Lansana Dolley - Human Rights in Cambodia
Since enrolling in the University of South Australia, I felt compelled to do something interesting and positive with my degree. My plan was to use my degree to try and benefit developing and developed countries. I was lucky enough to have a free semester at my disposal and so the plan to volunteer abroad was hatched. After just three hectic months of preparation and discussion with my university faculty (the School of Communication, International Relations and Languages) and the local Project Abroad staff (Will Pashley and the rest of the team) I was sitting on a plane bound for a city which would become my home for the next three months: Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Arriving in Cambodia
Nineteen hours and three flights later, I finally arrived, and was immediately greeted by Projects Abroad staff and whisked through the vibrant commotion and energy of the city to the apartments in Phnom Penh. It was here that I first got to experience the loving kindness of the Cambodian people. After sharing a nearly hour-long conversation in broken English (Cambodia is not an English speaking country) many laughs, and about a liter of Cambodian tea between us, a Projects Abroad Cambodia staff member (Nafy) invited me to his home for my first Khmer dish and to meet his family. Sitting on their floor, feeling gloriously full, laughing and extremely gracious for my invitation, I got my first glimpse of the hospitality, warmth, and humor of this amazing country.
In Phnom Penh, volunteers live in a four block apartment run by incredible Cambodian people, who serve as cooks at the apartment and will make you feel part of their family in no time. These fantastic people provide volunteers with incredible love and hospitality in a home full of laughter, where friendships are forged between people of all different nationalities. The cultural exchange shared between other volunteers can be extremely profound and just as rewarding as with locals. Living with such a diverse group of people in such close proximity, you develop a curiosity and appreciation for each other’s perspective and gain lifelong friends and promises of a couch to sleep on, on the other side of the world.
Exploring Phnom Penh
Travelling from Adelaide, South Australia to the Human Rights project in Phnom Penh, Cambodia is a whole experience in itself. An hour tuk tuk ride for an induction, winding along the city’s edge, will bring you to Wat Phnom, Royal Palace, Central Market, Riverside, and Independent Monument. From Phnom Penh, you cram into a minivan. You would think that with 18 passengers it is at full capacity, that is, until another family of three decides to jump in! Thus begins the five and a half an hour winding ascent into Siem Reap. The last stretch of this journey is a two hour-long crawl up as a single land dirt track that is also serviced by over-loaded goods carriers, cow herders, the local bus, and the occasional insane motorcyclist.
Interning at the Human Rights Project
Another thing that made my experience so enjoyable was that there was no “typical day” while interning in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Work days were led by the ever-capable Housing Right Task Force Coordinator, Kim Laurent, and could entail anything from monitoring protests, visiting local communities in the organizational scope, going to a prison compound, conducting interviews and research, writing a concept note, applying for grants, and participating in fundraising activities in the most beautiful environments imaginable. Anyone who questions the strength of Cambodian women has never been fortunate enough to experience women protesting against injustices and forced eviction, as the men stood around and watched.
On a very practical level, using my internship period to volunteer has provided more beneficial than I had ever imagined possible. My internship experience has demonstrated the possibility of amazing career paths and inspired me to use my university degree towards future Human Rights projects, volunteer and non-governmental organization (NGO) roles.
Traveling in Cambodia
I enjoyed going to the countryside, visiting historical temples and walking inside the caves and climbing on top of colonial buildings in Kep city and Kampot. I had never held such an appreciation for hiking before in my life but my experience had an unexpected impact on my fitness, which increased dramatically as a result of living and exercising at high altitudes. Being able to share these experiences with friends and other volunteers only makes these mountainous journeys even better; running, jumping and dancing along hiking trails, singing together, cracking jokes, and sharing stories, not only during work, but also for the occasional picnic, are moments I will never forget.
My advice to anyone volunteering would be to appreciate every second of your experience and immerse yourself in every moment possible. Your volunteering experience will be one of the most rewarding adventures of your life, so why not make the most of it! Learn the local languages, eat the local foods, eat with your hands, get involved in local celebrations and festivals, talk to anyone and everyone, make new friends, and ask lots of questions. You will learn new things about people, the world, and yourself that you never thought possible. Also, remember to appreciate the fact that you are living for a length of time in a country that is so radically different from your own, something many people are not lucky enough to do.
I can honestly say, volunteering with Projects Abroad was one of the best decisions of my life and I would recommend them to anyone who wants to volunteer abroad. They have provided me with life-changing experiences that I still appreciate on a daily basis. There is not a single day where I am not reminded of my time in Cambodia and I spend many hours daydreaming up schemes to get myself back there.
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