Volunteering in Cambodia: A mind-opening experience with JB School

We were privileged to be able to volunteer at JB School, an English language school in a farming village in Cambodia. We wanted to understand more about what life is like for the “regular” Cambodian away from the tourist trail, and felt that giving something that was within our gift to give – our time and our language – would be an opportunity to give back to the communities we visit.

We found JB School on AirBnB. It offered a homestay and guided experience of village life, and the opportunity to volunteer at their school. It was an interesting find for a site like AirBnB, but the reviews raved and gushed about the experience, and it was just the sort of thing we had hoped to be able to do on our trip.

JB himself, the school’s founder, was born and raised in this village. After a career in the tourism industry, he felt strongly about creating opportunity for the children in his home village so that they wouldn’t be tied to a life of subsistence farming. Cambodia is rapidly developing, and English and computer skills are a ticket in to higher paying jobs and more options for a future.

With his own funds, JB started up his school, offering classes free of charge to more than 300 students from the surrounding area. The kids, ranging in age from 6 to 17, come after their regular school day for one hour classes, five days per week. Some come from as far away as 5 km, and ride their bicycles home in the dark along the dusty red dirt road that runs through the village, and serves the miles of rice paddies that stretch out in every direction.

These kids are getting an outstanding education already – the high school kids are studying physics, chemistry, biology, and philosophy – so that’s not lacking. But they still come here on their own time to learn English because that is what will help them achieve in the modern world.

We were blown away by the dedication of these kids. They were so eager to learn, and just so bright. They quickly grasped the new concepts we fumbled through teaching them, and enthusiastically volunteered to demonstrate to the class what they knew. It was an experience we will never ever forget.

The school itself is run entirely on donations, through the tireless efforts of JB and his team who volunteer their time for long hours every day in order to give these kids something we often take for granted: choice.

It’s easy to throw money at problems, and we know that is rarely a solution. Sure, the government could subsidise the farming so they can demand higher prices for their rice, and therefore create more wealth, but that also creates dependency on false economics. Westerners could give more social aid, but that’s not sustainable. That’s just giving a man a fish.

Investing in the future of these kids is something different altogether. By equipping them with the skills they’ll need for a better range of opportunities in the future, we’re giving them a chance to put their brilliant minds to work.

More than 40% of Cambodia’s population is under the age of 16. Competition for jobs will be fierce in just a few years’ time.

They need to learn how to fish.

To be clear – “better opportunities” for these kids is not just about having a better job, a nicer home. We’re talking about having an actual home with four walls, a floor, and a roof that doesn’t leak. One where they can provide for their whole families – grandmas and uncles included. We’re not talking about being able to buy favourite snacks and sweet treats – we’re talking about food security. Food on the table, every day, every meal, for every one. This is what these kids live with, and they are desperate to break free and fly in the world.

Currently, the school has two open air classrooms, a library, a football pitch, and a fresh water pump on the grounds. The popularity of the school has put pressure on the facilities, and they are raising funds to expand the school, with three classrooms, a computer lab, an expanded library, and housing for volunteers. The current library is now home to one of the school’s directors and his extended family, so it’s not currently usable. As for housing, we were put up in a house in the village, and although the home itself was spacious and lovely, the facilities were basic at best.

The computer lab will be a welcome addition to the school, as most homes lack even consistent electricity, much less internet service. We were shown a stack of aging laptops that had been donated to the school. They said that the computers worked for a few weeks after they were donated, but were riddled with viruses, and after several trips to the IT hospital, have been rendered unusable. Currently, there is no computer training.

After just three days here, the passion this team of teachers have for creating better opportunities for the local kids is humbling. It’s made us think…what do we really do for others?

Mark and I agreed to make a personal donation to the school, but we feel like we need to do something more. The team behind this school believe so passionately in what they are doing, and it shows already in the quality of English language tutelage these kids are getting.

These 300 kids are here because they want to be – not because it’s compulsory, or because mom and dad have already paid for the lessons. They’re here because they know what English can do for them. And they show up ready to learn – every day. To me, that speaks volumes about the long term success of the school. It is a place where the kids want to come to learn, and as long as they have that – the school will be successful.

Money

It will take $50,000 USD to fund the expansion project for the school. They hope to have raised the funds and begin construction in 2019. We would like to help them get there, and have therefore set a goal of raising $1,000 USD to help sustain a computer lab for one year.

We’re also sourcing used laptops that are in good condition to donate. The money will go toward a sustainable power supply, internet access, anti-virus software, and an online computer skills curriculum, and the laptops will be delivered directly to the school.

We’re putting a permanent link to their funding page on our website. If you’re reading this, please consider a donation to the JB School. We’ve set up a Go Fund Me page to help raise funds that will go directly to JB School and these gorgeous kids.

About the author: Shalena

2 comments to “Volunteering in Cambodia: A mind-opening experience with JB School”

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  1. Annette - April 30, 2018 at 12:28 am

    Another brilliant read, just so very interesting. Having been to one of the school in Siem Reap (ODA School) I know what it is like and how they need every bit of help we can give. Another great experience for you all, especially Austin. Can’t wait for the next post of your journey.

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