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FEATURES

March 10, 2009

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Local Teacher Helps Cambodians Staff Writer Try to imagine life without running water and electricity, a school without computers or Smartboards, two or three people riding on one bicycle to get to school, and sharing a pencil and a book with a fellow classmate. This is the life that children lead in the poverty stricken country of Cambodia. Every year, Career Tech secretary Deb Wilson and her 22-year-old daughter Annie travel to Cambodia to teach these children the English language. Sometime soon, Mrs. Wilson hopes to take Sylvania students along with her. “Every year that we go back we are met with more enthusiasm and complete gratitude,” said Mrs. Wilson. Mrs. Wilson and her daughter visit the city of Kampot, which is about two and a half hours south of the capital city Phnom Penh. Usually their trips take place over Christmas break for five to six weeks, according to Mrs. Wilson. The country of Cambodia has been rebuilding after a mass genocide during the reign of the Khmer Rouge that took place 30 years ago. The Khmer Rouge was a communist organization that was formed in Cambodia and created a regime that killed about three million people, according to dictionary.com. To date, half the population is under 27 years old and the country is deeply impoverished. The average income for a nurse or teacher is $20. This paycheck is barely enough to buy food. Few families have running water and even less have electricity. The resources for schools and hospitals are very limited. “These wonderful people are relying on outside help,” said Mrs. Wilson. “They do not ask for handouts; they ask for a helping hand.” The children in Cambodia come and go to classes as they can afford them. Students go to school during the day, six days a week. Then at night, they attend English classes that are also six nights a week for three hours. Although the students vary in age, they all have one thing in common: the desire to learn English. It is understood that this is a way to help bring Cambodia

back from disaster. The condition of the classrooms are not conducive to learning. The rooms contain very little materials. Most have a whiteboard, some battered benches and a dirt floor. The cost for school is approximately $60 a year and for most families, this is very expensive. Parents pay the fee because they know it is essential for their children to know how to speak English in order to get better jobs. “The absolute kindness, curiosity and overall generosity of these people never ceases to amaze me,” said Mrs. Wilson. “They are bright, happy and industrious. The children are polite and full of laughter. They are grateful for everything.” In addition, Wilson and her daughter Annie have started a nonprofit organization called The Pilgrim Project. The organization brings books in English and educational materials to the children since many cannot afford their own books. Hopefully in the years to come, Mrs. Wilson can bring students along with her to continue helping in the Cambodian schools. Students who went on the trip would experience Cambodian culture, along with a first-hand teaching experience. They would visit many museums such as the Tuol Sleng Prison, which was a detention center during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Students would also tour the Bohpa Kamphor Children’s hospital, which is free to

photos courtesy of Deb Wilson TOP LEFT A group of Cambodian children taught by Deb Wilson pose in front of the school. TOP AND MIDDLE RIGHT A typical Cambodian village and home. BOTTOM The Cambodian school where Mrs. Wilson teaches. children under 18. Lines of people wait outside daily in hope of receiving free medicine. Students who went on the trip would also be expected to use their skills to teach English with bare materials, according to Mrs. Wilson. Mrs. Wilson has also written Oprah Winfrey in hope of receiving funds to offer students scholarships to go on the trip. Students would have to fill out an application, write an essay, and have an interview in order to possibly be chosen for a scholarship, she said. Those interested in this cause can also help by using the search engine www.goodsearch.com and type in The

Pilgrim Project as the charity inside the charity box. The site will donate 1¢ to the organization for every search. If everyone used this instead of other search engines, more books could be bought for the children. “My dream is to take students to see another part of the world and actually see the result of war,” said Mrs. Wilson. “I come back with the realization that American truly is a great country. I think students will appreciate what they have, look at their lives, and examine what one really needs. Everyone who leaves Cambodia takes something back. It changes you.”

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