My unforgettable experience from the summer of 2019
A club that was guided by my instinct in my freshman year. In the crowded club affair I was led to one club: TASSEL. I found myself standing in front of the TASSEL stand, reading through the posters about the purpose of TASSEL, and photos of the TASSEL students. Back then, I would have never even given a single thought that this club posters I was reading was that of the club that would mean one of the most important values in my life.
At first I joined the TASSEL club in my school, because the fact that the club members would be interacting with children instantly grabbed my attention. As a young child, I have enjoyed the time I spent with my younger sister, and my younger cousins. Despite the age gap, it didn’t make me bored or try to make me fit myself into the perspective of a young child. When spending time with young children, I found myself smiling -not a fake one, but one deeply down from my heart- and having fun. When these thoughts were passing by my mind busily, I was already a member of oru school’s TASSEL club. Thinking about the reasons what is that led me to join TASSEL, I just thought I would give a try to see what exactly is the purpose of TASSEL. Now I can confidently say that my understanding of TASSEL back then was only a small portion of the whole. In my first year in TASSEL, I tried my best to be a good member. I tried really hard to absorb the information of TASSEL such as the sad history of Cambodia, why is it that we serve the Cambodians, what is it that we have to do.
Not long after I have joined TASSEL, I have attended the meeting where Joji was here to tell us more about TASSEL and Cambodia. Listening to Joji, I have realized that what a shallow understanding I had about TASSEL. I was so shocked due to the more serious side of the purpose TASSEL serves, and the impact we as a high schoolers can have on the Cambodians.TASSEL was a larger organization than whatever I could have imagined it to be. I have then realized what I have committed myself into. I was impressed by Joji, the power of his words were so strong to give me such a big acknowledgement. By listening to Joji say what my work for TASSEL, fundraising events, the Vsee classes, and the essay corrections meant to the TASSEL students I wanted to put the most of my effort for TASSEL. From then on, I have been so excited for the Vsee classes that I was assigned to.
I was so excited once the Vsee season started. It was these Vsee classes with a Khmer teacher, Samnieng that made my regularly repeating school life more lively, and special. Even though I was seeing it with my two eyes, I couldn’t believe that I was actually having a Vsee call with a Khmer teacher. The classes motivated me to study hard to become a better teacher. It was visible every class not only how hard Teacher Samnieng was trying to get the most out of each class, but how much time and effort he puts prior to each class. As more classes I had with Teacher Samnieng, the Vsee season was slowly going towards its end. Eventually the last class that I had wished not to come had finally come. The last class was no different from any other classes, but at the end when we were saying our good-byes, and thank you. I found myself telling Teacher Samnieng that I will miss him so much, despite the short time I have been together with him. The TASSEL classes have indeed surprised me of the deep relationship that grows in such a short time. When I have ended the very last Vsee class, I have been counting my days even until now for the next season of Vsee to start.
Thankfully, I have gotten a chance to see Teacher Samnieng in person, because I have gotten the chance to go visit Cambodia and the TASSEL schools this summer. I have been wanting to go to the summer trip ever since I heard about it. I thought it was indeed the best way to get to expand my understanding of TASSEL, and that TASSEL would mean something much more essential to my life once I see everything with my own eyes. I have expressed my interest to the summer trip every time there was a mention about it during our club meetings. Once, I heard that I would be going to the summer trip, I was so pleased and thankful that I was offered such a grateful opportunity. From then on all I had in my mind was the exciting thought to go to Cambodia. Once summer vacation I was looking for the end of the summer vacation which I have been looking forward to so much; the end of the summer vacation meant that my visit to Cambodia (August 1st 2019) was coming closer.
Finally the day of my departure to Cambodia came. I joyously hopped on the plane, counting down the time left until the arrival at Phnom Phen. When arriving at the airport, I was surrounded by the Cambodia I haven’t quite expected. There were lights illuminating the dark, skyscrapers soaring up to the sky, and endless rows of cars parked -this wasn’t the Cambodia I have imagined listening to the family stories, and when I was having my Vsee classes. However, I have come to realize that this was only the case of the cities where tourists come visit. On the long 7 hours van ride on bumpy roads, have I started to see the scenery outside the window that I have had in my mind of Cambodia. There were no longer skyscrapers greeting me, but cows peacefully munching grass, and motor-cycles driving by.
We as a group of TASSEL volunteers from different schools went on family visits to those of our TASSEL students. It was these family visits that really deepened my understanding of TASSEL, and Cambodia. It was the fact that a student who was scoring first in her school was missing school to earn money for her family. It was the fact that the students were walking hours under the hot burning sun, or the heavy rain to get to the TASSEL school, and have a class with the TASSEL volunteers. It was the fact that some children have learnt to hide their emotions and learnt to not ask for help since a young age. It was the fact that the TASSEL students have to carry heavy buckets filled with water, and that they have to dive into the river to collect their family’s food. These were all the stories of the families I have visited this summer. These were the stories that make me look back at my life. All these stories that hit so hard on me emotionally gave me the thoughts are deeply embedded in my head: the actions I take really does impact every one of these families. These stories were so much for me to take as a high schooler that didn’t know what was waiting in front of me. However, now that I have allowed these lessons I have gained from these stories deep in my mind, it keeps me motivated and dedicated to TASSEL. These are the stories that I have to tell on to our TASSEL club members, my family, my friends, and my community for their awareness. It doesn’t take a lot to help the Cambodians, a small help from people all over the world that would bring change to Cambodia.
Along with the stories from the family visits, another larger factor that keeps me dedicated to TASSEL is the 4 days of experience of teaching at the TASSEL schools in Battambang province. As soon as we got out of the van, and walked towards the TASSEL school, the TASSEL students, and the Khmer teachers were all gathered in front of the school to greet us. All their faces were filled with true smiles -true smiles all truly welcoming us. All their eyes were sparkling towards us. The TASSEL students were all so attentive during class, they were all looking up to us seeming like they won’t miss a single thing we said during the class. These students with the best attitudes became energetic playing in the playground as soon as the bell for recess rang. The students invited us to the games they were playing, they were all kind enough to take us step by step to the game. All the students are so lovable that being next to them makes me contagious to their laughter, and their big smiles. Even though I was laughing with the students and truly enjoying myself, I have found that there are just so many things I have to learn from the students. It was the students themselves that made the choice to come to the TASSEL school, there aren’t any adults around them shouting ‘Go to school! You have to study for the good future of yours’ into their ears. It is these students, their attitude, and their enthusiasm to learn that drives me to work harder to become a teacher that the students deserve. The students would refer to us being their role model. This is a nice word to be entitled with, but a powerful and thankful word that pushes you to become a person to deserve that word.
There is one last thing that I have learnt so much from, and that has changed me so much. It is the Khmer teachers. I have no other words, but to say that they are amazing people. Looking at the Khmer teachers it makes me question how a human-being can be so selfless, and loving. They are a group of wonderful, smart, selfless, and kind people. They are all so dedicated to teach the students. They aren’t teaching the students for no other reasons, but their love towards the students -it is not monetary reasons that makes them teach the students, what they get paid is far less than what one can ever expect. It is easy to mistake that the Khmer teachers have had a life with less hardships compared to the TASSEL students, because their big smiles never seem to leave their faces. However, they have also had a life lacking love, and full of hardships. The Khmer teachers don’t show this at all, yet we have to remember that they are also people that we have to give love. Just because they seem so loving, and funny doesn’t mean that they are to just give love to others, they need as much love as the TASSEL students. The Khmer teachers would walk to us to spark conversations, and we would find ourselves having such a natural conversation with them with laughter not seeming to fade.
So why is it that we high schoolers are involved in helping out Cambodia, and educating the TASSEL students. Why is it not professional teachers that are to teach them, but rather high schoolers. We high schoolers not only teach them English, but give them the love that most of them are lacking. We are to serve the Cambodians and show our love towards them. The students line up for our hugs, make presents for us, write letters for us, and draw pictures for us. We aren't just receive these love of the students, but we have to give it back to the students, telling them they all deserve to be loved. We are to show the TASSEL students that the world isn’t filled with bad rich people, but rather with kind people. We don’t want the TASSEL students to absorb the knowledge to become another bad rich people, but a kind people that will change the future of Cambodia, the future of the world, and spread on their love to others.