By: Aide et Action, Youth Star Cambodia’s Partner

Twenty-seven year old Mastos studied a BA in English and upon graduating decided to contribute to Cambodian society by volunteering as a youth club leader under Youth Star‘s project in Popork commune, Kampong Thom Province located in central Cambodia. Youth Star is one of our partner organizations running youth clubs in disadvantaged communities and schools to improve access and quality of education in Cambodia.

As the handmade sign pinned on the wall above above her desk attests, Mastos believes that “education holds the key to a better future”. She has 20 children from grade 4 – 6 (approximately 10 – 12 years old) enrolled in her club as members. These young members are essential to the club’s success as they are the ones who will teach it forward, introducing everything they’ve learned to others in their communities. Currently, Mastos is working on building their confidence so they can encourage other children to read more. She’s doing this by organizing weekly reading promotion activities.

Every Sunday, the club brings books into two nearby villages. The reading promotion consists of three parts; free reading where the children can chose any book they want to read themselves; read-out-loud sessions with questions and answers; and games which encourage the children to think and use their imagination.

In addition to this, Mastos also teaches English to 200 children from Sambour Primary School – almost 25% of the local school’s pupils. At first, she says the students’ abilities were very low but they’ve come a long way in just eight months: “Some of them couldn’t read one word in English but now they know vocabulary and can pick out words in the games we play” she says. “Their confidence has grown too, they’re able to participate in the classroom” she adds.

This newfound confidence is essential to the young students developing the soft skills needed to be leaders in their communities and foster an appreciation for learning among their peers. Watching the kids develop has also inspired Mastos to continue this type of work even after her volunteering role comes to end later this year. Mastos has played a key role in identifying out-of-school children and already succeeded in enrolling three out of six out-of-school children in local schools. “I want to help society and improve kids access to education” she says when speaking of her future plans.

Volunteers like Mastos are making a real difference in children’s lives in Cambodia and are mobilizing communities to work together to seek solutions for issues they are facing . However, we know that there is much more work to be done. In fact, one of the villages that Mastos works in has three times less the number of participants than the other, indicating that we need to work more in this area on campaigning and promoting the club and its reading activities.

The club’s office is also missing some key materials such as bookshelves but Mastos has fashioned a temporary shelf from plastic bottles which is not only a creative solution but is also teaching the children how to recycle. We’re pleased to report that we recently bought fans and installed them in classrooms making the hot temperatures of Cambodia more bearable for the children. With an improved learning environment and motivated volunteers like Mastos, we can’t wait to see this youth club go from strength to strength.