Access to quality education and healthcare are two causes that Belinda Marshall holds close to her heart. When she first visited Cambodia in 2015, the Melton South primary school teacher was struck by the difficulties faced by Cambodian children living under the poverty line.
“I couldn’t shake the thought that [local] people didn’t have access to health, food, shelter and education,” she says. “It felt hard to see children picking rubbish from bins instead of going to school.”
At the end of this year, Belinda will relocate to Cambodia. There, she’ll volunteer her teaching skills full-time and help to run a small school in Cheasmorn, a village outside the tourist hub of Siem Reap in Cambodia’s northwest.
It was through volunteering at Cambodian schools that Belinda met Sok Chamroeun (or “JB” to his friends) – a local tour guide who also runs the two-room school in Cheasmorn.
“JB built the school two years ago to start educating his village and teaching English,” Belinda explains.
“The main skills that children need to get a job in the city or to go to university are English and computer skills. But government schools only teach Khmer, which doesn’t help in breaking the poverty cycle,” she says.
“The difference between JB being on the street and working in what is a relatively high paying job as a tour guide is his English.”
JB’s school in Cheasmorn teaches over 300 kids between the ages of five and 17 years old. Those kids lucky enough to attend a government school do so in the morning, then between 2 o’clock and 7 o’clock, they have the option to learn English at JB’s school.
“It’s been a very gradual process to get the kids in,” Belinda says. “Parents would rather their kids work to get money. But parents are now seeing the benefits in the school.”
Since meeting JB, Belinda has set up the Brighter Future Cambodia organisation, which raises funds for the school. So far, her crowdfunding campaign has raised more than $2500 of her $50,000 target.
In Cambodia, $50,000 can go a long way. Belinda says the money would fund three new classrooms, a library, an ICT computer room, a house for volunteer teachers, new bathrooms, a sports ground, a garden and a playground. It would also cover the wages for four full-time teachers.
Meanwhile, Belinda would be teaching and living off her own savings. “I’ve been saving my bum off; I’ve rented my house out and sold my car,” Belinda says of her efforts to relocate. “There are so many kids wanting to learn and there’s a huge potential to have even more kids educated,” she says.
“I’m giving everything I’ve got to the teaching.”