Claudia Bermudez is a senior who is involved in many clubs and organizations such as Model United Nations and the National Honor Society. However, the role that she is most known for is her position as president and founder of the statewide chapter “TASSEL Florida.”
TASSEL stands for “Teaching and Sharing Skills to Enrich Lives.” “Initially TASSEL’s sole activity was to have English-speaking, trained volunteers provide free English classes over video conferencing to the poor in rural Cambodia,” Bermudez said.
Bermudez explained that TASSEL has “evolved” to recruiting and training Cambodian adults into becoming teachers “as well as providing food aid, medical care access and other sustainability services to the poorest families who have limited capabilities to earn income.”
Students who are involved in TASSEL or more specifically who apply to be TASSEL teachers teach Cambodian children the basics of the English language.
There are two types of teachers in TASSEL: a VSEE teacher and a writing teacher. A VSee teacher (one type of teacher in TASSEL), “is a TASSEL volunteer that teaches English through the VSEE app…it basically just means that you teach English on a video call.” Bermudez said. While a writing teacher corrects essays of the older children without face to face interaction.
Bermudez lived in Seoul from 10-14 where she learned of TASSEL; but, did not start as a teacher there because she knew that she would soon be moving to the U.S. She explained that something about TASSEL stuck with her and convinced her to start the first TASSEL chapter in Florida. She believes that the compassion that her school community possesses “can truly motivate its student body to come together and work towards something bigger than all of us,” Bermudez said.
This summer, five members of TASSEL traveled to Cambodia to see the students they were teaching from across the world in their hometowns. Not only did they meet their students, but they also visited some of their students’ homes, they brought the families giant rice bags that one of the TASSEL leaders bought in Cambodia so they can donate food back to the families also.
The TASSEL members learned about the Cambodian genocide, “which is the root cause of a lot of the suffering and poverty there right now,” Bermudez said.
Click here for a video of Bermudez’s students practicing their speaking skills in front of classmates.
Q&A with Claudia Bermudez:
What does TASSEL stand for?
Teaching and Sharing Skills to Enrich Lives. The TASSEL acronym is so important because it embodies everything that the organization values and gives to the people of Cambodia. Our teachers do not merely teach English, they share valuable life skills with the children in their classes. For example, many of the younger students are not disciplined in their studies, so we teach them how to take efficient notes and the best ways to study the material that they learn in class.
What is TASSEL’S mission?
TASSEL’s mission is to provide continuous, high-quality English education and sustainability services to the underserved in rural Cambodia, as well as to nurture and transform the hearts of all involved.
What was the most rewarding part of TASSEL’s trip?
I think the most rewarding part of the trip for me was being able to meet the Cambodian teachers that work for TASSEL. These teachers really inspired me because of their dedication to making sure that the younger generations of Cambodia are learning English in order to succeed later in life. Even though the Khmer teachers could make more money in the city as dishwashers, they choose to stay as teachers for TASSEL. Being able to work with these teachers was such an honor, and I was really able to learn valuable life lessons from them.
What was the hardest thing to accomplish in the TASSEL club and/or the trip to Cambodia?
As president, one of the biggest challenges of my job is coordinating with the different branches and ensuring that all teachers are properly dictating their lessons. During the trip the hardest thing for me was when we visited a killing field in Phnom Penh. It was really hard to get through all the audio recordings of the atrocities that had previously happened on the very site we were walking through. It got to the point where by the end of the tour I was sobbin. There’s a man there and there is a little pot in front of this giant memorial at the killing fields where you can put down a flower if you want as an offering; the man sells you the flowers, so my friend bought a flower and I was crying so she [my friend] let me out down the flower to honor the victims that died in the genocide. It’s really difficult to hear stories of other people suffering, and unfortunately Cambodia is a country marked by suffering, meaning that there were a lot of very difficult stories to get through.
Why do you think people should join TASSEL?
For people who have the right heart and mindset to serve, TASSEL can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your high school career and possibly even your life. It’s amazing to be able to watch your students grow and progress and better their English abilities and go on to become professionals. I haven’t seen my own students turn into professionals because I was only there for two weeks, but for example, one of the TASSEL teachers, Teacher Dara, graduated from the University of Battambang just last year and he started off just as a TASSEL student. After he graduated from university (something that a lot of kids there don’t even dream about doing) TASSEL hired him back as a teacher. It’s amazing to go to Cambodia and give clothes and medicine to those in need. It’s amazing to interact with the Khmer teachers who sacrifice all that they have every single day because they prioritize the education of Cambodia’s children.
What are the TASSEL requirements?
There’s really no requirement to be a member and help out with any number of the activities that we have to help the people of Cambodia. However, being a teacher is a process that is a bit more selective. For the 2018-2019 year all members who want to be teachers are going to have to fill out a small application. Aside from the application, the officers should be able to see that a prospective teacher truly has the heart and passion to serve the people of Cambodia. Once selected as a teacher, there are a couple training sessions the student would need to go through before being able to finally start teaching online.