• A big dose of Welsh love to Cambodian children

    Hazell Cockle - Giving her All to the Children




    Editor's note: Tammy Nguyen, a freshman at Evergreen High School, San Jose California interviewed Hazell Cockle, a volunteer teacher and an advisor, who helped to transform Action to End Exploitation (AEE) school into a locally owned and operated non-profit organization Children for Change-Cambodia (CCC). Hazell is currently the leader of the international board of Children for Change Cambodia School. You can contact her at h.cockle@cccambodia.org



    Wales is an regional culture within the United Kingdom

    Hazell, please tell me about yourself and your growing up.

    I am 28 years old I have one younger sister who is 26. We grew up in Cardiff, the capital of Wales in the United Kingdom. I lived in an area where everybody knew each other; our back garden was also our neighbourís back garden and the venue for many street parties.

    My father left when I was young and my mother suffered both financially and emotionally as a result. We didnít live near any other family members. When I was in high school I had a very strong and supportive group of friends. They were like family to me and many still are. We helped each other through a lot, although we were also a bad influence on each other at times!

    Our school had a very bad reputation and was ranked amongst the worst in the UK. In my time there we were lucky enough to get funding for a drama studio and I enjoyed working with the drama teachers and preforming in plays and shows. I was a smart student and in the top set for all subjects, although I rarely attended my science lessons and my fellow students would always lock our Maths teacher in a cupboard for the duration of the lesson so my maths skills are limited!

    In the UK we finish high school at 16 and then have the choice to go to a sixth form college. I worked in a clothes shop and studied Media and Film at college. I was accepted to a University in London and my fees were paid in full by the government (Welsh Assembly). I studied Media and Communications specialising in Script Writing. I wanted to work as a film writer and director but during these three years I started to formulate more realistic goals.

    I worked as a runner on a comedy T.V. show, for a script consultancy and at film festivals but as I met more and more people in the industry I realised that my heart wasnít really in it. Upon graduation I lacked direction and got a job at a Financial Publishing Company. I tried to leave many times but was pulled back by promotions and pay rises.

    I simultaneously started to volunteer as a teacher and project coordinator at a supplementary school every Saturday. The money I earned working in Financial Publishing allowed me to leave London in May 2010 for Beijing. Since then Iíve been travelling and volunteering in Asia with my partner Carl, who I met in University.


    Please describe your culture, such as your customs, music, attire, traditions, religion, kinship?

    Welsh people are very proud of their heritage, myself included. We really hate to be called English! Wales is a beautiful country with lots of hills and farmland. Our national sport is rugby, our national flower is a daffodil and our national vegetable is a leak. Iím yet to find another country that has a national vegetable!
    Traditionally the country is Christian but religion wasnít prevalent in my youth. Our national day is March 1st, itís called St Davidís Day.

    Saint David is the patron saint of Wales. On this day we make ĎWelsh Cakesí and dress in traditional Welsh outfits: red shirts, with a white pinafore and a black and white frilly bonnet. However, I have not carried out this tradition in my adult life. We have a red dragon on our flag and our national language, Welsh is widely spoken alongside English.


    Daffodils at historic Penrhyn Castle in Hazell's beautiful country


    When was the first time you felt strongly that you care for something or you have an impact on someone?

    I remember attending to a thirteen year old boy in my first year volunteering at Azza. I noticed he was trying his best not to cry. He told me that he was being teased because of his short height. I spoke to him about how people are different and I shared with him something that my Grandmother used to say to me. ďThe best things come in small packagesĒ.

    He was calmer and left the classroom. In the following week, I heard him quoting my Grandmother and then I realised that Iíd actually contributed to this boyís confidence.


    What got you interested in volunteering? Where have you volunteered in the past?

    Iíd thought about teaching after university and I contacted a supplementary school to see if I could come by one day and observe one of their classes. I ended up staying for four years and working every Saturday for them as a volunteer teacher and project coordinator!

    I was lucky to meet a fellow volunteer who was both an experienced teacher and entrepreneur. Together we worked at Azza Supplementary School in West London, a school for North African students to study Arabic, the Koran and English. The children were a mix of refugees and immigrants, predominantly from Sudan. Some had perfect English and some spoke only the very basics, but it was more important that we created a safe community centre for the kids and their parents and worked to integrate them into British society.


    Where in the world is Hazell?


    I have also volunteered in Dharamsala, India, teaching English to Tibetan refugees and in the north and south of Sri Lanka as an English teacher and project developer. I loved teaching Tibetan Buddhist monks and learning about their culture and religion, and I loved working in the north of Sri Lanka with a Hindu organisation. Living in Jaffna in the north of Sri Lanka was a difficult yet rewarding experience. Bombed out buildings and bullet holes still remain from the war that ended in 2009 and the scars of conflict remain with the families of Jaffna. I did not meet many Tamil people who had not lost someone in the war.

    There I worked to develop a child sponsorship programme, which now supports over 100 children. Working with the local Swamiji (Hindu priest) we devised and facilitated Ďcampsí for these children to teach them basic hygiene, yoga (Carl and I are also yoga teachers), English, dance, drama, debate, religious and moral education, and photography. I also worked with the Northern Government Educational Department to develop a training programme for English teachers in government schools which I delivered two days a week over a four month period.

    We had no electricity every other day. Carl and I were the only non-Tamils in the area and the roads were a dusty red colour that soiled your hair and clothes. Despite all this, we made some great friends and felt extremely privileged to have access to a culture that few other foreigners have hadfor the duration of the 30 year war.

    Now I volunteer for Action to End Exploitation (now Children for Change-Cambodia) as an English teacher and I help out with other tasks when needed. I feel privileged to be working in Phnom Penh, which is such a modern city in comparison to the Indian sub-continent. However, the problems these children and families face are very different from those Iíve worked with in the past and particular to city life.


    Safety, fun and learning inside AEE (CCC) school


    What do you think about the children at Children for Change-Cambodia? What you see there?.

    I think itís amazing that these kids at AEE even make it to school every day and Iím even more amazed at their endless enthusiasm and energy. I canít begin to imagine living in the conditions that they live in, surrounded by drugs, prostitution and gambling, and still being able to hand in a piece of homework!

    Do you enjoy what you do? What don't you enjoy?

    I love teaching and I love learning. Every day I learn something new from either the children or the wonderful staff, especially the manager Thy. I teach an older group of students who speak fairly good English and a younger beginners group. I love helping the children to understand things and seeing the pride in their smiles when they get it, but I also relish playing games with them. I really enjoy speaking with all the children at the centre and spending time with them. Although the older students can often be just as moody as teenagers in the West if not more so!

    When a child is distracted or distant in class there could be a number of things on their minds. These kids deal with domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, the sex industry on their doorstep and financial poverty, so you need to be sensitive to their needs and accept that on the odd day, theyíre not going to go along with your lesson plan and theyíre needing something different from you.It may be support, encouragement or just someone to show some care. I donít enjoy facing the reality that these kids live out and the risks they encounter, but this is what we must work with as this is what is here.


    The slum where many of Hazell's students live


    What got you to work so hard for these children whom you do not even know?

    I often ask myself this question. My sister says that I volunteer now because I was such an awful child and a pretty terrible teenager! I donít agree with this but I donít think I volunteer on a completely unselfish basis. I want to help these kids because I can. I was lucky enough to be born in a materially developed country with access to free education, free healthcare and adequate social services. I feel I should share my knowledge and wealth.

    I donít think Iím doing anything special and all credit for AEE (CCC) should go to Thy, Tien and George who established the centre and have worked so hard over the years. Iíd love to work harder for these kids but unfortunately weíre limited by the lack of social services and corruption in Phnom Penh.


    Does helping at this school and meeting these children change your outlook on anything?

    The children of Asia have taught me numerous lessons and these have been reinforced by the children at CCC. They have taught me that it is possible to find joy in adverse circumstances. Mother Theresa repeatedly stated that the poverty of care and community was worse than any material or financial poverty and I think these children really exemplify this statement.

    I also realise how fortunate I was to be born into the circumstances I was born into. When I was younger I would feel cheated because my father was absent for most of my childhood and because my family were not as rich as our neighbours. Meeting these children has allowed me to reassess my own life and develop a sense of gratefulness for the things I did have and the community Iím from.


    Some students of CCC grow up without a father like Hazell


    How do you find money to fund your stay in Cambodia?

    Before coming to Cambodia, I made good money working for a publisher in England. When Carl and I decided to come to Cambodia, we sold all of our belongings and used our savings to fund our trip. Our money is running low so we have to return to England by this summer.


    What is your future plan and careers?

    I plan to return to education in the UK but am still debating what route to take. Although I am a qualified English as a Foreign Language teacher, I am not a qualified teacher in the UK. I love teaching and I love being around children so this is one of the routes Iím considering. I also enjoy working with people on a more personal developmental level so am considering training in social work. Iíve been debating this decision for the last five years so Iíve given myself a June 2013 deadline to make this decision!
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