As you may remember, a year ago we were able to resume our community English learning program. Before the pandemic, Little Hearts provided free daily English lessons for children from nearby villages, bringing in over 100 students of varying levels. These lessons came to a sudden halt when Covid-19 lockdown measures were put in place, and only in March 2022 did they resume.
Back then we restarted the classes quite tentatively, welcoming outside students only on Friday afternoons and deploying Little Hearts residents as teaching aides, as we had no dedicated staff for this program. Recently, however, we hired a new teacher, especially for this purpose, Vichet (who also teaches Level 2 English to our own, resident kids). We are happy to report that community children are now attending English lessons at Little Hearts every day of the school week.
We currently have two learner groups of around 25 students each, mostly of elementary school age – one for kids with no prior knowledge of English, the second for those who have at least a rudimentary understanding of the language. They come in the morning because, in the current rotation, Little Hearts kids attend school in the morning, so the classrooms here on campus are available. Our goal is to hire another teacher and keep increasing the number of community students so as to reach the same enrolment we had before the pandemic.
To announce the resumption of the lessons, Vichet visited primary schools in two nearby villages. He also encourages the students to invite their friends to join. We continue to accept new students, as long as they are willing to come regularly and study seriously.
The lessons focus on everyday vocabulary and phrases so the children can start to understand spoken English and compose simple sentences. Most of them come from poor families, so they’re excited about being able to learn English for free. In fact, they’re so eager that they keep asking for more homework!
In addition to English, we teach them discipline and social skills, encouraging them to be respectful, use appropriate words to communicate with each other, and put more effort into learning so they can help lift their families out of poverty when they grow up. We also lecture them on everyone’s favourite topic – personal hygiene!
Tony noticed that some of the community kids came to class wearing ragged clothes and worn-out flip-flops, so we provide new garments as needed. We also distribute basic study materials to all students, including notebooks, pens and pencils.
Participating in the English courses is free of charge, but not free of commitment. There are some ground rules: students must show up every day (even when it rains!), be punctual, and do any homework that’s assigned. To encourage them to follow the rules, Vichet rewards the three most diligent pupils each month with small prizes, such as new school bags and pencil cases. In January, the winners were Sreynuch, Dara and Liza.
It took a lot of time and effort on the part of our staff to get the community learning program back up and running at full tilt, but it has been well worth it, not only because of the eagerness and joy we see in most of the children but also because it’s a key element in Little Hearts’ mission to make a difference in the wider community.
Here are comments from some of the students:
- I was a student here before classes were cancelled. I was really excited when teacher Vichet came to my school and told us the news. I’ve always wanted to speak English with the foreigners who cycle through my village. They often say hello and ask me some questions, but I used to be too shy to reply. Now I can understand what they’re saying and I can answer, too. – Srey Leang
- I’m a new student. A friend told me about the free English classes here, and I told my mum. I was really happy that she let me come. I used to learn English when I was little but my mum didn’t let me continue. I don’t really know why. Now I’m trying to catch up! – Liza
- I enjoy coming here. The English class starts at 8.30 am, but I always come earlier so I can play skipping rope and football with my friends. The football pitch here at Little Hearts is so grassy and nice! Midway through the lesson we get a break, and I look forward to it because my friends and I can play football. But if we talk too much during class, the teacher won’t give us any break time at all, and then we’re all disappointed. But it’s hard to stay quiet when you’re having fun! – Sreynuch