Jacqueline Gunn - General Care Projects in Cambodia
Twelve months ago, I had just graduated from University, and was feeling at a loss about what to do next. I wasn't really feeling ready for a working life, and at the same time I didn't want to just backpack around the world for months. It was then that I stumbled upon Projects Abroad online, and decided to take part in one of their projects.
I decided upon Cambodia as my chosen destination. Looking back, I'm not entirely sure why, but I think I wanted to experience somewhere that was totally different from home, and also somewhere where I would learn a lot. Considering Cambodia's not so distant past, and the way it is changing now, I felt that Cambodia would provide this for me. I certainly wasn't wrong!
Phnom Penh is an amazing city, and like no-where I have ever been before. It's dusty, dirty, busy, and absolutely jam packed full of people, motorbikes, tuk-tuks, food vendors, monks, and anything else you could possibly imagine - it really makes your senses explode! For this reason, my first few days were extremely exciting, but being thrown right into the middle of the city was also nerve-wracking! However, after I had taken my first moto ride with Sophan (one of the local Cambodian staff), and visited the kids at the orphanage, I felt only excited anticipation for what the next few months would bring.
I worked in a Care & Community project at NHCC - an orphanage which cares for children with HIV. From the very first day that I visited the kids, and they all shouted in unison "I love you Jacaleg", I fell totally in love with them too! NHCC has two houses - one for the older kids, who are more stable on their medication, and one for the younger ones, or those who have just arrived and need more focussed medical care and attention.
I spent my days shared between the two houses, playing with the kids, doing various arts and crafts projects, attempting some English lessons, and generally giving them love and attention, which sadly their families could not provide for them. With a fellow volunteer, I also set up and ran English classes for some nurses at a local hospital, which was quite an experience! It was wonderful to see them gaining knowledge of English over the weeks we worked with them.
It was so much fun waking up everyday, knowing that you were going to spend the day with 25 happy, smiling children. However, despite this, I did find it really difficult sometimes learning about the kids' backgrounds and on field trips with the medical workers, visiting the provinces and seeing how the poor Cambodians really lived. Going to Cambodia with Projects Abroad really gave me the opportunity to see more than what was on the tourist trail - to be able to really engage with Cambodians, and learn about their culture first hand.
One of the more memorable trips that Projects Abroad ran was to Danay's (the wonderful lady who looked after our apartment) home village in Svey Reing, on one of the many Buddhist festival days. Eight volunteers went in a jam packed mini-bus for the eight hour return journey along the typically bumpy Cambodian roads, and arrived at her local pagoda, to be literally swamped by hundreds of kids who had never seen white people before.
It was an amazing day, where we were treated to a Cambodian meal, including barbequed barracuda (teeth bared), Khmer curry, prahoc (a fermented fish dish), Khmei noodles, and vegetables that looked like twigs, all served with coconut milk straight from coconuts cut from the tree beside us. We were able to go into the pagoda and light incense sticks whilst the ceremony was going on, and then took part in the ceremonial walk before presenting the monks with gifts. Afterwards we visited Danay's home and family, and it was really wonderful to see where she had grown up.
My whole experience of Cambodia was absolutely amazing - so much so that as soon as I got home I worked as hard as I could to earn enough to go straight back - I have just arrived home after another wonderful 3 ½ months there!
Before I went, I was worried about the costs, and nervous about going away for so long, but I have absolutely no regrets. The Projects Abroad Cambodia team are absolutely brilliant, and in particular Sophan and Piseth will help you if you have even the smallest worry (and in typical Cambodian style, they are the smiliest, happiest people you could ever meet.) Cambodia itself is an amazing place to be - what I experienced there really was an emotional rollercoaster, it isn't an easy place to live, but I learnt something new everyday I was there, and I find it hard to put into words what I feel about it. It is a real privilege to have been able to spend six and a half months living there and learning about the wonderful country's crazy ways!
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.