Posts Tagged With: Volunteering


Yesterday we arrived in Thailand after 6 and a half weeks in Cambodia, 5 of which we spent living and volunteering in Phnom Penh. Way back when we started planing our trip, working or volunteering abroad was high on the list of things we wanted to do, and we spent many hours researching. When we finally found an organisation called UBELONG, both affordable and offering different types of placement (teaching English for me, something other than working with kids for Law!), we then settled on Phnom Penh as well. Having this last few weeks booked in advance helped us planning a lot of the rest of our time in Asia.


We finished last Friday, and are still digesting the experience I think! For us both, it ranged from rewarding to frustrating at times, and it took a while to get to grips with the Cambodian way of doing things. Timekeeping, organisation and the pace of work are ’different’, so in some ways 5 weeks doesn’t really feel like enough time to make a discernible impact. On the other hand, it also felt like time to move on; being in one place for such a long time was weird after so much travel.

It’s probably with rose tinted specs, but I really enjoyed my experience. I think it’s easier to see if you’re making a difference with teaching English, as the kids either improve or they don’t. I was lucky in that I had a small group to work with for at least 2 or 3 hours each day, so I could plan my lessons and see what worked and what didn’t. I also enjoyed the time I spent with the other, younger students, but such short lessons with bigger, mixed ability groups were harder to move forward. By the end of the last week, my older students had definitely improved at least a little bit and they seemed sad to see me go as well.

Grade 2

I’ll miss the students, especially the older group, and hopefully they’ll have another teacher take them over soon. They were funny, and gave me a hard time at points, but most of the time we got on very well. The melodramatic, comedy response of “Teacher, no!” to most of my instructions will always make me laugh.

The boys

Pheakdey... The little shit

It does make me think I’d like to teach English as a foreign language again possibly, but also makes me wary of short term volunteering – there were maybe some people we met during our time in Phnom Penh that were more voluntourists. Some of the orphanages and NGOs also seemed to be more interested in the money the volunteers bring, rather than the skills they might have.

Cambodia is a country with thousands of NGOs and orphanages, with huge problems with corruption and a big reliance on foreign aid, as well as a tragic recent history. Living and working here for even a short while has been a really rewarding and interesting experience. We’ve met some awesome people, had some hilarious nights out and hopefully made a little difference somewhere at some point!

Since finishing, we’ve spent a night on a desert island, met up with some Vodkatrainers, had a hassle free border crossing into Thailand, and celebrated are 12th anniversary of being together. Off now to spend another night on a train, this time to Chiang Mai.

Koh Rong Samloem

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Back to work for a bit

In our last 2 1/2 months of travelling, Sam and I have barely spent 10 minutes apart, so it was a very strange feeling to head off separately on our first days at “work” in Phnom Penh.

We originally decided that we wanted to do some volunteering as part of our year long trip to challenge ourselves and try something different. When we first arrived, we suddenly realised that we hadn’t really given too much thought about how much of a culture shock it might be. But getting to know the other volunteers in our hostel has been great and we’re getting into the swing of things now!

My volunteer placement is with an NGO called Farmer Livelihood Development (FLD) who provide agriculture training to rural people to help them develop their skills and improve their standard of living. I will be helping them to develop a marketing strategy.

After a 30 minute tuktuk drive to the office, I met with the CEO and Project Manager and  realised how strangely familiar many of the issues were to my job at Cornwall College Business in the UK. Hopefully that means I can do something vaguely useful while I am here, although at the moment it still seems like quite a daunting task.

On my 3rd day in the office they asked if I would like to join them for a trip toMondulkiri, one of the remotest provinces in Cambodia, to join in with a series of management workshops. The trip was for 5 days and leaving the next day, so it was a bit of a shock, but I thought  I’d better just go for it!

It was strange to say goodbye to Sam, but I got in the minibus – me and 17 Cambodians – and we drove the 350km out into a far corner of the country, which borders with Vietnam. The countryside is beautiful, very green and forested, and it’s not as hot as the city which is nice.


It was a fascinating experience to be part of a different business culture. The meetings were run very collaboratively and democratically, and although I can’t imagine meetings running in the same way back home (two hour lunch breaks,no shoes, meeting outside, clapping at the beginning and the end of eachsession) it was clear that everyone was very passionate about what they do.


NGOs in Cambodia work in English, although all the meetings were run in Khmer. Everyone was very helpful at translating for me though and I was made to feel very welcome, especially by the two girls who I was sharing a room with.

We managed to have time for some fun as well, and visited Sea Forest (so calledbecause the hills of trees look like a sea) and Bou Sra waterfall.


I did eat an awful lot of rice, including for breakfast, but on the last night the girls had a party for me and managed to buy lots of western food – chips, fried chicken and bread! It was really sweet.

Sea forrest

I now have just over three weeks left to put my plan together, but have gotten to know FLD and my temporary colleagues much better. And although it was very strange to be apart from Sam and be the only foreigner amongst so many locals, it was a great experience.

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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