Kat Buczynski - General Care Projects in Cambodia
My name is Kat Buczynski and I am a recent university graduate from Toronto, Canada. After graduating and working for a year I decided to go to Cambodia and do volunteer work with children who have special needs. I have always had a passion for working with individuals with special needs as I have an aunt with Down Syndrome who is my favourite person in the world. I also volunteered extensively with special needs children throughout university on a program that was organized by my school.
I was introduced to the idea of volunteering in Cambodia by one of my favourite professors who had spent some time in Cambodia while researching his Ph.D. The month I spent in Cambodia with Projects Abroad was by far the most amazing month of my life so far. The only thing I would have changed about my trip is that I wish I had stayed longer!
Planning My Trip with Projects Abroad
I came across the Projects Abroad website by doing a simple Google search and was immediately impressed by what I read. Projects Abroad was the only volunteer organization I looked into that had an office in Toronto.
This was great for me, as it was nice being able to talk to someone face-to-face before making the huge decision to travel across the world, especially for someone who knew nothing about this sort of thing. From the moment I visited the Projects Abroad offices in Toronto, to four months later when I arrived in Phnom Penh, the staff were nothing short of amazing.
Despite my volunteer coordinator being located on the other side of the world, we were able to communicate on a very regular basis and she always got back to me as soon as she could, which was usually within two business days. She answered all of my questions, no matter how big or small, and even assisted me with switching my placement a few weeks before I left for Cambodia.
My Arrival in Cambodia
When I arrived, the staff was super friendly and spoke very good English. Mr. Chamreon (Chammy) picked me up from the airport and was so welcoming, talkative and friendly that I immediately felt at home, despite the initial shock of arriving in a country so incredibly different from Canada.
I was a little worried about making friends when I arrived, because I am a pretty quiet person, but the other volunteers were so nice, friendly and welcoming and we immediately bonded over our shared passion for volunteering abroad. Everyone had different tips and bits of advice to share for my time spent in Cambodia, and they immediately began inviting me to outings they had planned for the next couple of weeks.
It was so cool to meet people from so many different countries and we always laughed about how we call certain things by different names in all of our countries (example: in Canada it’s candy, in Ireland it’s sweets, in Australia they’re lollies!). I feel so fortunate to have met so many amazing people that I shared such a special bond with through our mutual passion for helping others. I became extremely close with four of the girls and truly feel that I have found lifelong friends in them, despite us all being from different countries.
Care Project in Cambodia
My Care placement in Cambodia was at the National Borey for Infants and Children (NBIC), which is a home for children with special needs. The children who live there are affected by a variety of conditions, including Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Down Syndrome and Vision Impairment. My main duties included feeding the children, changing diapers (nappies), playing with the children, reading to them, and taking them outside to the playground for one-on-one time. The nannies who work at the orphanage are great, and truly appreciate the help from the volunteers.
The most important duty I had at the NBIC was simply giving the children attention, comforting them when they were upset and just making them feel loved! Every day I spent at the NBIC was both challenging and extremely rewarding. I always left feeling like I had learned something, whether it was from one of the adorable children, or the strong amazing local workers.
Before I arrived at my placement, all I knew about the NBIC was that it was an orphanage for children with special needs, so to be perfectly honest I was bracing myself for how sad I thought it would be. However, I was blown away by how happy and positive the atmosphere is, despite the unfortunate circumstances of the children who call it home.
There is a lot more laughter than tears there and the nannies and local workers truly do everything they can to provide the children with a safe, healthy and happy place to live, and they couldn’t do it without the help of the volunteers!
In just 4 short weeks I made the most amazing friendships and connections with both the children and some of the nannies. I miss them all so much. I hope I will get to go back and visit them someday soon! My main piece of advice for anyone who is thinking of volunteering at a special needs placement is not to be afraid of the children.
I know that might sound silly, but even though some of their disabilities are quite severe, they do not want to be treated as if they are breakable. Of course, you must be mindful of their disability, but keep in mind that they are just like any other child in many ways and just want to smile, listen to your voice and play!
Travelling and Sightseeing on Weekends
On weekends, other volunteers and I would try to fit in as many of the tourist attractions Cambodia has to offer as possible in a short period of time. Two things that are an absolute must-see in Cambodia are the S-21 museum/Killing Fields and Angkor Wat.
In my opinion, these two tourist attractions are too culturally important to miss during your time there, and although Angkor Wat is far, I hope that you will plan a weekend getaway there! The overnight bus is inexpensive and really not too bad (I get carsick and I was fine!). Although very upsetting, the S-21 museum and the Killing Fields are vital to understanding what this country and it’s people went through only a short time ago, and will help you better appreciate your time there.
It might be easy to feel sorry for the people of Cambodia because it seems as though many of them have so little, especially compared to what you may be used to in your home country. Rather than seeing them as disadvantaged or unfortunate, after visiting S-21 and the Killing Field you will gain an appreciation for how far they have come in the 40 years since the Khmer Rouge regime.
My Experience in Cambodia
I loved my time in Cambodia so much that I am already planning my next trip back! I can’t wait to go back and see the amazing kids and country that changed my outlook on life so much. I am so grateful to have had this experience and so thankful to Projects Abroad for taking care of everything while I was in this foreign country so that I was free to enjoy my experience to the fullest!
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.