How To Tour Cambodia While Helping Local Children

 Helping children in Cambodia | Volunteering in Cambodia
By Matt Hulland of The Travel Blogs

Visiting Cambodia? It’s likely you’ll be making a stop in Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat, an ornate temple complex built in the first half of the 12th century, dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu.

During my trip to see this world wonder I not only discovered the spiritual side of the country, but also a small education project dedicated to improving the lives — and futures — of local children.

Welcome to Jimmy’s School.

If you've visited #Cambodia, you probably noticed the children selling things on the street. Here's how to help them break the cycle...without buying from them. #volunteer #SEA Click To Tweet
volunteering in Cambodia, jimmy's school siem reap

Jimmy’s School banner in Siem Reap

The Kids Of The Angkor Wat Temples

But first, a stop at Angkor Wat.

As much as I enjoyed temple-trotting, I was surprised at how many children were trying to sell things to me. Small trinkets, souvenirs, food, drinks; they sold anything your heart desired and tugged at your heart strings in the process.

The problem? These kids should be in school.

Cambodia has a free school system; however, as in many areas of the world where poverty is common, the issue comes when families have to buy school uniforms and textbooks — many simply can’t afford to send their kids to school.

Additionally, the need to earn money to put food on the table means you can see small children — even as young as four-years-old — performing for tourists and selling their wares.

By the way, here is a great article by Borders of Adventure on why you shouldn’t give to these children, and should instead support community projects that help to solve the problem. 

volunteering in Cambodia, jimmy's school siem reap

A few of the local kids having a blast at Jimmy’s School

As I walked back to my hotel, my heart heavy, I thought back to a recent project I’d worked on in Africa, where I fundraised for education. It was there where my passion for developing world education set its roots, and taking part in sustainable initiatives — as in, projects that help communities become self-sustaining — became important to me.

Like the old saying goes: give a man a fish, he’ll feed his family for a day. Give a man a fishing rod, he’ll feed his family for a lifetime.

I think that can also be applied to education.

As if someone were reading my mind, a sign appeared before me reading “Jimmy’s Village School,” sitting over what looked like a classroom. Peering in, it looked like nobody was there, but my curiosity was piqued enough for me to return in the morning.

In the daylight, I could see the large whiteboard at the back of the room with cupboards and books along either wall. Weathered tables were spread throughout, with about seven chairs huddled together. The door was open, and I headed to the back of the room where there was another door and knocked, smiling at how I felt like I was back at school.

A young man answered; slim, probably in his mid-twenties.

“Hi, I’m Jimmy, nice to meet you,” he said in perfect English, as he reached out to shake my hand.

Jimmy told me about his passion for education — he actually held a teaching degree from the Build Bright University in Siem Reap. He realized that if Cambodia was ever going to become strong, they’d need to drag themselves out of the shadow left behind from the Khmer Rouge years and the failed United Nations experiment of the subsequent decade.

To do this, they needed the help of Cambodia’s children.

This incredible project in #SiemReap was created to break the cycle of #poverty in #Cambodia. Here's how you can help! #volunteer #volunteerabroad Click To Tweet
volunteering in Cambodia, jimmy's school siem reap

Ancestor’s Day celebration at Jimmy’s School

Empowering Cambodian Youth

Jimmy was ready to assist in making this happen; which is why he founded Jimmy’s Village School. The school offers free English lessons to local Siem Reap children, funded by income Jimmy earns through his tuk-tuk tourism business. He also offers the option of volunteering in Cambodia to visitors.

He went on to explain that many kids are forced to sell things to tourists or beg throughout the day, as it is the only way that the family receives an income and are able to feed themselves (read about the Milk Baby begging scam here).

His goal is to educate the childrem in the evenings for free; teaching English with a hefty chunk of history and culture woven in. Jimmy’s goal is that some of his kids can make it to college one day, and equip themselves for better jobs; but even if the lessons just make them happier and better able to communicate with tourists, Jimmy will be achieving great things.

volunteering in Cambodia, jimmy's school siem reap

A student speaking during Ancestor’s Day at Jimmy’s School

Volunteering In Cambodia At Jimmy’s Village School

I asked if I could attend a class later that evening. Jimmy explained that there was actually no lesson as it was a public holiday, but the kids would still be coming for food, drink and dancing, and I was welcome to join them. I accepted his kind offer.

Later that evening I headed back to school just as the kids were arriving. Smiling and full of life they sat down and paid attention as Jimmy spoke to them. He started talking to the class about the importance of education and how they are the future of Cambodia.

The class listened as he continued to tell them that they are young and can achieve anything they want to if they study hard and help each other. It was an inspiring talk; I was almost welling up. To think Jimmy has made this school from scratch having started off as a tuk-tuk driver wanting to make a difference in his town is so inspiring. The world needs more people like Jimmy.

volunteering in Cambodia, jimmy's school siem reap

Kids sometimes receive food and drink during class celebrations

Speaking To The Children

When he was done, Jimmy invited me to take the microphone and talk to the class. I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting this. With no public speaking experience, I was definitely more than a little nervous.

Watched over by a smiling Jimmy, I introduced myself and talked a little about schools in England before inviting questions. The kids were great as they asked me about my travels, the project I worked on in Africa and what education is like there.

All in all, we were probably chatting together for a good 25 minutes. Then, the food came out. While dinner isn’t always included, sometimes local restaurants donate meals, which means Jimmy can host his fun-filled dinner and dancing parties. I helped to serve the kids before being invited to also have a meal myself and join them, an unexpected bonus.

Once everyone was fed it was time for dancing. The music kicked in and the kids went nuts as a few favorites were played. Everyone went crazy to songs like “Gangnam Style” and “The Macarena.”

The two hours I spent with Jimmy in his school flew by and before I knew it I was saying goodbye to the kids.

It was an extremely moving evening. What’s interesting is that while these young ones are certainly learning academically, they’re also gaining confidence. The culture Jimmy creates is one that lets these kids know that they can, indeed, follow their dreams, whether they want to be a nurse, a teacher or something else.

To me — and to these youth — Jimmy isn’t just an educator, he’s the message that says if you work hard enough, anything is possible.

volunteering in Cambodia, jimmy's school siem reap

Students having fun at Jimmy’s School

Looking for an opportunity to #giveback in #Cambodia? Check out this incredible community project! #SEA Click To Tweet

Get Involved

Jimmy’s School is free for students, operating 100% on donations, volunteers and income from his tuk-tuk business. In fact, Jimmy currently spends about 60% of his earnings on running the school.

The best way to get in touch is through Jimmy’s Facebook group for the school, which you can join here.

Alternatively, if you don’t have time to volunteer but would still like to help, consider booking Jimmy for your Angkor Wat touring. (He’s got great TripAdvisor reviews, too!).

As Jimmy says on his Facebook page (edited for typos), “Jimmy’s Village School is a free English school to all children around Siem Reap, Cambodia. The school relies on donations.

We know that each one of us has an opportunity to help someone else. All we need to do is to help one person, expecting nothing in return.

To me, that is the humanitarian. We do not have to be rich to be a humanitarian. We don’t have to be rich to help somebody. We don’t need to be famous. We just do whatever we can to help in any way that we can. The children are our future!”

It was an honor to come across such a great project and spend a little time with someone as passionate as Jimmy, something that will stay with me forever.

*This article originally appeared on The Travel Blogs

Have you ever considered volunteering in Cambodia? If you’ve visited Angkor Wat, we’d love to hear your experiences in the comments!

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Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa is the editor of Epicure & Culture as well as Jessie on a Journey. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia, agritouring through Tuscany, and volunteering in Ghana.

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