I arrived in Cambodia on a Saturday morning and was met at the airport by Chammy from Projects Abroad, and then taken to my apartment building north of Phnom Penh.
Some of the other volunteers were away for the weekend, but I wasn’t the only arrival on that Saturday morning so had people to chat too. They were all very welcoming and we arranged a trip to the Royal Palace on the Sunday. After induction on Monday morning I started at my Childcare placement that afternoon.
My Childcare placement
My Childcare placement was about 20 minutes by tuk-tuk. This was a fascinating journey along a dusty, but busy road passing schools, ramshackle shops and buildings with the street bustling with people and the cars, lorries, tuk-tuks and bikes all jostling for their places and honking their horns. I replay that journey in my head all the time.
On arrival I was greeted by the two teachers and the cook, as well as the adorable children. On average there were about 26 children between the ages of three and six, including a dog with its puppy and a variety of chickens that lived in the yard! I quickly learnt not to be surprised by anything in Cambodia.
I was impressed by the routine the teachers had set. The children knew when it was time for lessons, watching a DVD, lunch, sleep time and shower time. They helped put the tables away after lessons, get them out for lunch, put the pillows and mats away after sleep time and it was lovely to see some of the older children help the younger ones get ready for shower time. Obviously there were different characters, some more boisterous than others but their smiles could melt your heart.
Volunteering in Cambodia
I hadn’t anticipated how difficult it is to teach even the most basic English to children who have no real knowledge of it, when you can’t explain in any detail to the teachers what you are trying to get across.
I was working with another volunteer and we discovered early on that they loved doing ‘hands on’ lessons – not reciting words and blackboard work which seemed to be the Khmer way of teaching. Drawing round their hands and feet when learning the body or sticking body parts to a cut out on the board was much more enjoyable to them than just saying what the body parts were.
My accommodation was clean, but basic as I had expected. We were in two apartment buildings on opposite sides of a small side street.
All the food was at the other apartment building as was the internet connection, DVD player etc so we all socialised together. The age difference made no difference and all the volunteers were welcoming and included me in everything.
We had great weekends away travelling by boat up the Tonle Sap River to Siem Reap or by bus to Kampot in the south. Accommodation was always cheap but clean and you can eat out very reasonably enjoying some wonderful Cambodian cuisine.
We had massages at ‘Seeing Hands’ an NGO enabling the blind to work and live independently – we ate at ‘Friends’ another NGO helping former street children by training them to be waiters or cooks etc. We meditated with the monks at the beautiful Wat Lang Ka Pagoda in downtown Phnom Pehn. We bartered constantly with the tuk-tuk drivers and clothes sellers in Russian Market.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Cambodia and would say to anybody if you are considering volunteering – do it – you will not regret it for a moment.