Hello my name is Nagham, I would like to share the experience I had in Cambodia during two weeks.
Knowing that I hold a bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree in Political science, I have always been interested in the humanitarian aspect of my studies as well as recognizing the importance of these volunteering missions to countries like Cambodia: a country that – it seems – depends extremely on volunteer’s help.
I have to admit that from the second I arrived to Cambodia, the experience began: the Tuk tuk, the level of poverty and pollution but at the same time, the ever-smiling ever-nice people (even though they had endured and still endure so much), etc.
I have to emphasize on the emotional evolution we experienced in our placement: a first very shocking and sentimentally unbearable introduction to the center and the kids that turned into one of the most revealing andsoul searching locations.
Along with our mission, we realized the necessity of connecting with other volunteers to stay in line with yourself, this is where our house played a huge supporting role.
Our experience with Globalong was nothing short than perfect all thanks to Sophie.
But maybe we could have been a bit more informed as to who we will be working with and what to expect in our placement since we were to take care of disabled kids and we really had toadapt and learn on our own upon arrival.
Here I have to state my extreme appreciation for the mamas who handle this center: they don’t nearly possess the necessary means, however they help these kids and they do it with a smile on their face – the mama in charge of our group was even 8 months pregnant.
It is a respectable organization that lives well to its reputation. Excellent communication guaranteed as well as ease of mind.
Since we arrived on Saturday 16 of April and it was still the period of the Khmer New year, we had few days to ourselves before the orientation session.The local team as a whole was formidable – the least we can say. They were very helpful, always available for help and support (especially Sreng and Mey), there was one day dedicated to a tour of Phnom Penh.
It was very well organized and we were able to cover most of the important sites while gaining in local perspective (since the coordinator Sreng was with us.
We had a whole day during which we were able to better understand the history of Cambodia, its culture and traditions, the do-s and don’t-s in the society, the basic needed language (it was a very helpful course however for a two weeks stay, you learn to use few words for the fun of it and you keep few addresses in mind – better understood by locals if spelled in Khmer in case you are lost or need to get somewhere – but you don’t really memorize a lot of the words).
Our volunteering experience was more like an emotional roller coaster. You do fall in love with the kids and you learn to take care of them, feed them, play with them, etc.
However, no matter what you do or how much time you spend, you will still think about the situation in which these kids and even these employees (the mamas) live.
We should raise awareness about the low level of livelihood in Cambodia and especially in these centers: under-equipped and under-funded with no real capability to rehabilitate these disabled kids.
Contrary to common belief, there are many places to visit in Cambodia especially if you are joined by a group of friends all there to enjoy their time and explore.
I really recommend that any volunteer starts by visiting the Genocide Museum – although very sad and emotional, this visit will help you grasp the entire situation in Cambodia.
Following that, the tour that is prepared by the local Organization is very well set and covers the main places.
Walk through the independence museum, the royal Palace, the Wat Ounalom (Pagoda), thekilling fields (highly recommended), the central market and Russian market (prepare for the experience for there are some pretty disturbing stuff you would see in these markets haha).
The touristic sites apart, nightlife in Phnom Penh is booming: after a long day volunteering, you will need to go out: the places we recommend are: the blue dog, 11 happy, Club love, the foreign correspondence club (by the river, recommended for the view), Howie’s bar (could be a fun choice), etc Keep in mind that we were here for only two weeks; the places I mentioned above are the ones usually frequented by volunteers: In my opinion, if you go to Pasteur street 51, you will definitely find something you like. Now when in Phnom Penh in a heated season, you will immediately want to find a swimming pool: there are many hotels with access to a pool (even if you are not staying at this hotel) and there is also the Phnom Penh sports club as a daily reasonable option. We were also able to visit both Siem Reap and Sihanouk ville.
When in Siem Reap make sure not to miss the sunrise (people tell you it’s too crowded but it is worth the effort), also if you want to see the sunset you can take a trip to the floating villages (« Kompong Khleang » is the non-touristic choice but it all depends on the season: some villages dry out in heated seasons) – and there they take you to a place in the middle of the river where you can wait for the sunset.
Go with friends and volunteers, both places are so much fun, you can find many hotels/hostels for a low price (in general, the cost of living is very low).
In addition, make sure to go out to the night market, it was an utmost joy and fun: people were dancing in the street, foreigners and locals: there was a little local girl, talented hip hop dancer, she dances with you and laughs and smiles while to begin with, she’s on the street to sell some wrist bands.
You would not want to leave (Stay near Otres Beach)! There are so many more places to visit but we were on a short mission of two weeks so we only had two weekends.
The sole fact that we are staying at a volunteers House guarantees we will meet many interesting people originating from various countries: USA, Germany, Australia, Portugal, France, etc.
We realized, from the second we got out of the airport, that Cambodians are one of the nicest and most humble people we ever met. There are obviously cultural differences but all you need to focus on is respect: respect their traditions and their values, and they will respect you in return and welcome you in their society.
The mamas in the volunteering center hold a special place in my heart: these women make an incredible effort with nearly nothing in their possession. The mama with whom I used to work – Rashmay (I am not sure of the spelling) – was unique, strong, intelligent and always smiling.
What should be concluded is that to be living in this center is no easy job! By the end of the day, we go back to the house, shower and go out to blow off some steam; we have a life separate from the center and the kids, the story is completely different with them!
We will never forget them: they could change your life without them even knowing it whether it is Bora with his favorite song “eat banana” haha or Van (one of the happiest kids I have ever met), etc.
Simply said, this experience changed my entire perspective on life and its value.
You learn that as small as the world is becoming with technology and globalization, as diverse and completely different it actually is. It was important for me to realize that I can make a difference!
By just feeding one kid, or playing with another or even just buying a bottle of water from a shop, you are changing someone’s life. But in the same time, it is frustrating to think that we, as volunteers, we come and go, these kids will still be there: smiling as they are and while recognizing the importance of these missions, it is not enough!
I reiterate we should raise awareness as to the situation in Cambodia, the level of corruption, of pollution, of poverty, etc.
With every trip I make, I have a hard time adapting, but this trip had a deeper and spiritual impact.
All this imprints on you and it becomes much harder to go back to what you had before.
I can honestly say that I still haven’t re-adapted nor do I want to.
I still have my work, friends and family but my perspective is different and I am learning to welcome this change and try to use it to help someone in need and to appreciate even the little things in my life.
Just enjoy it! There is nothing to worry about. You feel the cultural shock for barely the first day and then it becomes easy: surround yourself with other volunteers (they share your mind-set and experience), be patient (this is very important, life in Cambodia has a slow easy pace much slower then you are used to; embrace that!), be respectful of the locals’ opinion and listen to their advice, go out and make friends (there are so many presumptions in regards to life in Cambodia, especially for girls: I really think that in each country, there are risks, but it is widely exaggerated when it comes to a country like Cambodia, we went out every chance we got and never did anything bad happen to us, everyone we met was just the nicest!).
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