By Maureen Koh
The New Paper
Friday, Jun 06, 2014
When actor Terence Cao decided to go on a mission trip to Cambodia, he didn't expect it to be a life-changing experience.
He had found out about Sopheak's Friendship School from fellow actor Thomas Ong when they were filming The Caregivers late last year.
Cao, 46, roped in two friends. Along with actress Aileen Tan, former actress Constance Song, and Ong, they had left for Siem Reap, Cambodia on May 27. The were on a trip to teach the Cambodian children English.
On June 2, just a day after returning to Singapore, Cao told The New Paper: "We were very enthusiastic and we prepared many items like clothes, stationery, rice and biscuits. But what Thomas didn't prepare me for was the condition of the villagers' lives. We take clean water for granted, but that is a luxury for them."
The school is in Angkhrong Village in the Prasatbakong District, about 15km from Siem Reap, the country's major tourist hub.
Said Cao: "The road to the village was rocky and muddy. On the first day, we just wanted to give them everything we could. But we also realised that sustainability is more important."
It was during this trip that he realised how English could become an "important tool" for the Cambodians. With tourism thriving, the children would have a better chance of finding work later if they can speak English.
And this is the mission of Sopheak's Friendship School. Founded by Mr Sopheak Phountam, who also runs the place, it aims to bridge the language gap for local children. The school is completely funded by sponsors.
Cao said that most teachers at the school are high school students who earn about US$40 ($50) a month teaching English.
He was moved by the efforts of the students, aged between seven and 13 years old, who had to cycle or walk a long distance just for an hour of free English lessons.
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