Community volunteer work strengthens children’s literacy in Cambodia

In the early morning hours, community volunteer Im Chelang pedals her bicycle through the dewy, leafy path to Plaing village, in the heart of green, lush rice paddies in Cambodia’s southern Prey Veng province. It’s an average day for Chelang, one that sees her meet with the village’s locals, identifying children at risk of dropping out of school and setting them back on course for education.

Chelang is a community volunteer for local nonprofit Youth Star Cambodia which runs a community program, placing volunteers in rural areas throughout Cambodia to support children’s education. Such support takes the form of tutoring outside of school hours, mobile libraries and learning through play activities. The program is supported by The Cambodian Consortium For Out of School Children led by Action Education, in partnership with Educate A Child, a global program of the Education Above All Foundation.

Community volunteers

Under the program, volunteers like Chelang are identifying children at risk of dropping out of school or who already have and working with parents and caregivers to understand and overcome the barriers that are keeping children from school. Recently, Challenge has been supporting 11-year-old student Saray Chanreah to improve his literacy.

Describing her first interaction with Chanreah’s family, Chelang was warmly welcomed by his parents. “Teacher! Please have a seat” they said as Chelang arrived to discuss Chanreah’s difficulties with school. Chanreah had little confidence in himself and was very shy, and reluctant to socialize with his classmates. He struggled with literacy and numeracy and could not write or do basic calculations for his age.

“My son cannot read anything. He is always so shy and rarely speaks up,” explained Chanreah’s mother, visibly worried about her son. The eldest of three children, Chanreah is in Grade 5. Preoccupied with their work to earn enough for their family, his parents have not been able to offer him much supervision or attention in the ways of his studies to date, Chelang believed Chanreah to be a perfect candidate for her tutoring class.

Child-friendly approach

To build trust with Chanreah, Chelang ran educational activities using child-friendly methodologies near his house with neighbouring children which eventually led him to join her tutoring class with the other children in the village. Chelang encouraged Chanreah slowly, using learning through play activities and asking his classmates to help him out.

Now, when he is unsure of any lesson or English word, he is not afraid to speak up, says Chelang, who has noticed a remarkable improvement in just three months of tutoring. “He always seeks support from me and his friends. He participates in our mobile library with me and is becoming capable of reading fluently. What surprised me, even more, is that Chanreah can read so well in front of his friends.”

“As a Youth Star Cambodia community volunteer, a friend, a teacher, and a sister to him, I am so proud and excited about his huge improvement and effort in his study for his own bright future”, says Chelang happily, as she prepares for her morning cycle through the village to check on her students.

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