Katerina Zeka Dombiova - Micro-finance in Cambodia
I had already gone on several trips as a volunteer, but volunteering in Cambodia with Project Abroad was one of my favourites and most memorable. I was able to work at the Micro-finance Project, as well as assist with human trafficking research. This was great and helped me complete my master’s dissertation. I joined the project for five weeks, as I was still a full-time student at my university and only had five weeks to spend in Cambodia. However, even in such a short period of time, I managed to do more than I expected. The Micro-finance Project in Cambodia was truly an amazing experience.
Micro-finance in Cambodia
I choose this project because I wanted to work with the local community members and get a real understanding of the difficulties they face with regards to poverty in Cambodia. I worked at a local NGO with three or five volunteers (the number varied depending on how long their projects were). I enjoy teamwork and I learned a lot from the volunteers as they shared their experiences. Together with the volunteers, the NGO staff and the Projects Abroad staff, we were able to improve the Micro-finance Project and expand the number of loans we could offer in order to help more people.
We visited many disadvantaged villages around Phnom Penh and helped organise loans for the families. We also provided skills training to the women in support of their new businesses as well as helping them when it came to managing their loans and savings. I soon realised that what seemed to be such a basic skill to me can be very difficult for the women in these communities, especially if they were illiterate or didn’t have a proper education. They are currently doing very well though and over the last two years of being with the Micro-finance Project, they have improved their lives considerably. They have expanded their businesses and are now able to send their kids to school.
Research on human trafficking
During the last two weeks of my placement, I got to visit many different NGOs that focused on human trafficking and sex slavery, especially with women and children. In order to learn more about these horrific doings, and to gather research for my master’s dissertation, I was able to interview more than 15 NGOs and 15 victims of human trafficking. This was eye-opening and heart wrenching but I valued each and every one of their inputs.
Economic instability and a lack of education play a key role when it comes to human trafficking which is why the Micro-finance Project is an important step in its reduction. The project gives the women and children in poorer communities a way forward and provides them with the resources they need to improve their lives and not become vulnerable to the effects of human trafficking.
I used to stay a lot with host families when I volunteered, but in Cambodia, I stayed in volunteer apartments. This was great fun and I got to meet a lot of people as well as plan weekend trips away with them. The accommodation was always clean and the food was delicious. At mealtimes, we were always more than 15 people, and we would share the stories of our day and organise trips in Cambodia.
Travelling during Christmas holidays
There are many things to see and do in Cambodia and we had plenty of free time to do just that. There is so much history in the country but one of the most heart-breaking outings we went on was to the Killing Fields and the S21 Genocide Museum, which showcased the atrocities that occurred during the Khmer Rouge era in 1975-1979. The whole day was really sad and it makes you wonder how a genocide could happen in modern society.
Over Christmas, we spent a few day on the beautiful islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem in the south of Cambodia. We also travelled to Siem Reap where we visited the historic temple complex of Angkor Wat – something that no one should miss out on when visiting Cambodia! Some volunteers even took a trip to Vietnam since it is easy to access via bus but unfortunately I didn’t have enough time after my project had finished since I had university classes starting. I will definitely be travelling back to Cambodia soon, as I am so in love with the country and its people.
This was such a rewarding experience and it will forever be ingrained in my memory, together with the wonderful locals, the smiling children and the amazing friends I met along the way.