Cambodia

“I feel humbled by the hospitality of all out there and feel so blessed to have shared some wonderful moments with all who worked with us.”
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Cambodia, kingdom of wonder

Nestled in the heart of Southeast Asia is Cambodia, a country most people know from the genocidal period of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, but which is now undergoing rapid development. Looking further back, the Khmer Empire was one of the most successful in history, ruling over much of Southeast Asia. This intriguing history lives on in the majestic temples dotted around the country as well as the hearts of the local people.

 

Despite the struggles that many of its’ citizens have faced, Cambodia’s Khmer population remain some of the friendliest people you’ll meet. A Buddhist society, much of the local culture is linked to animism and spirit worship. You’ll see evidence of this through ‘spirit houses’ near to peoples’ homes and businesses, used to give offerings to spirits, which are believed to return good luck, wealth and fortune.

 

Overall, Cambodian culture is quite reserved but you will find that people are very interested to meet and interact with you, hoping to learn about your country and teach you about theirs. The cuisine is an amalgamation of Thai, Chinese and even Indian influences, creating a diverse range of local offerings. You can look forward to sampling some of the favourites such as beef lok-lak (with a black pepper and lime sauce), fish amok (a light coconut curry dish) and even some fried insects for the more adventurous!

 

Between the stunning white-sand beaches, lush jungles and never-ending rice paddy fields that span the countryside, breath-taking temples and friendly locals, Cambodia has much to offer its’ visitors. Unlike its’ neighbours, Thailand and Vietnam, which have developed quickly, Cambodia has retained a traditional, peaceful way of life, making it a fascinating destination to volunteer and experience the ‘real’ Asia!

Khmer proverb: “Catch the chance when it arrives because it never comes twice.”

Prices for Volunteering in Cambodia start at £1225 for 2 Weeks

Volunteering Opportunities

As an Inspire volunteer in Cambodia you can be actively involved with three of the main areas of development highlighted by the United Nations; education, healthcare and women’s empowerment. Cambodia has recently transitioned from a war-torn state to a rapidly developing country. As a volunteer you will be assisting and guiding the local staff at our partner projects with delivering the skills required to maintain such a rapid expansion.

 

Cambodia still suffers from the aftermath of the genocidal period of the 1970s, with many living in extreme poverty, not being able to access adequate healthcare and receiving a poor education. The healthcare system is still massively undeveloped with local Khmers having to travel miles to see a healthcare professional encountering costs they cannot afford.

 

Education and schooling is the most undeveloped in Cambodia compared to the rest of Asia. Children still struggle to access quality tutorage and therefore the dropout rate is worryingly high.

 

Women’s empowerment in Cambodia is a highly developing sector which is regarded as top priority for the government. Traditionally Cambodian women are homemakers and will often be withdrawn from school far earlier than their male counterparts by their families. This is slowly changing and women are seeking to prolong their education to ensure they can live an independent life.

 Health & Well-Being

 

The healthcare system in Cambodia is not nearly as advanced as its neighbours’. Facilities are sparse, meaning that people often have to travel long distances to access care, which can be costly and beyond their means. Sometimes even basic access to first aid can be difficult or expensive to find, leaving low-income families and rural workers without the means to access the health care they need.

 

This results in a large section of Cambodian society relying on Chinese Medicine which can be effective in some circumstances, but for more serious illnesses, is not. Although advancements have been made by the government to improve the accessibility of free healthcare, the quality is still low with health centres lacking even the most basic facilities.

 

In Cambodia, we are working on identifying and implementing preventative solutions to local health problems, thus reducing the number of patients needing to access healthcare facilities for treatment of preventable disease and infection. As part of this we are working to:

 

  • Research and identify health problems and challenges facing the community. This includes acquiring baseline data, interviews with key stakeholders, conducting focus groups, and evaluating community health trends.
  • Researching, developing, and implementing innovative ideas to address health challenges facing the community.
  • Provide education and training to students, community members, and educators to empower them to protect their own health through topics such as first aid skills and the health risks within their local area.
  • Developing health curriculums that can be implemented in the classroom for years to come.
  • Supporting local health centres through knowledge sharing and strengthening relationships between them and the community.

 

 

Through this programme, volunteers directly benefit the health of the local community. The implementation of effective preventative health care results in improved health across the local population, which has spill-over effects such as reducing health-related absenteeism at schools, allowing students to perform better due to better health and nutrition, and overall, improved community health.

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 Education

 

Cambodia is in desperate need of rapid improvements to its educational system. The government is working towards improving the accessibility of primary and secondary education throughout the country, however, children from low-income families and those in rural locations still often leave school early, with many not even progressing to the high school level.

 

Schools in Cambodia face many barriers to learning. Due to a lack of government funding, they are forced to operate on tight budgets with limited resources. Add to this under-trained teachers and a ‘shift-system’ whereby students only study for half of each day, and the outcome is far from ideal. Due to these time constraints teachers also often offer ‘extra’ classes to keep up with coursework at other times of the day, however students are required to pay for these additional learning opportunities, and as such, those from low-income families become further marginalised.

 

In government schools, we work to conduct English classes for the students, who are now required to learn the language from higher primary level. Cambodian teachers, struggle to adequately administer the curriculum, hindered by their own lack of English skills, often resulting in a poor standard of pronunciation and grammar being taught. Offering better quality English education to students from a young age, lays a foundation for these skills to develop through higher levels of their education, ultimately making them more employable after graduation.

 

Further to assisting in government schools, we teach English and other subjects alongside local non-profit organisations offering supplementary educational opportunities to children from low-income families. This helps to fill the learning void between those students who can and cannot financially access the ‘extra’ classes offered by teachers. Classes focus on English, but additionally, these centres offer arts & crafts, mathematics, life skills and sports activities. Thus allowing students to develop in other areas, engaging them in their education, reducing drop-out rates and motivating them to continue to higher levels of education as well. To further strengthen the supplementary education on offer, we run teacher training workshops for the teachers who are ‘community volunteers’ and are thus not formally trained for the role.

 

By participating in this programme, volunteers enhance the education of school students in the community. The classes at both the government and NGO schools allow students to better develop their English through interactions with fluent speakers of the language, and fun lessons. Extra-curricular subjects also allow students to develop other skills and talents that they may not be exposed to elsewhere. Overall this results in more engaged students, decreasing school drop-out rates and increasing attendance. The resultant effect being higher performing students who subsequently have access to additional education and employment opportunities in the future.

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 Specialist

 

The devastating effects of the Khmer Rouge and subsequent civil war in Cambodia have left the country not only with an under-developed education and healthcare system, but also with many older members of society who had limited access to any form of education whatsoever. Statistics from UNESCO (2015) indicate that only 77% of the adult population (over 15 years) is literate. Leaving portions of the ‘older generation’ marginalised from opportunities due to their lack of formal skills training.

In addition to this, Cambodia’s rapid rate of development has created an increasingly competitive job market and economy. Pushing students and adults to seek additional education and development opportunities, outside of traditional schooling in order to allow them to better access the growing and diversifying job market.

Our work in the community includes the provision of a broad range of educational and learning opportunities for both students but also older community members who have not previously had access to such levels of schooling. These initiatives include academic education in subjects such as English and Mathematics, for older community members who did not complete schooling or for whom their education was disrupted by other factors. To build on this we also offer vocational skills training on topics such as computer skills, sewing, and arts and crafts techniques including upcycling, to empower community members with skills that can be used to support income generation.

To allow community members to maximise on their skills, we also run ‘business skills workshops’ with both students and older community members. These focus on increasing employability through CV writing, guidance for completing job applications, interview techniques, finding jobs, and basic personal finance. For local business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs, we focus more heavily on business management skills. We also support their endeavours through targeted micro-finance loans and guidance in initiating that process.

Cambodia is undergoing a rapid period of development, and this, coupled with its participation in the ASEAN international community has created an increasingly competitive job market. Workshops conducted by volunteers will empower students with business skills but also stronger vocational skills and more education to allow them to better participate in this growingly diverse job market.

Assistance setting up and initiating micro-finance loans will further allow community members to generate sustainable incomes for themselves and their families. The longevity of which can be better supported by the business skills workshop delivery. Finally, the curricula development will leave a lasting impact as workshops can be delivered for years to come.

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Things to do

The most famous attraction in Cambodia, and that which Cambodians are proudest of, has to be the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat. This breath-taking complex of temples allows you to see the magnitude of the Khmer Empire. Marvel at the expansive architecture and intricate carvings, all just a 3-hour drive from our main hub in Battambang, making for the perfect weekend getaway.

 

There are also a number of highlights closer to home in Battambang. A favourite amongst volunteers is an afternoon hike to Phnom Sapeauv, a local temple with views overlooking the city. After exploring the temple atop the mountain, you can also visit the sombre ‘Killing Caves’ where thousands were killed during the Khmer Rouge, followed by a chance to see the ‘bat caves’ at sunset. Every evening millions of Asian wrinkle-lipped bats exit a cave on the side of the mountain in an awe-inspiring torrent, off for a night of hunting. Another nearby favourite is a ride on the ‘bamboo train’ through the beautiful local countryside.

 

If you have time to travel further once your project is complete you can also visit the capital, Phnom Penh, home to the ‘S-21’ genocide museum and Killing Fields which provide a heart-wrenching insight into the fairly recent history of the Khmer Rouge. Cambodia also has a lot to offer in terms of wildlife, try visiting an ethical elephant programme, or spotting Irrawaddy dolphins on the Mekong river near Kratie. If that isn’t enough you can also find some stunning beaches on the south coast around Sihanoukville and the islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem.

Local staff

Leading our Cambodia team is Country Manager Maria. Originally from Venezuela, Maria has been living and working in Southeast Asia for several years now, teaching and supporting our projects in Thailand and Cambodia. Having lived in Battambang for over two years, Maria is a local expert and is always happy to share her knowledge of the area and culture. Maria is supported by Deputy Country Manager, Liz. UK-born, Liz has been travelling and working with volunteers around the world for almost five years and has travelled and worked extensively through Africa and Southeast Asia.

 

Maria and Liz work with Volunteer Coordinator, Daro, who was born and raised in Battambang, providing local knowledge and support to the programmes. Together with their team of Volunteer Mentor and Programme Coordinators, they keep things running smoothly and provide support throughout your experience.

Prices for Volunteering in Cambodia start at £1225 for 2 Weeks

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