Emily Swyny - General Care Projects in Cambodia
For years I had wanted to travel to Cambodia, and Projects Abroad gave me the opportunity to make the most of my trip whilst contributing something while I was there. My name is Emily Swyny and I have just finished my first year at university studying Biomedical Science. With four months of summer holiday, I was determined not to while it away in the same old setting, so set out to Cambodia for a month to do a care project.
I’d never travelled alone before and the volunteer apartment setup was great for meeting people to socialise and travel with. The Projects Abroad staff were so friendly and the whole place had a homely feel to it, only helped by my Cambodian mum, Rath, and her fantastic cooking! Phnom Penh is noisy, dusty, and full of life. You could explore it for months and still stumble across new places. I loved it straight away and couldn’t wait to get stuck in.
I spent the month working five days a week at the House of Family orphanage, which was home to 70 HIV+ children. I had no idea in what kind of health the children would be, or any idea what to expect. But as soon as I walked through the gates, two little ones took each of my hands and dragged me away to play. Their innocence and trust was so touching, and something that I encountered every day with my kids. True to Cambodian culture they were all so friendly, funny, and I got to know each of my students individually.
I spent my days teaching English to those who were too sick to go to school full time, and alternating lessons with games, arts and crafts. The quickest lesson I learnt was to go to work with no expectations, as anything could happen! From day to day I had no idea how many kids I would be teaching, what their ability levels would be, or if some would be too sick to learn and just needed a bit of TLC.
Most of the time they would not let their HIV get the better of them, and then they were just as cheeky, lively and inventive as any other children their age. The simplest things kept them amused for hours – one of our best days was spent with a packet of balloons and a spool of ribbon. Skipping ropes became swings, lengths of elastic became high jumps. My classroom became a mess of glitter, gold stars and glue when we spent the afternoon making masks.
They were such enthusiastic students, and would wait up in the classroom for me or drag me upstairs if I took too long! When I arrived for my afternoon session it was my job to wake them up from their naps, bundle them into the shower and then sit with the little ones and peel their fruit for them as everyone had a snack. This was my favourite time of day, sitting on the porch and watching the older kids traipse over from their building to grab their share of dragonfruit and join me for a cuddle or quick game before class.
Weekends were for travelling and discovering what Cambodia had to offer – helped with great advice from other volunteers. My trip to Siem Reap was unforgettable – our trip to the floating village and flooding forest was as idyllic as it sounds. I also enjoyed exploring Phnom Penh, going to meditation at Wat Lan Ka twice a week, visiting the Royal Palace, the National Museum, and the enormous Russian Market. Going to S21 and the Killing Fields was an unforgettable, if harrowing, experience, and makes you admire the Cambodian people for how far they have come since then.
Living in Phnom Penh gave a true sense of the city on a deeper level than you would gain if you were just a tourist. I loved getting to know the city, the sights, the boutiques and the good noodle stalls! All my new-found friends were fantastic, for both chilling in the evenings and partying hard at the weekends! Everyone was there for the same reason: to see the world and do a bit of good at the same time, and this made for some great friendships. I will never forget my time in Cambodia, and I am determined that it will not be my last!
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.