Children and families in a remote Cambodian village have now got a school, thanks to English UK member EC.
The Malta-based language chain has funded the building and running of a school in Ban Houy village, and in February a group of staff travelled to the school to teach for a few days, to encourage uptake among the local farming families and demonstrate different teaching methods. Lessons included music, arts and crafts and logic, and in "surreal" scenes the volunteers found themselves teaching the children Christmas song Jingle Bells in 40-degree heat.
"When we left some of the teachers were crying and the kids were crying. It was tough to see the impact on them - they were genuinely sad to see us go," says Daniel Woodard, EC's engagement and sustainability manager who is responsible for the company's corporate social responsibility programmes.
He added: "There was also a sense of achievement, a sense of having done something really special here. And just I thought 'Wow, we've done it'. We'd set out to come to Cambodia and volunteer at the school and I don't think any of us realised the impact we would have. Pretty much the whole village turned out to see us off."
The three-room school was completed last summer, with pupils from the 85-family village starting to attend lessons in October after the rainy season ended. The trip to Cambodia was a volunteering opportunity for EC staff, and to reinforce the message about the importance of education to villagers, many of whom had never seen a Westerner before.
Daniel, who started as a teacher at EC and began to build ethical initiatives such as recycling when part of the academic management team in the London school, wants to develop the Cambodian project and make it a fundamental part of what EC does.
"We wanted to do something that had impact for our staff and our students. We wanted to build bridges and further our primary purpose of helping students succeed in the global community, not just ours but students in developing countries as well," he said.
EC is working with partner United World Schools, which has the practical expertise in building and running schools in post-conflict countries like Cambodia. While EC is covering the school's running costs, Daniel says additional items could be bought by fundraising campaigns within the company.
"We want it to be hands-on: we fund the school from our CSR budget but we would rather people got involved and raised money that we can then match via our fundraising policy, giving them ownership and a sense of involvement and purpose. If we just fund it all from the CSR budget it will disappear from people's minds and just end up becoming a piece of PR.
"We want teachers to go into their classes, do a presentation on the school for their students, and perhaps get students to write letters to the children in Cambodia, or have a bake sale and send textbooks. We would like some way of enabling our students to be involved in the process of improving these kids' lives."
Daniel also hopes to organise a scholarship project for Cambodian UWS staff, bringing them to EC schools to improve their English and teaching methodology so they can cascade different methods to teachers in the village schools. UWS will host volunteers at its in-country schools every three years, so funding another two would enable annual visits from EC staff.
"For me the end game would be having a number of schools and annual volunteer experiences for our staff, having an ongoing scholarship programme and involving staff at head office and in our schools, at senior and junior levels; all our stakeholders, including our students."
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