ISF Student Turns Teacher

ISF Student Turns Teacher

How a young Cambodian overcame adversity to give back during COVID-19

Imagine this: your family is desperately struggling to make ends meet in the slums of Phnom Penh. Then COVID-19 comes along, and your school is closed down by the Government. Then your parents’ work dries up. They’re frightened of the virus spreading in Phnom Penh, so they decide to uproot your family and move you deep into the countryside to stay with relatives. There you find yourself hundreds of miles from your friends. You’re stranded in a totally different environment.

At the age of 16, what would you do after all this upheaval? Would you set up an English school for the kids you found in the countryside who are also missing out on school? No? Well that’s exactly what Panha, one of ISF’s most committed English students did. Now he teaches a handful of delighted young children regularly throughout the week.

Despite all he’s been through, Panha has been one of our most devoted students while schools have shut down. He was very shocked when the schools had to close. Panha explains it is “because I care about my education very much, especially English. I think English is very important for Cambodian kids because it can really help our studies. We can also make new friends around the world and maybe even study abroad. It can help us to make our country better.”

As a result, he has been an enthusiastic and reliable participant in Zoom lessons with his teacher Josh. He manages to fit this in even though he is now expected to work on his family’s farm. Despite helping with plowing, looking after animals, and growing vegetables, Panha has learnt all of ISF’s online English lessons.

"The funny thing is I don’t really like kids that much! So, I’m not sure why I did it! But I’m glad I did.  I’m really grateful to ISF and to my teachers for supporting me, so it’s good for me to support others."

His decision to teach the local children came when he realised that their English was lagging far behind their Khmer. Panha is currently in Prey Veng, one of Cambodia’s leading agricultural provinces. It is also one of the country’s poorest. So Panha wasn’t surprised to learn that nobody could afford extra English lessons. Having already helped Josh with some teaching at ISF, he decided he would start offering free classes.

“It wasn’t hard to get the children to take part at all,” Panha explains. “I use an ‘English For Children’ textbook to teach them, and also the knowledge I learnt from Josh. Sometimes it can be a lot of fun, especially when we play games. I think if they can learn English it will be much better for them in the long run.”

“The funny thing is I don’t really like kids that much!” he laughs. “So, I’m not sure why I did it! But I’m glad I did.  I’m really grateful to ISF and to my teachers for supporting me, so it’s good for me to support others.”

In the future Panha wants to use his exceptional intelligence and resourcefulness to live a multifaceted life. He would like to work as a businessman and a farmer, all while helping Cambodia develop further. We believe that if he is already showing so much initiative, drive, and ability to cope with adversity now, there’s nothing he won’t be able to do later. We can’t wait to have students like him back in our classrooms, giving us hope for the future.