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Joëlle Zander - Micro-finance in Cambodia

Local men walk down a road on King Island (Koh Sdach), Cambodia

I participated in the Micro-finance project for duration of 6 weeks in January 2016. I had a great time. During my stay there was always a group of around 5 volunteers from different countries. The first weeks were very interactive by going to the communities to get a sense of how they live, what they do and what their level of education is so that we as volunteers could adapt our approach to them.

Volunteering abroad

Since the project with Khemara and Projects Abroad was still fresh as it started around March 2015, we could do a lot for the processes in the company as well by streamlining processes of handing out the loans and the accounting procedures. Furthermore, trainings had to be redesigned to fit the level of knowledge of the communities. We also started the initiative to open up individual savings accounts at a local bank. It was great to get the feedback from the groups that they really learned something from the trainings and to see that they were motivated to be part of the project of Khemara which in comparison to loans at a bank or private lender is more time consuming.

The whole process of people enrolling for the loan and actually receiving the loan took around four weeks. This is really interesting because you are able to really connect with the people from that group because you support them from beginning to end. I was informed that it would be people starting their own business. However, the participants already had a small shop. This did not make my project less interesting because our coordinator gave us all the freedom and autonomy to start up projects that you found interesting and worthwhile. My advice is, being proactive and you will be highly rewarded.

Living in Cambodia

Scenic ocean view of sunset in Cambodia at Projects Abroad placement

The accommodation was really good. I stayed in apartment 5 which is in Russey Keo and around 15 minutes with the Tuk-Tuk from the center of Phnom Penh. It was a pity that the apartment wasn’t closer to the center but for me the advantage was that it was only 5 minutes from my project. The city in itself is very crowded with motorcycle and Tuk Tuk so I don’t even know if I would have liked to live in the middle of that! I’ve stayed there with around 15 volunteers so enough people to entertain you! I shared my room with 3 other girls which were really nice. We could do what we wanted. If you wanted to talk, you talked. If not, that was also fine.

The food was great. The breakfast always contained bread and fruit and food like fried rice, sticky rice with mango, pancakes, eggs and sometimes cake was added to it. First, I was a bit hesitant to eat Asian food for 6 weeks but the cooks did their utmost best to diversify the food. During lunch and dinner there were always plates with vegetables, meat, rice but also days with noodles, pasta, fish, spring rolls, omelet and fries. The great thing was the fruit after every meal. You were also allowed to use the fridge to store you own food.

During the weekends the volunteers did trips together to Phnom Penh itself, Kampot, Kep, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville and Koh Rong. I enjoyed these weekends the most because we went with big groups, sometimes 13 people! We did a three island tour, rented motorbikes, relaxed on the beach, you name it! After my 6 weeks I went travelling up north to Kratie, Banlung, Siem Reap and Battambang.

I enjoyed Siem Reap the most with the temples and the relaxed atmosphere of the city. Overall the time during my project was a really good experience and I would do it all over again.

Read more about Micro-finance in Cambodia.

Joëlle Zander

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