Volunteer Review: Dylan M., Diving & Marine Conservation in Cambodia
Why I decided to volunteer
I was thinking about volunteering overseas for over a year before I applied for the Diving & Marine Conservation Project in Cambodia with Projects Abroad. I had been at university for a year and did not enjoy it so I decided to take a gap year. I was dealing with a lot of stress and I was told by many people that I should try helping others to get a new perspective on life. That is when I finally decided to volunteer.
In high school, I learned about reef ecology, and I am interested in marine species and ecosystems, so I thought the Diving & Marine Conservation Project would be perfect for me. I chose Cambodia because I wanted to go somewhere that I had not heard about before.
I was immensely scared when waiting for my flight but I was glad that I did it! I arrived at the airport in Phnom Penh and was met by a local Projects Abroad staff member who took me to my accommodation for the night. While driving through the city, I noticed how busy everything was, and the lack of road rules. There were people everywhere with lots of rubbish and stray cats and dogs in the streets. Seeing so much poverty saddened me. It is also difficult to describe the number of mosquitoes I swatted on my arms and legs that day.
After lunch at the volunteer apartment, I had an emotional period where I suddenly missed home. I had a bit of a cry but I soon got over it after getting some air while walking a couple of blocks around the apartment.
Arriving on Koh Sdach Island
After that day I settled in quite easily, especially when I reached the island where the Conservation Project is based. I rode with a university group from Australia and I felt better being with people from my home country who I could familiarie with.
My first thoughts of the base were very welcoming; the beds were comfortable and the dining area looked out onto the water and the sunrise. We went out to dinner on a few of the nights and I absolutely loved the food I was given.
My Conservation Project
During a beach clean up, we went down to Coconut Beach where there was so much rubbish that we did not have enough bags to fill them! We also went snorkeling just off Ghost Island. The water was dull and the coral was grey, and although we saw many sea urchins and a few bluefish, the experience was not as great as it could have been. Seeing this helped boost my sense of purpose in this project.
Open water diving
In my second week, I started my open water diving course. I might be getting ahead of myself, but I was probably the best student. After I was certified, I was ready to start diving! I started with a seahorse survey where we spotted a juvenile seahorse, and then joined a Dive Against Debris (DAD) dive where we removed fishing net and rope from the coral reefs. On one particular DAD dive, my coordinator and I collected net and rope that was stuck around the coral and rocks. We worked on cutting it away for a good 20 minutes, and we managed to get all of it!
In my third week, I started with reef surveys every morning. It did not take long to learn how to do it and I had great guidance from the Projects Abroad Conservation staff. By the afternoon, we were exhausted. We would often go straight to bed after updating the records on the computer.
We also went to Koh Totung to conduct a Seahorse Survey. We searched for about an hour and had spotted five full-grown seahorses and they were amazingly beautiful creatures. We recorded their species, gender, and holdfast and took photos with a ruler to determine their measurements. That afternoon, we recorded the data on a website called ISeahorse.com.
Teaching English in Cambodia
One afternoon, I taught an English lesson to a class of primary schoolchildren. I cannot express how much I loved that hour of teaching. All the kids really wanted to be there and it looked like they were having more fun than I was. I taught the alphabet, numbers, colors, months, days, and greetings to the kids, and made them practice one at a time to help them understand. This was definitely the most fulfilling moment I had during my journey. I never felt happier and more entertained than I did at that point and every other day I taught at the school.
Free time in Cambodia
One weekend I decided to spend alone at the base. It was a slow weekend, which was just what I needed. I spent time tanning, reading and drinking iced coffee. I explored further up the island to Paradise Point and the abandoned resort, and went to watch the sunset. The sunsets were breathtaking and most probably my favorite. I tried delicious street food and while walking back to the base some locals invited me over to have a drink with them. I only knew a few Khmer words, so I had no idea what they were saying, but I found it quite amusing, and would just nod in agreement. This was a great experience with the locals as they loved to socialize and were always so friendly, even if we did not understand each other.
I also had the opportunity to do karaoke. We were shown to a room with a table, chairs, large amplifiers in one corner with a TV/stereo setup in the middle, and we sang until we could sing no longer. It was a good night out, an amazing way to enjoy a bit of nightlife in another country. The next day we organized a fun dive at Turtle Island, seeing the colorful coral reef and the many different marine species - no turtles were sited, unfortunately.
On my final weekend in Cambodia, we organized dinner to see me off. At this point, I was enjoying myself too much to notice how fast the days ticked by and I was not looking forward to leaving anytime soon. I’d made many friends and I would be happy to even call them family.
I had a few hours before my flight home so I tried a restaurant that served fried Tarantula. I had to have this, and was surprisingly delicious! My last meal in the country was indeed the most daring, I wanted to leave on a high note and that spider sitting in my belly was definitely a great way to end my journey in such a wonderful country.
I hope that if any other future or current volunteers are reading this, you get to see how amazing my experience was; from the workload to the people I met along the way, the difficulties in emotions from missing home and family, to making a new home and a new family. Remember this: you have one life with a world full of opportunities in the grasp of your hand; you need to take those opportunities and live. In the future, I wish to return and do more work for Projects Abroad.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.