Visiting Angkor Watt is surely close to the top of many traveller itineraries when in South East Asia, the majority of which will be staying in the town of Siem Reap. It was while visiting myself that I discovered a small project that aims to improve lives through education. Welcome to Jimmy’s School.
The Temples of Angkor Wat
After a day of temple trotting in Angkor Watt, as much as I enjoyed it, I was surprised at just how many kids there were trying to sell things to me. Whether small trinkets and souvenirs or food and drink, there was a child that had what you wanted. What was also shocking is just how good they are at it. However, I couldn’t help but wish they were in school instead. 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.
As I was returning to my hotel I passed a place called Jimmy’s School and decided to investigate. I popped in and met Jimmy, tuk-tuk driver by day and educator in the evening. Jimmy explained to me that he founded the school with the income from his tuk-tuk business with the aim of providing free English lessons to local children in Siem Reap. 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 bagging scam here). His goal is to educate them in the evenings for free; he hopes 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. I asked if I could attend a class later that evening and 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 and headed back to the hotel to find out more about Jimmy’s School.
Happy Kids Cambodia
While looking online I found a small Australian charity, Happy Kids Cambodia, that is helping to fund the school and the following is taken from their project page:
Jimmy’s Village School provides free English lessons to local underprivileged children in Siem Reap province, Cambodia. Jimmy, the teacher and founder of Jimmy’s Village School, is a young Cambodian local who has dedicated his life to educating children of his current generation; to enable them to access employment opportunities both locally and internationally. Jimmy hopes that his students will carry on his work into the next generation in working towards reviving Cambodia from its devastation and poverty into a thriving country, full of educated Cambodians who can maintain their culture and freedom.
The current school operates in the front yard of Jimmy’s family home and has done so since 2011. An incredible 120-150 students attend Jimmy’s lessons every evening from Monday to Friday, and it is a tight squeeze! But the passion and energy in Jimmy’s classes are not hindered by the small space.
Jimmy’s Village School runs purely from donations. Happy Kids Cambodia Inc. is dedicated to raising funds to keep Jimmy’s Village School running and to expand the school in the future so that more children within the community can access free English education.
My Experience at Jimmy’s School
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 so 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 Jimmys.
When he was done with his talk he invited me to take the mic and talk to the class. I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting this and I have never done public speaking before so I was a little nervous. Watched over by a smiling Jimmy, I introduced myself and talked a little about schools in England and then invited questions. The kids were great as they asked me about my travels, a project I worked on in Africa and what education is like there. All in all, we were probably chatting together for a good 20-25 minutes. After I had finished the food came out. 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 favourites were played. The little ones were going crazy to Gangnam Style and The Macarena . . . well . . . the big ones were too; I’m not going to lie. The 2 hours I spent with Jimmy in his school flew by and before I knew it I was saying goodbye to the kids as there were smiles everywhere.
Please try to help
Jimmy is still a tuk-tuk driver by day and currently spends about 60% of his earnings on running the school. If you would like to know more about the charity, and I implore you to do so, head to http://www.happykidscambodia.org or search Jimmy’s Village School on Facebook.
Another way to help is that if you are planning to visit the Angkor site, book Jimmy to take you on his tuk-tuk. Sadly I only found out about this on my return, although my trip was great, I’d imagine a trip to Angkor with Jimmy would be another level of awesome. He has been able to set up his own website which can be found here: http://www.jimmysangkortours.com
Find out what other people say about him on Trip Advisor: Jimmy’s Angkor Tours on Trip Advisor
It was an honour to come across such a great project and something that will stay with me forever.