Volunteer Review: Heather C., Teach English and Other Subjects in Cambodia
Hello everyone, or should I say Sous-dey! My name is Heather C. from Canada and I spent three months in Cambodia with Projects Abroad during the summer of 2013. When I arrived in Cambodia, I had just finished my third year of University and I found myself in Cambodia for numerous reasons. First and foremost, I decided to travel with Projects Abroad because I spent two months in Fiji as a teacher with them in 2012 and had an incredible experience. But why Cambodia? That was a question I was asked often when I told my family and friends that I was thinking of volunteering abroad again.
After speaking with the Canadian office, I was immediately fascinated by the prospect of spending my time in Siem Reap because I knew in Cambodia my work would have an impact - in a country that was recently devastated by a genocide, more than 30% of the population live below the poverty line (World Vision, 2013) and 50% of the population are under the age of 14 years old (Projects Abroad Handbook, 2013). In university, I am studying Education and my subject area focus is French, so I wanted to go to a country where I could teach in French, in hopes of merging this internship with my official academic programme. For me, Cambodia seemed like a perfect fit.
Arriving in Cambodia
Arriving in Cambodia, my senses were shocked with the surroundings of a country so different from Canada - the architecture, the tuk-tuks weaving on the road, the food stalls on the side of the street and the widespread poverty. My accommodations in Cambodia were different than in Fiji, where I lived with a host family. I was immediately welcomed by staff and other volunteers into the volunteer house, the ‘villa’, and felt at home. Life at the villa was very fun - I loved the social aspect of living with the other volunteers and being able to share our experiences while hanging out in the hammocks or on the roof, or while washing our laundry by hand in the yard!
Three months in Cambodia permitted me to learn a lot about the culture and immerse myself in the Cambodian lifestyle. Samea, the villa’s cook, made delicious Khmer food and showed us how to prepare traditional dishes. Being placed in Siem Reap made it very easy to visit the Angkor Temples, which I visited three times (once with my class as a field trip!). I became very familiar with the town through biking, moto rides and wandering around with the other volunteers.
My Teaching Placement
The most memorable times of Cambodia were spent at my placements. I taught French at École Wat Bo School to Grade 4, 5 and 6, where the classes were filled with 40-60 students each, and I taught English and French at the KSEDO Orphanage. The children at KSEDO were absolutely amazing. There is a climate of respect and family at KSEDO, where the older children help the younger children learn, and everyone is included. The children were so dedicated to their studies and always wanted to learn - every day as I came through the gates, I was asked “Miss Heather, school? What are we doing today?”
They also loved to dance - they perform traditional Khmer routines and some afternoons we had hip-hop dance parties at the orphanage! Dancing is their favourite hobby and a creative outlet for them. I feel very fortunate that I got to volunteer at KSEDO and meet these inspirational children - they will be Cambodia’s leaders in a few years, I’m sure!
Volunteering in Cambodia for three months was definitely a step outside of my comfort zone, but so rewarding. I have wonderful memories of my placement and have new friends from all over the world. The phrase “Aw Kun” means thank you in Khmer, and I heard it often from the locals thanking me for my volunteer work; but honestly I want to say Aw Kun to Cambodia for such an incredible experience. I will never forget the wonderful students and all the lessons I learnt.
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.