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Paying It Forward

Hoy Tot, a student in Siem Reap, teaches a class of 30 children.
Hoy Tot, a student in Siem Reap, teaches a class of 30 children.
September 17, 2013

On a balmy night during Cambodia’s monsoon season, the voices of 30 children chanting in unison cut through the sound of cicadas.

Crowded together on the concrete floor of a traditional Cambodian stilt house the children – all between 8 and 9 years old – are learning the basics of the English language, the key to better career prospects in this impoverished community.

A single tube light powered by a car battery highlights the faces of happy and focused children, working together on their English.

What makes this scene even more remarkable is that the children are on their school vacations and have chosen to attend the free classes for an hour every night.

This is just one of three classes for different age groups that will be held tonight, taught by a remarkable volunteer teacher who is a student herself.

A Student Becomes the Teacher


Hoy Tot is 18 years old and about to start her junior year of high school. Her school is one of many schools supported by Plan in Siem Reap, an impoverished province a few short miles outside the world famous temple town.

Hoy Tot has been studying English and mathematics since middle school, in classes and facilities provided by Plan as part of its work to strengthen the quality of education and career prospects for students in this region.

As someone who has experienced the challenges of living with a physical disability, Hoy Tot says she was inspired by her high school English classes. She was motivated to share her new knowledge with other disadvantaged children from her community. So, with a few grass mats, some markers and a white board she began teaching the night classes with one of her friends from school.

Despite her obvious determination Hoy Tot smiles shyly as she says, "I love playing games with my students that teach English in a fun way. It inspires me to work harder."

"I'm also much more confident with my English and with presenting in front of a group."

Many challenges remain for Hoy Tot and others in her community. She would love to attend a university and study to become a teacher. However, her family will not be able to pay for her tuition.

Hoy Tot is not a girl who is deterred by challenges. She spends her days pursuing a state scholarship and her evenings are spent tending to her studies and sharing the knowledge that she has learned with her students.

Although her future may seem uncertain, her dedication and enthusiasm to continue learning proves that she is well on her way to achieving her dreams.

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