Abby Abel - High School Specials, Care & Community in Cambodia
I volunteered in Cambodia on the Care & Community placement. I was located in Phnom Penh for 2 weeks in December of 2015. I chose to do a project like this because in order to graduate high school we have to learn or do something new, and I thought this would be the perfect project, plus I’ve always wanted to travel outside of the United States.
I chose Projects Abroad when researching different volunteer abroad groups and thought this would be the perfect group. I chose Cambodia because it seemed the most interesting to me. There was no real reason as to why I chose it, but I’m so glad I did.
Arriving in Cambodia
When I first arrived in Cambodia it was late at night and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find the staff member that was supposed to pick me up. I have never traveled by myself and never been to another country, so I had no idea what I was doing. It was a little tough finding the staff member because there were so many people waiting outside of the airport, but within a few minutes I found him. They make it very easy to locate them, as they are wearing a Projects Abroad shirt and holding up a sign. I was way overwhelmed at first by the culture shock. Being 17 years old and traveling to a non-English speaking country isn’t very easy. Within a few days I started to get used to it though.
The staff made me feel welcomed the second I got there. I was dropped off at our hotel we were staying at for the 2 weeks. We stayed at the Hang Neak hotel and it was much nicer than I had expected it to be. We had two volunteers per room. The rooms were a little small, but that’s all part of the experience. The hotel has a rooftop where we ate and it had a view of the city, and it was absolutely gorgeous. The rooms did have air-conditioning, which was nice after a long day of work.
The second day we were there we visited the placement we would be working at. It was a day-care center located on an island, about an hour away from our hotel. The children were absolutely adorable and we couldn’t wait to spend time with them. We did Care and Community, so we helped make their learning environment better for them. We painted the walls with things they could learn from, such as numbers, letters, colors, etc. We then cleaned up the back of the school, which was located outside. We created a few vegetable gardens. We also created resources for that school and new schools that would be opening. These included posters that could be put up on the walls with items such as the alphabet, weather, animals, and fruits and vegetables.
We finished at the day-care early so we went on to a kindergarten. We re-painted an entire room of the school. We painted the walls with different environment themes, like underwater, desert, mountains, and a forest. To get to both of these schools we had to take a ferry to cross the river, since they were located on an island. At both of these placements I felt very safe, and welcomed.
While at these schools it was hard to do much physical work because of the heat. It was in the winter so it wasn’t as hot and wasn’t very humid, but it still did get to about 95 degrees Fahrenheit every day. You definitely have to drink tons of water while working. Every day I would get back to the hotel and just fall asleep because of all the work we did.
I did get homesick quite a few times, but all the other volunteers and staff made me feel much better. All of the volunteers got along very well and we still keep in touch. There were 13 volunteers and we came from 4 different countries.
During the high school special you get to go on a weekend trip (depending on your length of stay). We went to Siem Reap, which ended up being about an 8-hour bus ride. The roads aren’t exactly roads so it was very bumpy. On our way there we got a flat tire. We had to stand in the dirt on the side of the road in the scorching heat for about 45 minutes. It definitely added to the experience. Siem Reap was much cleaner than Phnom Penh, except there are ton of bugs. We went to the night markets and the temples, which are both a must do in Cambodia.
I hope this helps anyone when deciding if you’re going to volunteer in another country. Trust me, it is a fantastic experience. It really helped me come out of my shell and grow as a person. Plus, it’s great knowing you’re helping others less fortunate than you!
Read more about Care & Community in Cambodia.