Thursday, August 23, 2012

Playing games and making friends...

In her blog Claire describes the themes and games of the different summer activity weeks as well as making a new Khmer friend....
My name is Claire and I am one of the five volunteer staff who came to JWOC from England to run the Summer School this year. I am halfway through studying an English Language and Literature degree at Oxford University and I am 19 years old.
I have had a wonderful time teaching at JWOC over the past month and I believe this was down to the flexibility of the work that we were given to undertake. The opportunity to be allowed to plan and arrange our own teaching schedule gave us real experience in planning, constructing and carrying out a lesson, as well as the flexibility to be able to adapt our lessons as we gained teaching experience over the three weeks. For instance, after the first few days we discovered that playing games with the children only consumed half the time we had initially planned for them whilst craft activities took twice as long!
In the planning period of our four weeks we decided to divide the three weeks of activities thematically week by week, as we thought this would help guide the vocabulary we were teaching as well as the type of games we wanted to plan. Our three themes ended up being Cambodian Life and Culture, Nature and Around the World. Cambodian Life and Culture Week consisted of discussing each other’s families and their different lifestyles, the different types of homes in a Cambodian village and what it means to be Khmer alongside what it means to be British. During this week we undertook tasks such as T-shirt painting, friendship bracelets, creating a friendship tree out of decorated cut-outs of the children’s hands and playing Khmer New Year games. Another particular highlight was when four of the students also took it upon themselves to show us traditional Khmer dancing. A favourite of these activities was the friendship bracelets; occupying them for an hour and a half, they asked every day when we could do it again, which due to the flexibility of our lesson plan we were able to do so.
In turn, Nature Week was great fun, particularly when it came to the crafts. Some of the more successful activities we undertook were the making of animal masks and animal puppets; a giant under-the-sea display of sharks, octopuses and other sea creatures; a huge snake made out of decorated toilet rolls and a game of pin-the-tail on a very large home-made elephant, (which was put together by some of the volunteers.) Most of these then went on display in the library! 
Animal themed games such as duck-duck-goose were a great way of re-grouping the children during the tricky period between the first and second session where we lost some of the children to JWOC lessons or school. My favourite part of the week was a game we devised where we took the Chicken Licken story and changed the characters names to animals (for example, Chicken Licken became Ellie Elephant) and then set the children in a circle and assigned them different characters from the story. The rule was that if you heard your character name you had to jump up and run around the circle back to your place. As the narrative became more repetitive and more characters became involved meant that this was not as easy as it seemed. Furthermore, their favourite English song that we taught them was “in the Jungle”, in the style of The Lion King! To finish the week, we watched the entire film. Tears came when Mufasa died as did huge laughs when Timone and Pumba fought off the hyenas.
Finally, Around the World Week was all about learning where Cambodia is in relation to the rest of the world and learning about other cultures. During this week we made flag hands and our own world map, on which we stuck the hands to make the biggest display of the summer school. Although I had to fly home two days early before the end of the summer school, the rest of the week was spent building up to and preparing for the great JWOC Olympics, a sporting event mighty enough to challenge the London Olympics that were going on in England!
Finally, another aspect of the experience I loved was the opportunity of having a Khmer partner, Sampos, who aside becoming a great friend also helped me to breach the cultural and language barrier and taught me far more about Cambodian culture than I could ever have learned as an outsider. I will miss her very much, although hopefully we will continue to email frequently! Overall, I had a brilliant month at JWOC and I think the quality of the work the JWOC team has been doing is best advertised by the children, who were definitely the best part of the whole experience for me!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Art at JWOC

In this post Merabi, one of the TravelAid team, talks about the role of art at JWOC and introduces their wonderful mural....

Arts and crafts are an important part of JWOC. Regular art classes are held for the children, where singing, dancing and story-telling are combined with art. And so, when planning our summer activities program, we made sure to include plenty of opportunities for the children to let their creative sides flourish.

In the past three weeks the children have created drums, shakers, cookie box guitars, friendship bracelets, paper-mache globes, fabric mice, a world map, a loo-roll snake, animal masks and several drawings. Whenever any of these activities were carried out, the children would sink into a deep level of concentration and determination. The artistic challenges set were not always easy but with the right amount of guidance, the children were able to create some unique pieces of art.

As the children tackled these tasks, the team was left with their own artistic challenge. We remembered that at some point in our introductory week, Nicola had given us the job of decorating one of the blank walls in the school’s back garden. We were asked to make sure that nothing was left unpainted, and that the mural kept to the theme of ‘nature’.

Thus, in our last week, we began to work on the mural. At first, we had no idea of what to paint. After discussing some thoughts, we soon decided that we couldn’t think of anything. Luckily, fellow volunteer Rees had been sketching all along and presented us with the A4 drawing shown below.  Within an evening, Rees had penciled in the main outline. At this point, it was up to me and my Khmer partner Sopaekday to paint the wall. 

With no experience of painting, Sopaekday and I began to plan. We envisaged lilac elephants, bears with yellow bellies, golden coconut trees and monkeys with questionable haircuts. Along the way we made several mistakes, like painting the foreground before the background, or forgetting which colours mix to make brown.

Eventually, with the help of several other team members, we produced the mural below. The two elephants represent JWOC.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Exiting and rewarding...

Ellie, a member of the TravelAid team from Oxford University,writes here about what she learnt and loved during her month with JWOC....

Finishing university was a daunting prospect, and the knowledge that I would be leaving England almost immediately after to spend a month volunteering in Cambodia (a country I knew almost nothing about) made it even more so! However, JWOC has proved to be an incredible experience, with experiences and challenges that were always exciting and rewarding.

The month began with us meeting our Khmer interns, which involved playing various team-building games to get to know each other. Having been involved I various theatre productions, I am well acquainted with these sorts of games, but playing them with people who do not speak the same language fluently, and in the Cambodian heat, was a very new experience! 

I was paired with a boy called Khin, who has been a great help and friend throughout my time at JWOC. Khin, a 23 year-old from Prey Veng province in Siem Reap, is the youngest in a large family, with 2 sisters and 7 brothers. He is currently teaching at a nearby school, and although he had originally wanted to become a business man, his dream is now changing, and he hopes to go to university. Working at JWOC on this summer school will help him in this, as this valuable experience will improve his applications for a scholarship. Throughout the summer school, Khin proved to be an enormous help – the three years he spent as a monk have left him with a calm and accepting demeanor, which was certainly helpful when working with the children!

The summer school itself, and the children who attended, was a delight from start to finish. As we began planning, we found games and songs that we learnt as children come flooding back to us. The project was daunting initially, as we were given complete freedom to plan and carry out the activities ourselves. At first this left us feeling somewhat overwhelmed with the task before us – none of us had ever been responsible for over 30 children with few guidelines before! But as the month progressed we found ourselves rising to the challenge. Although we found that we had simply not planned enough activities for the first few days, we successfully worked together to find new ways to entertain the children. By the end of the month we were all confident and accomplished at running the activities.

We tried to incorporate arts and crafts into each of the days, as many of the children came from a severely deprived background, where such luxuries as coloured paper, crayons, and glitter pens do not feature. As part of the advertising for our summer school we visited the nearby village where most of the children live. This was a harrowing experience; I had never seen such levels of poverty before, and it contrasted sharply with the happy, affectionate children who attended JWOC. Throughout the month the children were unfailing smiling and friendly, and we all formed strong bonds with them. Despite their lack of previous opportunities to partake in many arts and crafts activities, they took to them with gusto, and produced an astounding range of pictures and models, from papier m√Ęche globes, to animal masks, as well as countless drawings. A firm favourite was making friendship bracelets, which everyone loved!

As well as these activities, every day included songs and games, and the children quickly established their favourites: Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes (sung at various speeds and volumes!) and Splat became regulars. We played numerous party games, and also discovered their enjoyment for word games, such as Hangman, Pictionary, and Bingo. The Khmer interns also taught us various Khmer games which were a huge success with the children. One of the best mornings was at the end of the week themed ‘Around the World’, when we held a mini-Olympics. The children were split into two teams – team UK and team Cambodia – and competed in various races, such as the sack race, the three-legged race, and memorably the wheelbarrow race. It was a happy ending with the two teams drawing, and medals (which the children had made the previous day) being awarded to everyone.

Alongside all of this, we were also given the opportunity to observe some of the many amazing projects that JWOC is involved with, such as the Clean Water project, and the Microfinance project. These trips gave us further opportunities to meet Khmer students, and to observe traditional Khmer lifestyles. We were also charged with painting a new mural, which was hugely enjoyable, and a source of endless fascination to the children.

My time at JWOC has been simply incredible. Although the summer school was daunting, being given this degree of freedom is an opportunity that I haven't had before, and I’ve loved every minute of it.

Unforgettable Experiences

For the last 4 weeks volunteers from Oxford University have joined us to help run summer activities at the school. In her post Emily describes what they did and what she learnt.....

Before volunteering with JWOC the majority of my experiences working with children had been either informal ones with my younger brother, or in a formal structured environment: Religious Education lessons for four and five year olds in Surrey had been timetabled  by some higher authority, and there the messiest activity was colouring-in. Consequently, JWOC was a breath of fresh air. We were given the responsibility and flexibility to create our own activities and schedule rather than being given a set structure. Nearly all decisions were made by us: including whether to have arts and crafts or games, which volunteer would lead which activity, and at what time. Scary? Absolutely terrifying; but at the same time wonderfully rewarding. 

Once we got to grips with the organization and children, not to mention the climate, it ran like a well-oiled machine (or at least a well-watered one; it was the rainy season, after all). It produced some fantastic results, ranging from animal masks and a giant toilet-roll snake to homemade globes. Given the length of the summer holidays it felt fantastic to provide an opportunity for Khmer children to fill their time with both fun and educational activities, sometimes without even knowing it: country bingo and animal Pictionary both went down tremendously. In fact, the whole summer school was a two-way process. We learnt valuable skills about organization, got to spend time with some extraordinary children, and, more importantly, felt that we were able to provide a service for the community.

These activities wouldn’t have functioned without our Khmer interns. Each of us had one intern to work with, and these working relationships proved invaluable to communicating with the children. The ability to translate within milliseconds was a much-lauded skill. I was paired with Chheng Oun, a twenty year old student at Hun Sen High School in Siem Reap.  Chheng Oun was exceptional in rallying the children during activities, as well as being a pretty good footballer. Oun lives in a temple in Siem Reap with monks, while his family of five (three brothers and two sisters – a shock for someone with only one brother!) live in a village outside of town. He wants to become an English teacher or a politician when he is older, and in his free time enjoys visiting Angkor Wat. Perhaps one of the most surprising facts about the Khmer interns, though in hindsight the most understandable given the Khmer education system, was how much they loved high school lessons and learning English. Oun’s favourite book is the English dictionary! Given some of the negative attitudes toward education in England, this was very refreshing.

Chheng Oun also accompanied me to a rural village to observe the Clean Water Project run by JWOC. This project involves building wells, teaching about hygiene, and provides water filters for families. One morning we travelled with three scholarship students around different households in order to interview residents on hygiene practice. While the questions were hard to follow given the language barrier, the village itself was an eye-opening experience: witnessing Khmer lifestyle focused upon agriculture was a significant contrast to what we had observed in the cities. The positive impact a well could make was made manifest, and the enthusiasm with which the scholarship students worked was wonderful.

Overall, JWOC has provided me with some unforgettable experiences and skills. Having just finished university, I am extremely grateful and hope to take them with me outside of the education system. What have I learnt over the past month? That you need a lot of games to fill one hour (though you can never have too many rounds of ‘Splat’ or ‘Duck Duck Goose’); if you try face-painting expect to it to turn into body-painting; and that being able to think on your feet is essential for arts and crafts, games, lessons, and, it seems, life.

With that in mind, my top tips for anyone volunteering next year with JWOC to help with the summer activities would be:
1. Always keep a smile on your face.
2. PLAN!
3. …Be prepared to change that plan.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Volunteering with the Microfinance Project

In this post Erica, a member of the Melbourne Microfinance Initiative, writes about her experience of working with JWOC. 

In July of 2012, myself and five other students from the University of Melbourne spent two weeks with JWOC, working with the Microfinance Project. We have been working with JWOC by correspondence for the past year and a half through the Melbourne Microfinance Initiative ( and this was our second annual trip to Siam Reap to implement the deliverables that we have been working on.

The deliverables that we have been working on this trip have included creating a microfinance glossary for new scholarship students, troubleshooting the microfinance software used, creating a loan collection handbook and designing a risk scorecard to cut down on the time needed to assess potential borrowers. In addition we ran a group of classes for the microfinance team with topics that varied from using Excel to understanding credit risk.

Working with Sovann, the microfinance project manager and the microfinance team has been an amazing experience. It has been a privilege to work with such a fantastic group of people. They have been exceptionally welcoming and happy to answer any and all questions we have had, and this has been greatly useful in helping us stay on target and work through our tasks. We have spent a lot of time with them,from riding on the back of their motorbikes to go on loan repayment collections and completing surveys, to observing them meeting borrowers and disbursing new loans.We have loved working with them and hope we will continue to keep in touch with them!

Meeting all these borrowers who we have been working to help has been a truly eye opening experience. Seeing the way these people lived, with so little, yet having the determination to take out a loan to try and improve their lives was inspiring. The fact that these people had limited material possessions, yet were still able to smile (although they may have just been laughing at my attempt to speak Khmer!) was truly humbling. With all the marketing for charities that I have been exposed to in Australia, I half expected to see all people living with so little to be sitting down, depressed, with little to no will to live. Seeing that this was not the case, that people in poverty were not a different species, but humans too and like anyone deserves a life that they could be proud of has strengthen my resolve to keep working with JWOC.

Meeting the kids who attended free classes at JWOC was one of the best parts of the trip. We were able to spend some time with them and play with them. From teaching them how to play Aussie rules football with the footy we brought along, to playing the classic ‘keepings off’, even teaching the kids how to fist bump, it was a lot of fun to interact with the kids. They even taught us how to play a game with their collector cards! Seeing the kids run around and just be kids was heartening, to see that they were still able to have fun and live their childhood.

Another really valuable experience that we had was when we went to visit some local universities. We visited two universities where the majority of the microfinance scholarship students came from Build Bright University (BBU) and the University of South East Asia. At these universities we had the chance to interact with some of the other students at the university. It was particularly interesting to have a chat with some of the students before the lecture. Hearing about their experiences and how determined they were to learn English was truly humbling. One person I talked to, spent three hours a day learning English - one hour translating the newspaper, one hour on grammar, and one hour on listening. Stories like this show the immense determination of the Cambodian people that I have come to see and admire. This spirit of always wanting to improve themselves and their odds in life is the precise mentality that microfinance need, to be successful and effective.

Despite having spent many hours in the meeting room of JWOC with my fellow MMI team, we feel like we have just barely begun to do our part to help the Khmer help themselves. It has been an amazing experience, and JWOC has been fantastic in giving us the opportunity to not only help them, but to get a holistic hands on experience with Cambodian people through the trips to the countryside with borrowers and organising the trips to the universities.

It has been a whirlwind two weeks and I cannot believe that it has passed so quickly. It has been two weeks that I will not forget in a hurry and the memories of the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, even the food I’ve eaten will remain with me for a long time.

I would like to thank the JWOC team, in particular Nicola and Sovann for their endless help to make this trip happen, for such a rewarding experience. I’m sure I will be back next year to do it all again!

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