My grandmothers were teachers.
As a child, I grew up having my grandmothers drill me with basic addition while also teaching me what scissors were called in their native dialect. When I entered school, one of my grandmothers would help me with my ‘homework’, and in the afternoon, another would lay with me until I fell asleep for my afternoon nap. In short, I grew up in a loving family that deeply valued learning and education.
I remember joining TASSEL during my freshman year in highschool because my best friend persuaded me to. After a year of teaching phonics, I discovered how much I loved teaching. This pushed me to apply for an officer position because I began to internalize TASSEL’s mission of changing the lives of everyone involved in TASSEL (students, teachers, volunteers, parents, etc.) through English education, but most importantly, love. By sophomore year, I was given the opportunity to further dedicate myself to TASSEL as an officer in my chapter. My participation as an officer served as a turning point for my involvement in the organization– seeing the pure kindness and dedication to serve Cambodian teachers and students of other officers inspired me to change and want to do more for and with TASSEL.
With that, I decided to go to Cambodia the summer before my junior year to finally meet the Cambodian teachers and students I’ve been working with for two years at this point. I knew the trip was going to be different compared to school-sponsored ‘service trips’ that I’ve been on where the only form of ‘service’ I engaged in was playing with kids for one hour. Sure enough, this wasn’t the case at all for TASSEL.
The nine days I spent in Cambodia the summer of 2017 completely transformed my heart and my mind. To be frank, words can’t fully express how impacted I was after the summer trip. I met so many students and teachers that week who had so much love to show us despite their tragic backgrounds, right when we arrived at the TASSEL schools to our final lesson on the last day. Unlike most service trips where there is a disconnect between our everyday lives and the time we spend serving elsewhere, Joji encouraged us to immerse ourselves in all forms of service by meticulously planning the trip. He took us to Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields so that we could contextualize the situations of the TASSEL students and teachers we taught that week. He and the Cambodian teachers consistently prioritised our safety and never left any of us without supervision when teaching or during family visits. Not only that, but during our last day, Joji guided us in a group reflection so that we were all able to take time and absorb the events that happened in one incredible week. During the plane ride back home, I reflected on the trip and finally understood what it meant to be my grandmothers– teachers who not only educate kids but also inspires those around them to develop a passion for learning. Not only that, but they’re people who care, give love, and encourage others by being there for their students in their best and worst times. In all, teachers are some of the most important people that you will ever meet in your entire life.
With my renewed passion for TASSEL, I wanted to spread the kindness of the Cambodian students and teachers to everyone back in my home community. Something that has stuck with me ever since my first trip was when Joji stated, “You are here to serve everyone. You are not only serving the Cambodian teachers and students, but you are also showing love towards the van drivers, hotel staff, and everyone else you encounter on this trip. This is what service is.” It was after this trip that I began to embody service and appreciate its power to touch the lives of many.
My high school career from then on was filled with TASSEL events, from teaching grammar to Teacher Phyrom on a weekly basis, working with other officers to plan successful fundraising events, preparing TASSEL members for the annual summer trip, and finally, training the rising officers in my chapter before university. After four years with TASSEL as a high school volunteer and three summer trips later, I am so grateful to call the TASSEL community my second family. Everyday, I’m inspired by the Cambodian teachers and students to work harder, to spread kindness around me, and to give the world to those who truly deserve it. My second family has impacted me more than I could have ever imagined when I first joined as a freshman. TASSEL has not only transformed my heart to become more grateful and loving towards others, but it also taught me to become a dedicated and responsible individual who reaches out to change the world– in this case, an individual who serves everyone around them.
TASSEL inspired me to major in Human Development in my university. Through family visits and research on the Khmer Rouge that plagued the country, I learned that I had to consider how psychological trauma and malnutrition influenced the quality of learning that the students and the Khmer teachers received. As I continue volunteering with TASSEL through my university years, I can only imagine how much more this organization will impact the world, and how much more I can learn from the students and teachers of TASSEL at ‘our next lesson.’