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Learning for Nothing

Imagine that you want to learn. A new language, or how to read and write, or computer use, or even life skills so you can one day get a job. Something that will help you and your family eat. Something that will help your family when they are sick, that will give you something to do with yourself other than begging for the time to pass.

Picture that you are a high school student. One who is full of dreams and desires like every other student your age. You attend school faithfully, you pack you own bag and you even do all your homework. You are prepared and ready to do your best. Your family has sacrificed so much to get you into a good school. One where the teachers are qualified (you think), and where you can learn and grow.

But, what if the school’s fees weren’t enough? What if your teachers were so poorly paid that just to feed their family, they’d have to pass on every possible expense to you, the faithful student? You find you have to pay a bribe to sit near the front of the class so you can see and hear the teacher correctly. You have to pay extra for your lesson’s worksheet. If you wanted to finish a subject 100 percent, you’d have to pay your teacher for individual tutoring, since so much had been held back from the class lessons. For the privilege to take an exam, you’d have to cough up more money.

Very soon you and your family have run out of money, and you are forced to work in ridiculously low-paying jobs. Maybe you could get a gig building homes for the rich, or even get work in a factory, painfully making clothes with the brand names Westerners love.

Welcome to your life as a student in the developing country of Cambodia, the Kingdom of Wonder.

Coming from Australia where the public school system means that money is no barrier to an education, I have been shocked, appalled and heartbroken at the lack of opportunity given to a truly adaptable and progressive generation of young people. I mix daily with teenagers who play guitar with a billion times better skill than my three years of lessons have given me. Amazing when you take into account that the skills have often only been learned by ear, or through short meetings with foreigners who know a bit.

I teach business leadership skills three days a week. I teach at a local non-government organization called New Life Foundation. For years they have been running free English classes, free Computer classes, a free education to a generation of young people starved of opportunity. A vast majority of the training center’s teachers are past students. Young adults who have been able to flesh out their passions, who have been able to follow their dreams, who have taken hold of opportunity.

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The answer for the education problem in Cambodia—and the many other nations striving for a level playing field—is complex and deep running. There may be no magic wand to wave to see the issues transform, but there is the Gospel of Christ, where the poor and needy are considered worthy of love and support. There is a culture that goes beyond that of any nation, that teaches that there is such a thing as an abundant life for all people. A life not found in the abundance of possessions, but in the love given to those in need. Not because it is a way of earning extra credits, but instead, because they are worth it.

Imagine you are a student living in poverty, and you could receive free training. You could learn marketable skills. What would it be like to learn for nothing, and know that you are worth it?

Imagine what good you could do for your nation.

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