Volunteer Review: Natalie S., Occupational Therapy in Cambodia
After three challenging and exhausting years at university, I felt more than ready to move on to a new adventure and finally put all the skills I had learned into practice. After many months of searching the internet for occupational therapy volunteer projects abroad, I was confident that Projects Abroad were a trusted company who could offer me a worthwhile experience. I had a good idea of the type of project I wanted to undertake but when it came to which country I should do it in, I had no idea. The Occupational Therapy Project in Cambodia seemed perfect for me and after some research into the country, I decided to take the leap into the unknown.
Before my arrival in Cambodia
Very soon after applying, I was put into contact with a member of staff at Projects Abroad. She was there to give me all the information I needed before my departure and answer any concerns or worries I had. The professionalism and friendliness she demonstrated, alongside her reassurance, meant I wasn’t nervous but rather excited for my pending trip to Cambodia.
Arriving in Cambodia
It was a long and tiring journey from London to Phnom Penh but I was ridiculously excited to touch down in Cambodia! I was greeted at the airport by a member of staff from Projects Abroad who spoke to me about the country during our short transfer to the accommodation. As soon as I stepped out of the airport, the culture shock well and truly hit! The hustle and bustle and the motorbikes everywhere are like a scene from a film. The heat can be quite overwhelming as it is very humid and dusty but I quickly got used to it.
Upon arrival at the apartments, I had everything I needed ready and waiting for me. I then had lunch in the communal area which gave me an opportunity to meet other volunteers from around the world, all embarking on their own adventures. The food provided gives you a good insight into typical Cambodian cuisines but if you prefer to opt for more western dishes then you can go out and eat very cheaply!
My Occupational Therapy Project
The center where I worked is home to many disabled children in Cambodia. It is impossible not to notice just how caring and hardworking the staff working at the center really are. They are always supportive and appreciative of the help they receive from volunteers around the world. They always endeavor to ensure your placement with them is worthwhile. And then there’s the children. Despite their hardships, they are some of the happiest and easy-going children you will ever meet! Their smiles and laughs are so infectious and their innocence is so evident.
During the placement, I was working alongside experienced physiotherapists. I gained skills in massage and manipulation alongside a great deal of knowledge around cerebral palsy, the predominant disability at the center. There are also ample opportunities to use graded activities and games to help improve a child’s sensory, process and motor skills. Seeing even the smallest improvement in a child’s functioning was so rewarding and satisfying!
The evenings and weekends were a perfect opportunity to explore this beautiful and endearing country with my fellow volunteers. One of my personal highlights was visiting the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum - I was quite naïve about Cambodia’s past and although heart-breaking, this museum gave a great deal of insight into the country’s harrowing history.
Another unforgettable experience in Cambodia was the weekend I spent in Siem Reap with my new-found friends. What a beautiful place! Despite the 6-hour journey in a minibus, this is a must do. We got up bright and early to see the sunrise before exploring a number of temples, including the famous Angkor Wat. Tour guides will transport you between temples in their tuk tuk’s (typical Cambodian mode of transport) at a small cost. Another must do in Siem Reap is the floating village, which is exactly as the name says! Houses, schools, and shops, all on stilts in the middle of a lake - a world away from the chaos in London. Siem Reap is also famous for its pub street, which once again is exactly as the name suggests. If you’re brave you can even try some of the Cambodian delicacies from the street stalls - spider, snake and locust among other delicious things.
Silk Island is just a short journey away from Phnom Penh and I would highly recommend putting half a day aside to visit. I had the opportunity to see the silkworms and was completely blown away when watching the local women create such beautiful silk items. There is a shop at the end of the tour where you can purchase some of the silk which is created on the island. This calm and relaxed island is a complete contrast to the craziness of Phnom Penh. Other things I would recommend in Cambodia include Daughters of Cambodia, a cruise along the river and of course a visit to some of the many markets (although be prepared to do some bargaining).
All in all, Cambodia is a fabulous country to visit! My placement was unbelievably worthwhile and Projects Abroad is a great company to go with. My trip to Cambodia was an unforgettable experience and I would recommend it to anyone in a heartbeat.
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.