iTeachCommunity is an organization that delivers a program of English language training via Skype. Through one-on-one weekly lessons, learners in remote rural communities develop their reading, oral and listening skills. We focus on training teachers, who in turn train their students. In this way the project seeks to maximize the benefits beyond the individual and encourage self-sufficiency at the grassroots level. By conducting lessons yearlong, iTeach addressed the common problem of seasonal volunteerism. Whereas many NGOs and schools are dependent upon on-the-ground volunteers, iTeach ensures that each community (and by extension, each student) receives individualized attention on a steady and continual basis.
Brown University has partnered with Self Help Community Centre (SHCC) in Siem Reap, Cambodia. For our students, English is an important skill in enhancing employment prospects, as Siem Reap is home to Angkor Watt, a tourist mecca. By targeting language skills specific to the hospitality and tourism industry, iTeachCommunity aims to improve the learning outcomes and employment prospects of the students at SHCC.
During the Spring 2013, the Brown chapter will be expanding to India, and by Fall 2013, iTeach will be expanding to other domestic universities. Going forward, we hope to expand the program to other countries and to fine-tune our core-curriculum so that it can be applied to any school in any country.
After applying for and receiving the C.V. Starr Fellowship during the second semester of my sophomore year, I made the long trek to the small town of Siem Reap, in Cambodia. I went with what was admittedly a very vague and tentative plan; I was to spend ten weeks with the village community of Kro Bei Riel, addressing the issue of seasonal volunteerism and attempting to come up with a solution.
Siem Reap is home to the magnificent temple complex of Angkor Wat, and with millions of tourists flocking to Cambodia every year to see this purported “Eighth Wonder of the World”, NGOs and volunteers have dedicated their time to helping the local Khmer people take full advantage of the tourist mecca that Siem Reap has become.
I spent my time with the Self Help Community Centre, a Khmer-founded school dedicated to offering educational and vocational opportunities to the more than 1,000 children in the Kro Bei Riel community. One of the main foci of the school was teaching English, a skill that students very much need if they hope to attain a well-paying job away from the rice fields or hard labor. SHCC employs only native Cambodian people, thereby providing for an impressive empowerment model at the grassroots level. Yet, as became increasingly clear throughout my time there, volunteers certainly do help to augment the student’s learning opportunities.
All English teachers at SHCC are Khmer, and any volunteer that arrives at the school with the intent of teaching English is paired with the Khmer teacher. In this respect, the volunteer is much like a teacher’s aide—this was my role. It became increasingly clear, however, that although I was considered a teacher’s aide, I was very much the primary teacher. The Khmer teacher (who eventually became my very good friend) spoke English well, but not at a proficient enough level that one would expect him to teach English to others. It made sense, then, that I taught the students while he helped to translate difficult concepts to the students in their native tongue. I taught one class for four weeks, and then moved to another classroom because of time changes. I immediately noticed that the first teacher with whom I taught would ask me questions regarding certain concepts and words, and the issue of seasonal volunteerism reverberated throughout my head.
Naturally, volunteers are only able to go to SHCC during certain times of the year. June through August and November through January is the “high season”; this means that SHCC only receives consistent help for three months of the year at most (six months in total). During the beginning of my stay, there were two other volunteers at the school, yet by the end of my stay I was the only one left, with no one else scheduled to come for weeks. I realized the inherent problem in this: there was no consistent means by which SHCC could receive the extra help that volunteers provide, and they would very much be “left out to dry” when volunteers left the community. After all, as a school focused on teaching English, it would make sense that volunteers could only help to augment the students’ and teachers’ learning by tenfold.
Seasonal volunteerism is not a problem specific to SHCC or Siem Reap. Volunteering may help in the short-run, yet the long-term implications may not prove to be as beneficial. The problem lies in how to ensure that one’s help and impact endures—a problem that is not well addressed when volunteering is seasonal and help is only temporary. This is the unfortunate nature of altruistically volunteering one’s time, and after I realized that this was a prevalent problem far beyond Cambodia, iTeachCommunity became the route by which I hoped to address and potentially help solve it.