisters. When he graduated from high school, he worked as a security guard at the airport. After hearing about JWOC from a friend, he applied, passed the test and was accepted as a scholarship student. He leads a very busy life. Six days a week he goes to university from 6 to 9 pm and 5 days a week he volunteers with another NGO from 7.30 to 5 pm. On Sundays he studies, does homework and washes his clothes.

We left JWOC about 8.15 on Saturday morning—three of us in a tuk-tuk and most of the students doubling up on motorbikes. It was a 25 minute ride to the village of Branat. When we arrived at the village chief’s house we found several villagers waiting for us, and large reed mats laid on the ground where they could sit or squat. A table held a new ceramic water filter and a large bowl of water ready for the demonstration.

Attendance was taken. We were told that it’s very important that one responsible family member attend the demonstration. If the filters are not properly cleaned and maintained they won’t provide the clean water necessary for good health.

Sarann demonstrated each step and assembly of the filter – immersing the filter in water, scrubbing it with a rough pad, then carefully rinsing it in fresh water. All parts of the filter were washed, scrubbed and rinsed before assembly.

When the demonstration was finished, the students patiently repeated the whole procedure. They then asked for volunteers from the assembled villagers to step forward and repeat the procedure a third time.

While the demonstration was going on, the project’s assistant manager, a former JWOC scholarship student himself, watched the audience carefully. Later, he took aside two who he felt were not watching or understanding what was going on. When they were questioned, it was apparent that he was right. They were told to send another family member to the next day’s demonstration. They did not receive a filter that day.

At this point about 20 filters were carried out of the chief’s house where they had been stored. They were given to the villagers who strapped them into large baskets on their bicycles or hoisted them to their shoulders and headed for home.

In a few weeks the scholarship students will be back to inspect the filters, take water samples for lab testing and provide further instruction on personal hygiene – particularly handwashing and teeth cleaning. Even though the instruction was in Khmer, it was very easy to understand as I watched the demonstration.

I learned from Sarann that before he became a JWOC scholarship student and volunteer, he had known nothing about the importance of personal hygiene and clean water. He said this had been very helpful to him and that he had shared his knowledge with family and friends.

It was an educational and very inspirational day for me.

Lee Ferrier - JWOC Microfinance (December 2009)

Late November / Early December 2009: Lee Ferrier, a JWOC volunteer, spoke to scholarship student Chankakda and accompanied her during her weekly volunteering with the Microfinance project. Here is what he wrote about his experience…

I accompanied Kakda when she went into the community as a project worker in the JWOC micro- finance project. Her duties this day were to meet the loan recipients, collect from them their required weekly payments, and to discuss any problems they were having with their businesses.

Kakda is a scholarship student in her 4th year at university majoring in English literature. She is a 26 year old qualified school teacher who wishes to pursue a career as an English teacher at a private school or university.

It is hard not to be impressed with her dedication and hard work. She is employed as a teacher at two schools from 7.30 am to 6.00 pm and attends her university classes from 6.00 to 9;00 pm, all of this 6 days a week. On Sundays she volunteers at JWOC.

Kakda told us that the project not only provides loans, but also holds workshops to help loan recipients learn good business practices and money management. They also learn to set goals and, in cases of group loans, to solve problems in group discussion.

We were scheduled to visit three recipients, but only needed to visit two, because the other had dropped by the JWOC community center to make her required payment. Her business was selling used clothing at a local market - the loan enabled her to buy clothes for resale.

We visited a "group recipient" - first time borrowers are required to borrow as a group and all must take responsibility to pay off the loan of the group. The loan payment was made without a hitch. The meeting, which included the recording of the payment and providing a receipt record to the borrower, was conducted in a friendly but business-like manner. In this case the borrowers were a husband running a hand laundry business, his wife running a small street-side café, and a neighbor working as a self-employed metal worker, who needed a small loan to pay for gas for his motorbike so he could go to job sites to do his work.

Kakda credits Michèle, the Project Manager, and Andrew and Camilla, the JWOC Directors, for the effective administration of JWOC, and the guidance and assistance they provide to the scholarship student volunteers - all in the pursuit of assisting the community. Kakda says she too is learning about money management, good business practices and the setting of priorities and goals. She plans to continue giving back to her community. After completing University, while pursuing her career as an English teacher, she wants to volunteer in the management of an NGO --- relying on her experience gained at JWOC.

I do not doubt for a moment that she will do it.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Travel Aid and the JWOC Clean Water Project - August 2009

As volunteers, our role within the JWOC clean water project was to facilitate the work of the scholarship students and provide them with support during a new project. It turned out to be a rare opportunity to work closely with both the local students and local villagers, and many of us felt privileged to be in this position to be so involved in a grassroots development project.

We worked on a completely new project with three groups of households in Kvean Village which is located near the Angkor territory. In a way we were incredibly lucky as this meant that we were able to see the impact of our work on the village. The first visit to the village was for many volunteers their first ride on motorcycles! However, having overcome the initial adrenalin rush of placing our lives in the (very safe) hands of the scholarship students, passing sparkling emerald paddy fields and navigating the bumpy red roads of Siem Reap to the village; disturbing the ubiquitous featherless chickens and the odd placid buffalo, we arrived at the site where our work was to begin.

Having been briefed in scouting techniques by Andrew, we divided into groups to explore the village and scout for existing wells, taking note of their model, condition and locations. Our further objective was to find suitable positions to build new wells that could benefit the village. The wells that we saw ranged from abandoned holes in the middle of fields to working hand-pumped pipe wells funded by Japanese charities. Although many wells were in poor condition, what struck me the most was the pride with which the villagers demonstrated the workings of their well. They also didn’t seem to mind us taking notes, photographs and GPS readings while scattering animals and children in all directions.

From working at JWOC, the drive and dedication of the teams there to create change as effectively and quickly soon became clear. Within 2 weeks of our initial visit, all the information gathered enabled JWOC to employ a local well man to repair all the broken wells in the village, and new wells were constructed where they were most needed and accessible. Visiting the village every weekend meant that we were able to communicate directly with the villagers with (huge amounts of) help from the scholarship students. Although many in the village already had access to water in some form, there were those who clearly benefitted from the JWOC’s speedy work. In particular, there was a family with two very young children and a pregnant mother. When we arrived, they were drinking and washing using dirty grey water out of an exposed hole well, which completed negated any of the mother’s efforts to keep all their water containers and utensils meticulously clean. By the time we left however, the family were enjoying the benefits of a new and deep hand-pump well that spilled clean water. Although we could not communicate in language, it seemed clear from his smiles that the father was overjoyed as he showed us that it worked. This personal level of work that JWOC carries out does not appear to be a one-off.

In addition to the well maintenance and building, JWOC also worked sought to distribute ceramic water filters to the village and planned to carry out training in hygiene and teeth-cleaning with the village community. In order to assess the necessity and impact of such work, we went out to Kvean Village with the scholarship students to engage the villagers in surveys relating to personal health, hygiene and lifestyle. Not being able to speak Khmer was frustrating as we were not able to connect with the villagers on the level that the scholarship students were able to (although the odd paper crane seems to cross multitude of language barriers with children), and though we asked highly probing questions ranging from the frequency of teeth-cleaning to diarrhoea, and asked for demonstrations of hand-washing, we were welcomed with nothing but patience and tolerance. The JWOC scholarship students seem to play a huge role in making both the villagers feel comfortable and the JWOC approach non-intrusive.

Another key task that we as volunteers participated in during the clean water project was in designing a training presentation with the scholarship students which would be given in villages prior to handing out water filters. As the scholarship students often found it difficult to remember all the details of the long filter preparation process, we worked together to produce a cohesive training presentation which used prompt cards to aid the presenter and demonstrator. This appeared to work! We managed to work out a presentation which hopefully engaged the audience and which the scholarship students agreed would help future generations of JWOC students to present in villages.

On the 2 days of water presentations, we all congregated at JWOC at 7am in order to practice the presentation routine with the JWOC students before the real thing in the village. That weekend, the rigmarole of soaking, drying, washing and more washing of water filters was presented with success and water filters were handed out to each household in the 3 groups of Kvean Village. As we walked around the village to check the progress of preparing the filters, I noticed one family had soaked their filter with that evening’s vegetables for dinner. Multi-tasking indeed!

Working on the clean water project at JWOC really showed how much more effective such work is when local volunteers are engaged, and how efficient such an organisation can be. Although many in the village still live in difficult conditions, within a few weeks JWOC were able to provide access to clean water. This process can clearly be replicated in many more areas of need around Siem Reap. In the month that we volunteered, JWOC allowed us a privileged insight into how such programmes are carried out and we hopefully helped (a little). Thank you to Camilla, Andrew and all the JWOC scholarship students for your tireless work, and for making us feel so welcome while working at JWOC.

Jennifer Tsim

Saturday, August 29, 2009

TravelAid at JWOC Free Classes - August 2009

One of the main roles of the Travelaid team was to help the many scholarship students at JWOC with their free English teaching classes. JWOC helps coordinate 20 English classes throughout the week. Classes of around 25 students are held in 3 separate classrooms (2 at JWOC, 1 at Wat Chork). With an eleven strong team, we were lucky to have both a weekday class (four, one hour classes a week) and a weekend class (2, 2 hour classes) each.

Before arriving at JWOC, we were all really nervous about the English teaching – despite all attending a TEFL course! To our delight, we soon discovered that we wouldn’t actually be teaching on our own, but assisting the permanent teachers here, the Khmer scholarship students. We were encouraged by Andrew and Camilla to help the Khmer teachers make the lessons more student focused. In government schools here, children learn their English largely through copying sentences from the board and repeating set words and phrases. The most genuine English conversation they can share is with tourists who rarely venture out of the centre of Siem Reap or from the Angkor temples. We wanted to make the classes much more interactive with fun games and role plays to help get them using their English in more natural conversations with each other and find new, exciting ways to help them remember vocabulary and sentence structures.

I think the Travelaid team all had different experiences with their classes depending on the confidence of the teacher or the age of the class. Many of us with adult classes found that students were incredibly motivated and would often ask us questions that we struggled to answer. I’d often have to ask other members of the team for ideas on how to explain the many ridiculous rules we have in English! The ‘adult’ students, ranging from 13-25, find four hours (on top of school studies and work) in their week to focus on their English and hopefully improve their job prospects not just in the tourist industry but in finance, law and management. I’d struggle to believe that teenagers in England would voluntarily give up so much time and be as enthusiastic and focused as these guys are. Their enthusiasm to learn made the experience of teaching incredibly rewarding and encouraged us all to dedicate many more hours thinking up new ways to make the most of our lesson time and our teaching much more effective.

I personally found teaching the younger kids a lot harder. They were still very used to being talked at and many seemed to struggle much more when asked direct questions or were encouraged to write on the board or talk in English in front of their peers. They loved the games though especially when divided into teams and made to compete against each other to first discover the correct spelling of a new word or complete gaps in a sentence for example.

The majority of our team found the scholarship student teachers incredibly receptive to these new approaches, many scholarship students had already used games in classes. However there were a few teachers who, perhaps being a bit more shy or stretched for time, took a bit longer to come round to suggestions for their classes. It was tricky sometimes to encourage the teacher to actually conduct the game themselves rather than getting the volunteer to lead the game as one segment of the lesson before they returned to the usual style of teaching for the rest of the lesson. We’ve been working to ensure that our efforts here will not die off the minute we leave Siem Reap. The aim was always to find methods of teaching that the scholarship students themselves believed to be effective and would feel confident to continue after we left. We had neither the experience nor the intention to take over the class, teach for a month and then head home with a warm and fuzzy feeling. Some members of our team have built up an activities ideas folder which we hope students will return to occasionally when planning their classes.

Some of us were also very fortunate to have our very own class at the weekends. This was sadly due to one of the scholarship student teachers being involved in a motorbike accident (apparently a really common occurrence here in Cambodia). At first, we were incredibly nervous to be leading a two hour class, but quickly found our adult students to be very welcoming and helped us along even when we couldn’t answer their questions! We tried to focus on practicing pronunciation and writing since these seemed to be the two areas where students really struggled – punctuation and many of our English sounds are completely new to the Khmer students so take lots of practice. We also took time over areas we thought to be most useful, such as food and drink which we thought would be relevant for those working in restaurants. Stumbling blocks soon arose when trying to explain the concept of toast, jam or pasta! Once we leave, another volunteer will fortunately be here to carry on the classes until the scholarship student teacher recovers fully.

Many members of our team also found it beneficial for the lessons (and really lovely for us!) to spend separate time working with the scholarship student teacher. Many of the scholarship students have had little opportunity to practice their own English outside of the classroom. It was so nice to take time to sit and chat about family, our ambitions and the differences between our lives and cultures. The students are largely of the same age as us and at a similar point at university, making decisions about where they want to work and what they hope to achieve. We started an afternoon drop in session for any students (whether scholarship students or not) to come and chat with us and practice their English. Some of our team started daily, one hour, individual classes with their teacher where we would work on the pronunciation of certain sounds and practiced by reading aloud newspaper articles and stories. We also had lots of opportunities to see the students socially such as at Sunday, movie nights, during our extra curricular activity sessions during the week or whilst working on the well or microfinance projects. As the teachers got to know us as a team outside of the classroom, they seemed a lot less self conscious during their lessons, more relaxed and more confident to enact our ideas for the lessons.

The scholarship students here at JWOC really are incredible. They put so much time and effort into their lessons and improving their own English alongside their degrees which range from English Literature (reading Shakespeare and Austen!) to Law, Finance and Management, it was such a pleasure to work with them and feed off their energy! We were all really relieved and encouraged by how receptive the students were to us. I’m not sure how keen I’d be if someone walked into my classroom and started voicing their opinions! But the students were always so open and warm, allowing us a snapshot into their lives which has made this experience so much more personal. They have given us so much advice about bargaining in the town, which temples to visit and food to try. We were lucky to share a real Cambodian BBQ with some of the teachers and a few of us went out clubbing to a full on Khmer club and drove to watch sunrise at Ta Prohm!

I think we’ve also all been overwhelmed by how hard the Khmer people work here; often putting in 3 hours of work in the field before breakfast, working in hotels and shops to provide an income, studying at university and still turning up at JWOC with the kind of smile and enthusiasm that we volunteers worked to muster over our toast every morning. The atmosphere here is one that encourages strong friendships and devotion to the education of the students that return here day after day. I think we will all struggle to say our goodbyes.

Hannah Perry


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