Adil Yaqoob - Care & Community in Cambodia
Before travelling to Cambodia I had mixed feelings, but I could not wait to work in an orphanage and help the children. Although I had not met any other volunteers I knew they probably were having similar feelings and concerns about travelling to a different country all by themselves. The whole way to Cambodia I was concerned that I had just turned 16 and had never travelled by myself.
I arrived in Phnom Penh late at night. As I collected my luggage I hurried towards the exit to look for a member of staff from Projects Abroad. As soon as I turned the corner there stood a crowd of about 50 people with most people having signs for somebody, but a man with a sign saying ‘Projects Abroad’ stood out immediately. I walked over and he greeted me before kindly taking my heavy suitcase and loading it into a car. Overall my journey was hassle free, simple and as hoped.
When I arrived at the apartment I was surprised - after looking at the city throughout the car journey I was not expecting much but my new home was modern with clean bathrooms - the bedrooms even had air conditioning units and a fan. The fridge in the kitchen was for everyone and was filled with bottles of water as Cambodia’s tap water is not safe to drink.
The apartment had a cleaner and a chef who were great. The cook made three meals a day, and all the meals were brilliant, usually consisting of rice, noodles and another dish which would be made from local ingredients, and there was always a vegetarian option available as well for those who did not eat meat.
Volunteering in Cambodia
My project in Cambodia was to work in an orphanage called Home of Hope. The centre was just outside of Phnom Penh and it was large with a climbing frame area and several buildings in which the brothers who ran the orphanage lived and another where they taught English and other subjects to the local community children. My work there consisted of removing old paint from the climbing frame and then repainting it. It was good fun as we could decide all of the colours. Additionally we played with the children as well as helping out at meal times.
Playing with the children who had learning disabilities was the most rewarding activity. They do not have their parent’s constant love and attention so making them smile and laugh was really good and rewarding. Additionally some of the children needed physiotherapy so some volunteers and I also helped with that.
Another side of my placement was to teach the local community children basic English. This was a very fun experience as the children were eager to learn and they respect you. Sometimes however you would be stuck in the front of the class with a blank mind about what to teach and you had to think on your feet and all the children would stare at you! This was a definite shock as in England, most children would prefer to stay at home and watch television, however all the children I met loved to get an education as they knew it gave them life skills and hope for a good future.
Cambodia’s culture was fascinating and without a doubt they are the friendliest nation I have visited. Everyone was kind, generous and helpful. Although the streets were generally busy and the smell sometimes too much, the local people did everything to make sure you enjoyed your time at Cambodia.
One thing that you will notice is that whether you are shopping at the Russian market or finding a tuk-tuk, people will try to charge too much and you have to cleverly negotiate a deal so they get a profit and you get a good deal. One t-shirt I brought at Siem Reap’s night market originally cost six dollars and after five harrowing minutes of talking I was able to get it down to one dollar fifty!
Cambodian food was certainly interesting with popular foods including snake, fire ants and even deep fried tarantula. I never ate any of these as they did not look appealing; however they also have Costa Coffee and KFC, which was good to have every so often. One thing I immediately noticed in the first few days in Phnom Penh was that I did not have any Wi-Fi. However I soon noticed that all bars, coffee shops and restaurants had Wi-Fi, which was a relief as every few days I would get in contact with everyone at home whilst being bombarded with emails.
At the weekends we had arranged trips and I was spoilt as I had the chance to go to the tremendous temples of Angkor Wat. We left Phnom Penh early on Saturday morning in our air conditioned minibus for Siem Reap. It was not far away, however due to the roads in Cambodia not being very developed it took a very long time. It was a very memorable road trip experience filled with pot holes and views of Cambodia’s elegant countryside. We arrived in the afternoon, went to the hotel before going to one of the temple sites to watch the sunset – it was magnificent. The next day we began our journey looking at all of the famous temples - it was beautiful and interesting, to learn about Cambodia’s history from hundreds of years ago.
In addition to the weekend trip we also visited the very upsetting but necessary trip to the Choeung Ek, which is known as one of the killing fields in Cambodia. After visiting we went to another interesting and moving site called the S21 prison. It was also known as the genocide museum and at the museum I was privileged to meet a survivor of the prison who had some shocking stories.
Overall Cambodia has been an eye opener for me and has let me explore a truly magical culture. The people are less fortunate than me however they are the friendliest nation with the biggest hearts. The placement was spectacular as making the children smile and laugh was the most rewarding experience anyone could ever get.
It was important to learn about Cambodia’s troubled past about the Khmer Rouge and how it may shadow the country for some time; however the country has developing rapidly and by going to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap as well as Angkor Wat, you can understand that Cambodia is truly magnificent and that it really is the ‘Pearl of Asia’. I really miss Cambodia and would definitely recommend it to anyone wishing to go!
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.