Every weekday – either in the morning or the afternoon, depending on the school rotation – a small crowd of children from the neighbourhood gather at Little Hearts for their English classes. As you may remember, in an effort to reach out to the wider community and help as many needy children as possible, Little Hearts started to provide free English lessons to kids from nearby villages in 2015. The program had to halted during the Covid pandemic, but it eventually resumed in March 2022 and has been running at full throttle since the beginning of 2023.
The community kids we welcome on weekdays are excited to be here. We require dedication on their part – regular attendance, doing their homework, good behaviour – and consent from their parents, but nothing more. Most of the children are genuinely committed and come punctually and ready to learn. Others are less consistent and come as and when they can; sometimes their parents need them to stay at home to help with their business activity or household chores; some come for a few lessons and never return. The joy and eagerness of most of these students is a reward in itself, so we have never questioned whether the programme is effective or worthwhile or has measurable learning outcomes. But today we are proud to share some anecdotal evidence that the community English programme has changed the lives of at least four students – Theary, Sreychin, Channa and Rothana – all of whom come from very poor families living nearby.
Sreychin started learning English at Little Hearts when she was quite young. Her learning trajectory has now come full circle – she works as an English teacher at a private school in Arey Ksat! She teaches 15 students in the morning (level 1 and level 2) and 10 more in the afternoon. With the income she earns from this teaching work she helps to support her mother and two nieces, and it also funds her university studies, which she pursues in the evening. She is now in her second year at Western University in Phnom Penh majoring in… you guessed it, TESOL! And it all started with English classes at Little Hearts.
Theary is 21 years old. She started learning English at Little Hearts back in 2015. She remembers how happy she was to attend classes here; she made new friends and loved doing oral presentations. There were days when she couldn’t come to study due to family problems, but she appreciates that the teacher never scolded her and told her not to give up. Even when her parents asked her to give up the English classes, she kept coming without telling them. Her motivation and commitment eventually paid off. Like Sreychin, she is now an English teacher herself and takes IT courses in the evenings at the Instinct Institute, a polytechnic school in Phnom Penh where she won a scholarship. In January, she will begin a bachelor’s degree at Norton University, majoring in IT.
And finally, the tale of two brothers, Channa and Rothana. They were regular English students for a long time, but then they stopped attending. Upon Tony’s request, Kimlin (our English teacher) and Ruth (our facility manager) visited their family to find out why they were absent. They were shocked to see their squalid living conditions – a small hut with no doors, hastily erected on someone else’s land. They had been absent because they had to help their father earn an income, and because they did not have access to transportation to go to Little Hearts or even to their regular school. After the visit, Ruth and Tony decided to step in. Little Hearts gifted the two boys bicycles so that they could go to school; we also introduced them to Mith Samlanh, an NGO in Phnom Penh that provides vocational training to kids from poor families.
As a result of this connection, Rothana is now learning to be a chef. He attends cooking classes in the morning and works as a part-time waiter at the Hyatt Regency Phnom Penh in the afternoon. Channa is studying to become a motor mechanic and is doing well. He already knows how to fix a motorbike: he can change the brakes, repair a punctured tyre and replace the motor pump. He said that if Little Hearts hadn’t helped him, he wouldn’t have known what to do.
These heart-warming stories tell us that our community outreach activities do have an impact on children’s lives. Whether it’s learning English, or receiving educational guidance, or simply having a place to go to in their spare time, kids in our neighbourhood are benefiting from being part of our extended family. Sometimes, all it takes to change a poor child’s life is a little love and attention.