Team Teaches English To Eager Cambodians
Photos by Justin Vidamo
Members of an outreach team sent to Cambodia from Port YWAM Kona in April discovered one of the best ways they could serve that nation’s people is to do something they all do quite naturally — speak English. The seven-person team — part of January’s Justice Discipleship Training School — served the teaching staff at Spean Neak, a youth development center in Siem Reap. Uriah Lyford, who co-led the team with Kayla Stilwell, said there are few better ways to endear one’s self to the Cambodian people than to teach them English.
“If you don’t speak Khmai,” which is the Cambodian language, “then helping out at English centers is definitely your best bet. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel,” said Lyford, 30, of Washington state. “You just have a captive audience of hungry learners who speak English and who are unreached and want to have friendship.”
Cambodia — which has a population of about 15.7 million — is one of the world’s most impoverished nations. Out of nearly 200 nations, Cambodia is one of the 50 poorest in the world in terms of gross domestic product, according to the International Monetary Fund. The tourism industry has become one of the bright spots in its economy. The influential magazine Travel + Leisure released a survey earlier this year calling Siem Reap one of the “World’s Best Cities.” Writers polled by Lonely Planet, the major publisher of travel guidebooks, designated the Temples of Angkor in Siem Reap Province to be the best tourist attraction on the globe. Many Cambodians are eager to learn English because it is the most commonly understood language among tourists with whom they can make business transactions.
“They — as people who wanted to learn English — couldn’t ask for more than to speak with a foreigner,” said Stilwell, 20, of Oregon. “They were always excited to hear what we would have to say.”
Cambodia is also one of the most religious countries in the world. Nearly 97 percent of all Cambodians self-identify as Buddhist, according to the Pew Research Center. They are open to conversations about God, members of the outreach team said.
“Whether we were talking about what we had for breakfast and what we did that day or talking about God, they seemed interested in what we had to say. So it was super fun to have that attention from people and it’s really exciting,” Stillwell said.
Members of the team would typically teach to a classroom of about 20 students. They ranged in age from 7 years old to 30-somethings. The team taught English four days per week. The students accepted church invitations from the team in gratitude for having received the language training.
“Two weeks before we left Cambodia, we wanted to invite some of our English students to church. Usually three or four of them show up,” said Eric Freitag, 26, of California. “Our last Sunday there we really encouraged the students to come. Almost all our students showed up, and the church service went from normally 10 to about 200.”
Freitag emphasized the effectiveness of English teaching for future outreach teams to Cambodia.
“The consistency of our teaching schedule also allowed us to build closer relationships with the students, which helped from a ministry standpoint,” he said.