Lucy Matthews - General Care Projects in Cambodia
Leaving my family and friends at Heathrow Airport was the hardest thing I have ever done. As I boarded the plane alone, I was on an emotional rollercoaster due to the excitement, panic and fear of the unknown I had been feeling for weeks. I had a seven hour wait in Hong Kong, which made me even more nervous as I thought about the adventure that lay ahead of me.
When I finally arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I was met by a Projects Abroad staff member. He welcomed me to this incredible country and explained my next steps while I drank in the scenery around me during our taxi ride. I arrived during ‘rush hour’ and it was manic! Tuk tuks were everywhere and what seemed like thousands of motorcycles wove in and out of the traffic. Although it was so different from home, it was love at first sight.
My Accommodation and Introduction to Cambodia
When I arrived at my apartment, I was shown around. While I was looking at the Events Board, Chloe (an Australian volunteer) came in from her placement; she became my best friend during my stay. I then started unpacking before I went down for my first dinner of rice, spring rolls, vegetables and chicken. This is where I met the rest of the volunteers.
When I returned to my room to continue unpacking, Chloe knocked on my door to tell me that everyone was going to Sihanoukville at the weekend and she wondered if I wanted to go. As I had promised myself, I threw myself straight in and said ‘yes please!’
I had an early night to prepare myself for my induction the next morning. During my induction I was given an overview of Projects Abroad Cambodia and a lesson in Cambodian culture which was very interesting. In the afternoon I was taken to my placement where I met the children and teachers for the first time – it was an emotional afternoon seeing children who lack so many of the things we have back home.
Volunteering in Cambodia
After breakfast, I was picked up at 8am and taken to my placement. I shared the tuk tuk with two other volunteers, Shion (from Japan) and Nicola (from Australia).
As I arrived at my placement I remember thinking “I’m now on my own.” However, the teachers and children made me feel welcome instantly. For the first hour or two I was hesitant due to the language barrier. In the information packs you receive about your placement during your induction, many people talk about the language barrier being a problem. However, I learnt that it’s only a problem if you make it a problem! Actions speak louder than words, especially if the children are young. The children I worked with were aged 3-6.
A typical day at my placement was arriving at the nursery around 8.40am. I taught an hour of Basic English lessons, where I taught topics such as the alphabet, numbers and colours. The children then had play time where we played on the slide, made toy models and more. Afterwards, the children would watch half an hour of television which could vary from Tom and Jerry or a repetitive DVD of ‘Happy birthday’. I would then serve their lunch at about 10.30am which was usually rice and chicken broth and vegetables.
After lunch the children would have ‘nap-time’. I would then get picked up at 11am to return to the apartment to have lunch. I would return to nursery around 1:30pm when the children would be waking up or close to waking. I would sometimes spend this time going over English vocabulary with the teachers or they would teach me some origami.
When the children woke up they would have a shower. I would help the children get undressed and dressed, and also comb their hair. Then we would play until the children got picked up at 4pm, which is when I got picked up by Saran, my tuk tuk driver.
My morning lessons were my favourite part of the day. I managed to teach songs such as ‘heads, shoulders, knees and toes’ as a way of teaching body parts. I also created many posters in my free time at the apartment as gifts to the organisation on my last day.
Travelling in Cambodia
I did quite a bit of travelling when I was in Cambodia – I even went to Thailand for a week with three other volunteers! Whilst I was in Cambodia, I went to Sihanoukville, Siem Reap and Modulkiri.
Sihanoukville is a beautiful sea-side town at the South-West of Cambodia. We went in a big group of 12 and as we went during monsoon season, the rain was heavy but it was still one of my favourite weekends that I had. We took a boat to Bamboo Island where we were able to go snorkelling. At the end of our weekend, a storm erupted so we had a slightly delayed departure back to the mainland.
Another place I visited was the jungle in Modulkiri. I travelled with three other volunteers (Chloe, Nick and Andrea) for four nights. As we arrived we met with a tour guide who previous volunteers had recommended to us and we discussed what we wanted to do while we were there. We spent the rest of the afternoon swimming at a beautiful waterfall.
The next day we started in one village in the jungle and spent the day trekking through to our tour guide’s village. We then spent the night in a hut in his garden and we slept in hammocks! The final day we spent trekking through the jungle on elephants, which was amazing. We stopped for a couple of hours at a waterfall where we went swimming and washed the elephants.
My final trip, which I saved for last, was the famous Siem Reap. However, as many volunteers had already been I decided to go on my own. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a lonely trip. The beauty of travelling alone is you meet so many people. As I arrived in Siem Reap I found a guest house called Shadow of Angkor where the man who showed me my room was also a tuk tuk driver. He took me around the temples the next day and helped me plan my time in Siem Reap.
I visited the Angkor Thom, Ta Phrom and Angkor Wat temples. Although I am not a ‘temple-person’ they were incredible and definitely a must-see. I also visited the night market where I bought a lot of my Christmas presents.
My Cambodian Experience
I have always been a person who said ‘I would never leave home’. However, Cambodia is the most incredible place I have ever travelled to and I am deeply grateful for the experience I had with Projects Abroad. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of my three months away. People often ask me what my favourite part of Cambodia was and my reply is always ‘the places I visited, the people I met and mainly the children I cared for.’ I cannot wait to return in the near future!
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.