My stories from Pailin, Cambodia.

For two weeks in December 2012, my friends from NTU’s Catholic Society and I went to Pailin, Cambodia to teach kids. Personally, I think we gained more than we gained. Here are some stories I would like to share…


These are the classes I teach.

The first 3 photos are from my morning classes. They were between 9-12 years old and they are the cutest bunch of kids ever! The boys can be rather naughty though but the girls were so sweet. The girls even bought extra food to share with me during their recess. I wonder what proportion of their allowance they have to fork out just to give that to me.  The most memorable moment was when they volunteered to sing “The lion sleeps tonight” song in front of class without me asking them to. Soooo cute!

But, one really sad moment was when I was teaching them feelings. I asked them, “How do you feel?” On this day, we were expounding on being happy and sad so the students went, “I feel sad.” and I went, “Why do you feel sad?” I thought he’d say, “I feel sad because I want to sing/dance/eat” because that’s what I taught them for being happy. However, one boy enthusiastically waived his hand while saying “‘cher! cher!” so, I thought sure! “Why do you feel sad?” and he went, “I feel sad because I have no bike.” I was standing their speechless. Before I know it, two more boys stood up to say, “I feel sad because I have no money.” “I feel sad because I want pizza.” and I really didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t sure of how true those statements were or whether they said those for the sake of answering a class discussion but hearing them come up with such statement is just so heart-wrenching and sad. It’s one of those moments I won’t forget.

The last photo is my evening class. I actually had to classes, both with students ranging from 17-41 years old. There were students, businessmen, and even monks who pay for extra classes just to learn English. Their eagerness to learn English is just so inspiring. They were filled with questions and were so eager to practice their English. They were so curious about Singapore and it’s culture. They even asked us why and how we went to Pailin.

For one of our lessons, we asked them to present themselves in an elevator pitch sort of way. Through that, they have shared their dreams and ambitions. It’s so heartwarming to hear them saying they want to be a farmer, a businessman, a seller, or a teacher. It sounds as though those were really big dreams but nothing can stop them. Moreover, it seems as though reaching those simple dreams would mean the world to them. In contrast to being in Singapore where we always race on being on top and being the best and yet, still remains unhappy. Anyway, the students and us been so close that we took loads of photos and even exchanged Facebook contacts on the last day. One even gave me the sweetest card and origami saying “Thank you, teacher. Don’t forget me. I am sad. Monica misses teacher.” and that just really tugged a really heavy string in my heart.

extra time

In addition, these are the kids I was hanging out with for my “extra-curricular classes.” The teens in the first photo were Carmen and my students’ last year. Initially, I was scared that I won’t see them and I was disappointed because it seemed I cared more than they for us. However, when they heard that we were back, they came back to spend time with us. They even visited almost everyday! One of the guy’s English has dramatically improved and I’m really proud of him. However, the other can still barely put a sentence together but oh wells. The cool thing is that they were the first ones who persistently trained me to learn Khmer as I teach English. Super cool! Most importantly, the idea that they remember us and still want to spend time with us after one whole year is just touching.

The guys in the second photo are from my unofficial English class. In between their school and their extra (English/Computer) lessons, they visit me to practice speaking in English. In addition, I also tell them stories about myself and the world and things they may never experience otherwise. Imagine! They were so eager to learn English with me that they actually make time to do so! It was just so heart warming. One guy (Lin la aka Mr hihihi) even wrote a prose (in the simplest English) to say how much he likes spending time with me and learning English from me. I was so touched!

The girls in the third photo were the sweetest girls. Their English weren’t so good because they don’t study in English schools but since I have been learning Khmer, communication still works. They both like to dance but have very different tastes in men. They are reallly good masseuse too. So cute!

The fourth photo was of one of the Samurai dance groups. I’ve grown quite close to them as well. Apparently, even all the way in Cambodia, I am still one of the boys. When we hang out under the tree, they joke around and treat me as one of them. Considering that we have to communicate in 2 languages is actually half the fun, by the way! One ought to try it some time! 🙂

And last, but not the least, the church boys.  They were the ones who help the Marist brothers in their daily chores. It really inspired that two boys were so touched by God’s love that one wants to be a Marist brother while the other wants to be a priest. They were also the ones I’ve grown closest with. I would have a different story to type for each one of them that I’d probably need another book. They were the ones who taught me those most number of Khmer that I think I learnt Khmer than they learnt English. Moreover, the things we talked about have even gone beyond small talk. We’ve gone from doing funny antics, exchanging jokes, and serious life sharing sessions.

Plus, I still communicate with some of them through Facebook until now. I think that being able to establish such a close relationship with the simplest words in 2 different languages that we communicate until now means a lot. And it is something I would always remember.

touching photos

These are some snapshots of their daily lives that I would try to preserve.

The children in Pailin have the purest rawest most pristine understanding of joy. These are photos after our swimming trip, arts and crafts session, bubble blowing, and random games. Honestly, I don’t even know the rules of any game but I just went along with them. Just look at the smiles they have.  They seem full of hope and contentment of the simple joys of life. Looking at those smiles makes us want to believe in the true meaning of happiness and that’s something I don’t often see anymore.  The memories I have while playing with them will always stay with me forever.

what we do

Aside from endless teaching and playing with the children, we had other activities too! We distributed shorts and shoes to the kids, brought them to the swimming pool, had arts and craft sessions with them, and even conducted a talent-time. These may seem really simple and even unnecessary but according to Brother Francis, the kids do not experience these kind of things when visitors are not around and at the end of the day, it is the time we spend with the kids (whatever the activity is) that stays with them so what we really should do is just spend time with them and talk to them in simple English to practice them. So, I guess, that’s a mission accomplished! 🙂

dear to my heart
 These are some of my most favourite photos with my most favourite kids. Each one I would gladly tell you if we ever get a chance to meet.


And, of course, everyone’s all-time favourite kid, Hein! I always asked him to give me a hug every time he sees me.  Oh how I miss him so. He’s the youngest out of 6 siblings and either the village is too small or I’m too outgoing that I actually know all 6 brothers and sisters. If I’m lucky enough, the next time I visit Pailin, I would love to visit their parents to tell them how lucky they are to have such lovely children. Everyone’s humble and outgoing and has the ability to make other people smile at all times.


This is one kid who truly deeply touched my heart.

His name is Mian. One day, we found him crying. Apparently, the other kids did not want to play with him because he is apparently “dirty.” Eventually, I found out that he is HIV positive and his parents do not stay with him. To comfort him while he’s crying, I accompanied him to sit under one of the trees. There I hugged him and stroked his back until he calmed down. Since I know he doesn’t go to school, I guessed he probably didn’t know English as well. So, in the simplest Khmer I know I told him, “Be strong. Don’t listen to them. I love you. God loves you.” I’m not sure if he understood me, if I said it correctly, or if he’ll remember what I said but eventually, he calmed down and agreed to play with the rest again. From then on, I always hugged him whenever I see him and that story will always stay close to my heart.


This is one of my favourite shot from the place. The four guys are from four different cliques yet they seem to come together and spend time with each other when we are around. I’d like to think that our friendly company, the idea of learning English, and the vision of sharing God’s love can bring various people together.


A photo of the kids waving goodbye as our van drives out.

All together, Pailin is now a place I fell in love with and I can’t imagine not going back. So, until December 2013 my dearies. Until I see you again. Good bye! 🙂

Photo credits to: Adi, Isabelle, and me.


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