Go and Challenge Your Worldview
It was a long flight, and by the time we finally made it to Phnom Penh my feelings were a soup of nervousness, excitement, and exhaustion. It made me feel like I was dreaming. As the minibus took us to the volunteers’ house I stared out of the window and tried to take everything in: the twinkling New Year lights, street vendors, whole families crammed onto single motorbikes. This would be home for the next three months.
I came to Cambodia with preconceived notions of poor people in shacks, but I soon realised the naivety of my ideas.
For richer and poorer
The Montessori school where I had been placed worked with small numbers of children, with an emphasis on practical activities. All 30 of the children pay – some in fruit and vegetables – to attend, and this makes them appreciate the value of what they’re receiving.
The school doesn’t just focus on Cambodia’s poorest children. At first this struck me as crazy, but now I understand that the better-educated ones are the future of Cambodia, and if they’re able to reach the highest standards of education it could offer real long term benefits to the country as a whole.
I was incredibly keen on teaching, so my volunteering rep arranged for my teaching partner (Anna) and I to go and lead some extra lessons at an orphanage. So three evenings a week we went over to teach an hour’s lesson to a class of around twelve teenagers. It proved to be quite a challenge, but delivering our carefully planned lesson to a class of eager students felt like we were making a real difference.
Not just a holiday
That made it feel better than if the whole trip had been about fun and giggles. I was glad to experience some hard work, both emotionally and physically, so that I finished my time in Cambodia with a real sense of fulfilment.
Outside of teaching I also had the opportunity to travel around Cambodia, and I absolutely fell in love with the country. There are experiences there that won’t fade from my memory for as long as I live. I have seen the rich and the poor and, by working within the community for three months, I feel like I really got to know the country and expanded my view of the world. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll be back.