Letters illustrate the value of volunteering

Published on 14th August 2012

Bougainville-based volunteer Bill Shields felt “pretty emotional and rather special” when he opened a recent email.


Attached to the email were letters from six of his former students at Svay Rieng University in Cambodia, where he spent two years on assignment as a management adviser.  During that time he helped the rector and other staff develop a vision and mission for the university, and also did some teaching, including teaching English to a group of year three students.


Bill in the library at Svay Rieng University.


“The letters were all from students in that class,” says Bill. “They said they were drafts and they wanted me to correct their English, but I said they meant more to me written in their own words. Reading them made me feel pretty emotional and special – it made me think that this is what volunteering is all about.”


It’s easy to see why Bill was so touched; not many teachers get this kind of endorsement from their former students: “I hope that I can meet you again, and I would like to wish you with longevity, good health, strength and happiness forever. I love teacher.”


Other letters were just as enthusiastic.


“Personally I think you are a good teacher,” wrote Ken Kanika, who gave Bill lessons in Khmer. “When you taught us you prepared some study materials such as map to show us in order to make us easy to understand the lessons. Moreover, when you taught, you spoke in a friendly way to all the students in the class to show there was no discrimination between the students and teacher.”


Bill with some colleagues outside the library.

Yen Sala, who acted as Bill’s translator when he was in Cambodia, expressed similar sentiments.


“You arranged time so clearly and had certain explanation. On the other hand, I and my friends truly wanted to share our idea together, then you corrected. It provided us closer to each other because some of my friends who were less active, they paid attention to their lessons much more than before.”


However, several students did express one small criticism of Bill, which was that they found his accent and “low voice” hard to understand.


“Your speaking sometimes difficult for me to listen. Your accent is not clear like Cambodian teacher that make me have trouble,” wrote one.


Bill is now on assignment as a management adviser with the Division of Media and Communication in Buka. He is planning a trip to Cambodia in December and hopes to teach some classes with some of his former students.


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