English classes provide a way

written by Ellyn Schellenberg

The high-ceilinged room quickly fills with noise as the children swarm up the stairs and take their seats or mill around chatting with friends. Ada, an OM Mercy Teams International (MTI) worker from Hong Kong, who has taught English in Cambodia the past two years, arrives carrying a dust-bin filled with stray shoes—an indicator that these strays had not been properly stored on the shoe shelf downstairs. With laughter, the children run forward to check if their shoe is among the pile: If it is, they grab it quickly and race downstairs to put it away; if not, they laugh and take a seat.

“Good morning, teacher,” the 22 boys and girls chime in unison when class starts. Ada moves promptly into a review of the homework before adding new vocabulary to the white board. The lesson gives the students time to learn a new word or sentence together, before each student repeats it individually. Ada works her way through the students, correcting mispronunciations and encouraging hesitant speakers. The children laugh and giggle, not seeming to be able to control their joy.

Many of the students attend government schools and have only two hours a week of English and French lessons. “English is the way we can go anywhere,” 14-year-old Keatmentkea explains. “It's like having only one hand: If one hand is English and the other knowledge, then without English you are missing a hand; and it prevents you from going anywhere or doing anything.”

For the past several years MTI has offered English classes twice a day, five days a week. Government schools don’t have enough teachers or classrooms to house everyone at the same time, so students alternate every other month between having morning and afternoon lessons at school. This allows for students to attend MTI’s classes during their free mornings or afternoons.

“My grandchildren must go to school,” Prakvana says firmly but with a smile. “People from my generation cannot read so well, but I want a better life for my grandchildren, so they must get an education.”

“I cannot read difficult words, but still every night I read with my children because a good education will give them a better life than I had,” Soun, a mother of six, says.

These children attend the English classes instead of doing chores at home, playing with friends or getting involved in drugs, alcohol or gang violence—prevalent in the community. They are hungry to learn, convinced that a firm grasp of English will open doors to better paying jobs. “I want to work as a staff member in a company one day,” says eight-year-old Sasma.

OM MTI aims to change the lives of their students, and through them their entire families, by providing free English classes. Classes also provide open doors for students to hear about God's love from OM MTI staff.

“Teaching people English, or computer skills, or motorbike repair skills is not enough,” insists Alan, a board member of OM MTI. “The most important thing is transformation in their lives, and that only comes through Jesus.”

OM MTI needs more qualified English teachers to share the love of Christ with the children and meet their need for supplementary English lessons. For more information, visit our website here.

Students eagerly volunteer to practice writing letters on the white board in a free English class that MTI Cambodia offers to children from low-income homes.

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