For one month I did a voluntary service at the NGO “Bamboo Shoots” (Facebook page and the German website) in Cambodia. I wanted to gain a completely different experience apart from the developed and materialized life in Germany and of course I wanted to help where it is really needed. In their three primary schools the organisation is getting little kids prepared for primary school but they have other education programmes, too, such as afternoon class for older students or a possibility to integrate disabled children in class. I was teaching English in the schools, giving workshops for the teachers and supported the work of the organisation in Social Media and on their website. I didn’t expect that this time would be so intense and emotional.
How did I organise this?
I knew the manager of the NGO, Petra, through my church community in Berlin. She is already working for more than 20 years in Cambodia and founded the NGO with her Cambodian husband. One month I lived with their family together in Siem Reap, a city in the north near the famous Angkor Wat temple. I took the bus from Phnom Phen, the capital of Cambodia (5 hours, US $9) but it is possible to fly, too, or to take the bus from Bangkok (10 hours).
Another possibility is to look on WORKAWAY where they offer many volunteering positions like a Facebook for volunteering services, cultural exchange and gap year. You can find hosts who are looking for help with gardening in New Zealand, house keeping in the Canadian mountains or teaching kids in Kenya. (US $29 for signing up for an account valid for a year – worldwide!)
Or look at WWOOFING which stands for “World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms” or how I remember “Willing workers on organic farms”. The difficult thing is that you have to be sure where you want to go. You have to register per country or area and pay the member fee for that, e.g. for New Zealand US $28 (NZ $40). The same thing if you want to volunteer in several countries you always have to register and pay again. But if you are sure with your country – then you have a lot of nice hosts who offer volunteering positions from one week up to half a year.
All other website you find if you google just want to make money out of volunteering, there are even some providers who offer programmes for 4 weeks and you have to pay $2500 – I think that is not the intention of “volunteer” work.
How was my daily routine?
Every morning my alarm was ringing at 5.30 a.m. School begins early in Cambodia because of the heat in the day. On the back seat of a motorbike, still the rising sun in my eyes I got brought to school which was half an hour away on the villages – because that is where the help is needed the most. Thirty little kids aged 3 to 5 years welcomed me in the class room totally excited about the fact that I am a foreigner and white.
First the kids have to do sport exercises, which also helps implement disciplinary expectations towards the teacher because that is very important to prepare them for the public schools. Then they have to brush their teeth, more than a few have cavities. I think they are just not as aware of health care as we are; maybe it is also because there is no clean running water in the countryside. The hygienic conditions were probably the biggest difference for me as the toilets did not flush, they had no paper and they were mostly just a hole in the ground.
How was the teaching?
Next to their own language Khmer, they get taught in English for which I am mostly responsible. I taught them about the alphabet, numbers and different types of school lexis. The other Cambodian teachers helped me to keep the children focused and with the translation. To hold their attention was the biggest challenge for me. After the first lesson they ate breakfast – a much needed meal. Between the lessons they could play outside. After 11 the preschool was over and I had lunch break. Sometimes I ate with the teachers or we got something in a local restaurant. The traditional food was a very interesting cultural experience.
After a short break in a hammock in 30 degree heat I helped the teachers with the afternoon class for the older children from primary school. The NGO has three schools and one library with additional education programmes. Some of them are holding a book in their hands for the first time. I did the additional English class in the classrooms next to the library which was really fun. The children are already a bit older and much more focused which made it easier for me to teach.
What do I learn from it?
The time in Cambodia was very impressive for me. It is important to know that this country suffered from the communist Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s which killed a quarter of the population. They wanted to build an agricultural state, that’s why everyone had to move in the countryside. Until now this step back is remarkable in the development of the country. To see how the people deal with their past fascinates me. They showed me that the value of being together as a family is often much more important than work or money.
All photos are taken by myself. If you have any more questions, please do not hesitate to comment or ask me through the contact form.