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After mural painting, we travelled to Develop Our Village Economy (DOVE), a local NGO committed to the transformation of young people and the emergence of young leaders in Cambodia in order to bring healing to the nation.

We would be joining the students of DOVE for some school activities, such as English and leadership games. Additionally, we had the option to help out by teaching a music lesson, and as a music university major, I was asked to participate. My experience with music was mostly performance-based and less lesson-based, but I saw this as a good opportunity to spread my wings a bit and gain some teaching experience. How hard could it be?

I prepared my lesson mentally. I was going to base it around the blues. Harmonically and structurally easy progression that is extremely popular in western culture. I wondered if they knew of the blues, especially with Cambodia's rich music history. I was ready to lay down my knowledge of how the harmony worked, how to play the blues scale on it and solo with it, and how you can mess around with fun challenging rhythms. However, after the meeting the kids, I knew I could dial it back a pinch as they already knew quite a few chords. I knew that teaching the blues chord progression would be a great fit for their level.

The doors of the room were open with a couple of fans on the walls providing a little cooler temperature than outside, but still about 28°C. A small group of four children sat on plastic chairs in a semicircle around me, I could tell that we were in the main classroom from the desks and whiteboard and I was sticky with sweat from the heat. I started by introducing who I was and asked for their names. There were so many new and unfamiliar names and I wondered, too, if our names were just as unfamiliar and hard to learn for them as well!

I wrote the simple 12 bar blues progression on the board and asked who had heard of it. No one had, so I proceeded to draw the fingerings on the board, feeling silly adolescently drawing wobbly lines and dots. I then asked them to start playing while I went around helping with the fingering. After half an hour of encouraging the kids and placing their fingers down, I stepped back and saw that the group of 4 turned into more of a group of 9, some with guitars in hand and some listening.

Now we were fit to play somewhat in time! I demonstrated how it is played then let them do it by themselves. I took the opportunity while they practiced using the washroom but as I away, the power went out. I braced myself for a more heated lesson. Next, I proceeded on teaching how to play a major scale. It was refreshing revisiting early music theory, especially in the form of teaching slowly. Towards the end of the hour lesson the power came back, and it was time for the kids to head into group activities. I said thanks for listening to me and to practice effectively. When it comes to music, it is more important to go slow and absorb what you practice instead of going fast for the purpose of getting it done.

Watching the children wide-eyed, big smiles, and pure excitement to learn sparked something in me. I've asked a lot of my music teachers at home what they enjoy most about teaching music and every one of them said that it is the "Ah-ha!" moment a student gets when they learn to use what they got from their lesson. Even though I may never see that moment in the kids in Cambodia, I have faith that they will continue to practice and perk up when they hear a blues tune and say "I know how to play that already!". Even though I was the one teaching, I have gained a new passion and vision for my musician career. My heart truly goes out to all those we met in Cambodia.

Read more about DOVE

Learn about our central, long-term missions focus, Cambodia

Consider joining us for an upcoming Justice Journey

Donate to DOVE in the Cambodia Fund here