Charlotte Forster - General Care Projects in Cambodia
Arriving in Asia was a stark contrast to the previous two laidback months I’d spent with Projects Abroad in Fiji. Everyone was in a rush and the city was alight and buzzing with traffic.
I arrived to Phnom Penh by bus (as I had previously been travelling around other parts of Asia), and was collected and taken to the Projects Abroad volunteer apartments. Arriving here I met my roommate Fran, who was there for the duration of my stay. She was German and was doing a Journalism project. I was immersed into the friendly chatter of the volunteers who came from all over the world yet spoke very good English. A few of the other new people and I agreed to meet the next day to check out a few of the markets and to get a $5 manipedi.
The cooks at the apartments provide breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food at the placement was mainly rice with some form of meat but the cooks were able to accommodate for any dietary requirements. There was also a supermarket down the road, in which we were able to purchase some snacks and any other luxuries.
My Care Placement
After a positive first weekend seeing the city, as well as some new harem pants to wear at my placement, I had my induction day with a soon to be great friend, Lauren, from Australia. After drinking gallons of water to try to cope with the heat, we set off on a tuk tuk ride to get a feel for the city and the whereabouts of certain places. There was a café down the road from our apartment, which after the purchase of a drink, we could use the Wi-Fi. Another regular for the volunteers, only a short tuk tuk ride away, was ‘riverside’. This is where most of the tourists stay thus there is plenty of lovely café’s (with much needed ice cream) and shops, as well as places to go out to at night, at reasonable prices.
The following day I was able to spend time at the orphanage. I arrived there with two of the other volunteers - Julie and Lauren - who were also helping out at the same placement, with our tuk tuk driver who took us to and from the placement every day. This orphanage was founded by Mother Theresa and thus run by some kind-hearted Nuns who were able to speak English. There were also some Cambodian ladies who helped out and, although they could not speak any English, we were able to communicate through actions in order to figure out how we could help with the children.
The children themselves were absolutely gorgeous. They were a lot younger than I had anticipated; some of the babies were still unable to walk and talk and spent the majority of the day in their cots. We were able to help out with feeding the children and playing with them, as well as providing a (very basic) form of physiotherapy to Thomas who was wheelchair bound. With the help of another volunteer, who was a trained physiotherapist, we learnt stretches and ways to help Thomas sit up and walk with aid in order for him to use muscles, which would not normally be used.
The children appreciated some of the Western activities we brought with us. We spent an afternoon with them playing with play-dough, blowing bubbles and doing some colouring in.
Travelling around Cambodia
Coincidentally, during the month in which I was volunteering in Cambodia there were a few public holidays. We took advantage of this time and the weekends to do trips, one into Vietnam and a few around Cambodia.
Visiting the Killing fields and the S21 prison was very humbling as I learnt about the violent past of Cambodia under the Pol Pot regime. Reading a book written by a survivor of the regime brought it even closer to home, as life before the regime is so similar to Cambodia today it is heart breaking to hear what the author’s family went through, and how few of them survived.
At the fields you can see the mass graves and many people pay tribute to the memories of the innocent people by leaving a bracelet tied around the graves. The S21 prison was similarly haunting, as we saw the rooms which prisoners were kept in. There were also many photos of those who were imprisoned there, the majority of whom also died there.
Other places to see within the city include the royal palace, which was absolutely gorgeous, and the markets for some reasonably priced souvenirs and trinkets.
A must do trip is to go to Siem Reap to see Ankor Watt and the other temples. It is very easy to get a coach here and then a tuk tuk to take you around the temples. It was magnificent to see the infamous Ankor Watt at sunrise, and many crowd round to witness this spectacle.
Another popular trip is to go to Shinoukville to relax at the beach. There are a few different places to stay here, some with lots of travellers partying, and some which were more relaxing. Staying there we spent a pleasant weekend at the beach soaking up the sun and enjoying some of the exotic fruits, which ladies come along and sell for a very reasonable price. This was a welcome break from the unfaltering heat and bustle of the city.
I was fortunate to go on a trip with four other volunteers through some of the small towns of Vietnam on a boat, and ending in the capital Ho Chi Minh. This was all arranged through a travel agent and we really felt like we saw some of the local spots and learned some of the history of these places. For example we were surprised to learn that the reason that some of the houses are on stilts is not only to avoid flooding, but also previously many children had been ‘lost’ to the misfortune of a tiger sneaking in in the night.
Other highlights of this trip included seeing the floating markets, a rice factory, an island where they made coconut sweets and of course the beautiful city of Saigon of which a view from a rooftop bar is a must.
Overall my time with Projects Abroad in Cambodia was very rewarding. I was able to really appreciate the Cambodian culture, make some great friends from all over the world, and help out at an orphanage.
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.