Care, Care & Community in Cambodia by Hayley Leung
Plan to travel to Cambodia
The summer holiday right after finishing A-levels was the perfect time to enrich myself with something meaningful. As I have always wanted to travel to Cambodia, I decided to spare two weeks to volunteer in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. It was a great opportunity for me to make the most out of my trip whilst contributing something to the community.
As soon as the plane landed, I knew I had chosen the right place.
Volunteering in Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh is busy and dusty, but equally lively. Living in Cambodia has been a rather different experience. The instant I stepped out of the airport I was swamped by the immense heat and it was certainly one of the few things that took me a long time to get used to. The accommodation, to my surprise, was much more modern and cosy than I expected.
Although there was no air-conditioning in the rooms, a couple of fans were provided in each room to make our night sleep more pleasant. If you were lucky you might even get a single room with air-con! Another interesting experience was to hand-wash our clothes in a big tub since there were no washing machines. Washing machines are remarkable inventions, I must say; they have definitely save a lot of hard work. Nonetheless, the accommodation was still the perfect place to meet and socialise with other volunteers.
As a third world country, what you usually see in more developed places such as the United Kingdom or Hong Kong is not to be expected in Cambodia. Take the traffic for example: although you might see a few private cars on the road occasionally, they are regarded as luxuries; most people travel by motorcycles instead.
There is also another common type of transport; the tuk tuk, which are often taken by tourists – you can see these tuk tuks everywhere near any tourist attraction sites, especially at night. Tuk tuks are also used for transporting volunteers from one place to another. I found it especially pleasing travelling around in a tuk tuk, because the breeze balances out the heat as the tuk tuk drives along the roads.
The routine at the care placement
In general, our weekday’s routines were split into two halves. In the mornings, we visited the Home of Hope, an orphanage and care centre for mentally disabled children. We worked on some painting and decorating projects in order to improve their living conditions. In the afternoons, we then visited another orphanage, Home of Peace, which housed around 40 HIV children.
The volunteers came up with fun educational activities each day, such as teaching the children new songs or doing some arts and crafts. Sometimes we would bring along balloons and stickers and even drawing pencils. It was hard to communicate with the children at first since their English language skills were not too good, but we eventually found out that hand gestures and simple English vocabularies were all we need to establish a close relationship with the kids.
They were very eager to learn and easily satisfied – even a few stickers made them happy for hours. Time flew by as we spent afternoons simply playing balloons and running around the little playground.
Extra Visits in Cambodia
The nightlife in Cambodia is equally intriguing. Clubbing and pubbing is one of the few things that can’t be missed when you are around. Visiting the night markets is also one of the highlights as you will find all sorts of souvenirs rich in Cambodian culture. I especially enjoyed the body massage they offered at the market – definitely eased off my tiredness after a whole day of intense ‘working out’ while playing with the energetic kids!
During the first weekend, we toured around Siem Reap, which is around 300km away from Phnom Penh. No trip to Cambodia would be complete without visiting the magnificent temples of Angkor Wat – the famous location where Angelina Jolie filmed the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Visiting the temples was actually a rather tiring experience due to the extensive ground they covered, but the view at the top of one of the temples was breath-taking where you can overlook the whole Siem Reap (if you manage to climb all the steep stairs that lead you up to the top of the temple!).
Before I knew it, two weeks had passed and I was back at the airport once again. Volunteering in Cambodia was something that I would never forget; the innocent smiles on the children’s faces always made my day. It was an invaluable experience, teaching me to treasure what I have in life now and never take anything for granted. In short, I love Cambodia – the people, culture, food, and everything else – volunteering just makes it even more enjoyable!