Tuesday, February 1, 2011

My new Facebook friend is a monk!

Well technically he isn't my Facebook friend until he accepts me but Yorn Chea, the monk I met last night in Siem Reap, is going to "friend" me when he gets enough money to turn his internet on again.

On my last night at the wonderful RiverGarden in Siem Reap, after another great day of temple gazing, I accompanied Deb, Marcie and Beryl over to the Pagoda where the monks live and worship. Four days a week, the hotel owner (Deb) and staff (Marcie and Beryl) and guests like me help the monks teach the children in the village how to read and speak English at the free, outdoor, evening school.

I watched extremely eager students take in everything that was offered to them: crossword puzzles, word games, printed English words. They copied them carefully into their notebooks and wouldn't move on with an assignment until they were entirely finished. (Note - in the older class - the "high school age class" - there was 1 girl to about 15 boys. I asked about this and no one really could answer why girls were missing.)

The lovely ladies had the teaching covered just fine so I had time to talk to Yorn, my new monk friend, about his efforts at the pagoda. He explained to me that in the village there are 330 children and only 3 teachers. The teachers are not well paid so sometimes they go to school and sometimes they don't. Here is Yorn's meticulous breakdown of how eagerly the kids begin their education and what happens after 2nd Grade:

1st graders - more than 100
2nd grade - 68 students
3rd grade - 45 students
4th grade - 30
5th grade - 25
6th grade - 35

Plus there are very few books. So York wants to raise $150 a month to get another teacher and to buy books. He also wants to help with the salaries the other teachers so they are more motivated. He thinks another $20 a month is a good incentive. Yorn's education ended in the 2nd grade which is one of the reasons he became a monk. So he could become better educated to give back to his village. He's got even bigger plans to help teach one family at a time to be better stewards of livestock and chickens and the like. He is bright and committed. His eyes shine with his well thought out plans.

And when he isn't studying or giving blessings (I got one of those too!), he is also taking care of several boys who live too far away to travel to school. This includes the beautiful, smiling boy with only half of each of his four limbs, in the first picture in this post. Man, can he get around! He can write and climb stairs and seems to have lost no joy or ambition.

All in all, a beautiful effort in a very poor place.

So if you want to learn more about Yorn's work at the pagoda, you can "Friend" him too on Facebook. And as soon as he gets his internet up and running, I know he will keep us in the loop about how he overcomes the struggle to educate the next generation of Cambodians.

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