Friday, January 20, 2012

Jeju students take Cambodian adventure for charity

Volunteer and organizer gives us a first-hand account in this two-part series

Friday, January 20, 2012, 11:30:14Kenneth McLeod

▲ SCI volunteer "Panda" gives an English lesson to eager students at Kok Chan Primary School, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo courtesy SCI

Since 2011, a local English academy has been sponsoring a small, rural elementary school in Cambodia — Kok Chan Primary School in Siem Reap. Partnered with Language Friends, a Jeju organization that teaches English to the community, Scholar’s Choice International (SCI) owner Ken McLeod, Language Friends Director Ginnie Ko, and 11 students traveled to Cambodia over the Christmas break to volunteer at the school. The students were Jeju elementary, middle, high school, and university students. They helped deliver school supplies, uniforms, soccer and basketballs, and skipping ropes as well as taught English.

The following is Ken McLeod’s first-hand report. It has been lightly edited. — Ed. 

This was my third trip and Ginnie Ko’s second trip to the school. The children were literally playing with sticks in the dirt on the school grounds because they had nothing else to play with. The classrooms were in desperate need of resources. Kok Chan has 380 students and only four teachers. 

“This is the school we need to help. These are the children we need to help,” said Ginnie. 

I completely agreed. 

Our goals included support for a proper curriculum, to provide essential school supplies, and for Jeju students to deliver English lessons and activity programs. When interviewing Kim Kun, the school’s principal, about their school needs, we were perplexed by his requests. 

“We need bicycles,” said Kim. 

“Bikes? I want to help your kids study,” I said. 

“Many walk over three kilometers to get to school,” answered Kim. “A bicycle will keep them in school.” 

Our learning curve went up dramatically about keeping kids in school here. More than half of the students will drop out before high school in rural Cambodia. 

Back in Jeju, we organized fundraising for school supplies through our SCI school activity programs and then appealed to the public. Supporters of Language Friends sponsored 15 of the poorest Kok Chan families with school uniforms and a year of school supplies; worth two months income for some recipients. 

The donations by Jeju citizens were tremendous and motivated us to make a difference to these impoverished Cambodian children. 

The real miracle happened, however, when our students rose to the challenge of the mission. Our students travelled a gruelling nine hours, overland, through Thailand into Cambodia, and then early the next morning took over the English teaching program at Kok Chan. 

Yes, Korean kids can teach English! Set up in teams, and partnered with dedicated Cambodian high school and university student volunteers, our Jeju students taught, played, befriended, ate with, and even cried with Cambodian students. A family from New Zealand staying at the same villa as us joined our group one morning after they learned of our program. 

Highlights for students included making friends with their Cambodian team partners, a treasure hunt in the night market, seeing the famed Angkor Wat, riding in tuk-tuks (motorcycle taxi), eating Cambodian food, and not just seeing but working in poverty conditions. Their English requirements were challenging: teaching, making a video, keeping a daily diary, group discussions, and writing a final essay describing their experiences. 

Through the generosity of the Jeju people, we were able to supply the entire sixth grade class with all their textbooks, donate 1,000 notebooks and supplies, purchase all the teachers’ textbooks and aids, and built bookshelves in every classroom. It is a joy to now to hear the teacher say: “Today, we will study math, science, language, and social science. We can open our textbooks and study! Let's begin...” 

For more information or to make a donation to Kok Chan Primary School, go to or call 064-723-0579.

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