Things look different through different eyes

Friday afternoon, shortly before the start of the 'conversation class'. The older students of the school are milling around in front of the school building and bombard me with questions. To take part in the free English lessons, many of them have cycled here from the surrounding villages. Sam-Bo stands a little apart, looking shyly but curiously at the hustle and bustle. For new pupils like him, lessons with us mean a change. Sam-Bo does not have to jump up from his seat when I speak to him. He also doesn't know how to talk in class. At Cambodian schools, we repeat what the teacher says or writes on the board. Our topics are unusual for the pupils; today it is about drinking water. Sam-Bo and the others listen intently. They are confronted with questions they have never thought about before.

Anke Treuter, Würzburg

Why do Cambodian children need to know English? They don't - but Sorya opens up opportunities for them to learn more about the world and acquire skills that enrich them and their country. English is the least of it - you can learn a lot in contact with the long-noses from Germany. They may not be able to grow rice, but they can operate computers and talk to Americans and Italians as if it were nothing. They see a lot of things with different eyes and talk about them. For us, the Cambodian perspective is just as exciting. English is a good medium for this exchange.

Our topics are new to our students, and so is the way we deal with them. Together we visit the sites of Khmer Rouge terror - and discover similarities between German and Cambodian history. We talk about the reasons why we travel in planes and they travel in rickety buses. The books in our library are the first that our students read beyond the textbooks.

We have created discussion and reading classes to better engage with issues in society and life. The participation and opinions of the students are sought. More excursions and project days are planned for the future, where students can approach topics from multiple perspectives and in multiple languages. We also want to provide the school with further equipment for this intensive teaching.

Cambodia still needs many places of education and training that serve as windows to the world for its people. In terms of content, we want to expand and engage in adult education and vocational training.

Our teachers, too, never stop learning: they expand their skills in computer courses, in-service training and teacher training. Through constant contact with people from other parts of the world, they have the opportunity to improve their knowledge.

Some students come to us because they want to study at university one day. Others learn just for fun. They might sing English songs during the rice harvest. Some have such talent that they are already working as teachers with us. Through education and training, the world will be a little more open to them than before. Maybe one day they will explain to us in Germany how to plant rice.