Alison Orr - High School Specials, Care & Community in Cambodia
The High School Special Care & Community volunteer program is simply an amazing way to experience an entirely new country and culture in just two short weeks, whilst also making a difference to children’s lives.
On deciding that I wanted to volunteer during the summer I remember looking at the many different countries that Projects abroad offered and feeling overwhelmed at the options available to me. I decided to volunteer in Cambodia and have never regretted my decision to go to such an amazing country.
Arriving in Cambodia
My journey started in Glasgow International Airport, with my friend Rebecca, and after four flights we arrived late at night into Phnom Penh. The nerves throughout the journey slowly built up but we managed to meet other volunteers on our flights which allowed me to feel more excitement than nerves at the prospects that lay ahead. Walking out through the airport doors, suddenly the heat hits you, the crazy driving, all the people; it’s completely overwhelming and exciting all at the same time.
On arriving at the apartments we were showed to our rooms. The rooms were large and comfortable and Rebecca and I were lucky enough to get air conditioning in our room, which helped a lot at night as we weren’t used to the heat.
Our first morning in Cambodia we had our first ever tuk tuk experience to the Projects Abroad office where we were given an induction talk. This is where we met Projects Abroad staff; Seang, Pises and Kanika. Kanika was the woman who would be looking after us on a day today basis and making sure that we were always happy with our project.
The induction was a vital part to our stay in Cambodia it helped outline what our project would be like and gave us an itinerary of our trip. The induction also allowed for me to meet and get to know the other 15 volunteers who I made very good friends with and have wonderful memories with. We then proceeded to visit our two work placements Home of Hope, run by the Brothers and Home of Peace, run by the Sisters.
On our first stop at Home of Hope when I first walked in a young boy came up to me and simply started hugging me as I stood and listened to a Brother who worked in the orphanage. This first and simple moment in the trip is the thing I remember the most. I learned that it is the small things that make a difference during my time in Cambodia.
My Project in Cambodia
Our days were split into two, in the morning we went to Home of Hope, which was an all-boys orphanage. On our first couple of days we were painting the upstairs of the orphanage. I remember painting a wall and being completely distracted by a boy downstairs called Dee. He was sitting in his wheelchair and getting fed some bread by Rebecca and he kept looking up at me and smiling at me so we started a game of peek-a-boo. He was so cute and having so much fun at this game that my painting skills I am sad to say were severely lacking in concentration!
As suggested by Projects abroad I took some small things for the children to play with and stickers and balloons were by far their favorite things to play with. Indeed I ended up quite often with a face full of stickers as the children love to put them on their faces and your own.
In the afternoons we went to Home of Peace which was a mixed gender orphanage and the children were slightly younger. Here our time was spent playing with the children and doing fun activities. The children are always really excited to see you and despite the language barrier they are able to play with you and simply enjoy your company.
On our first ever day here I remember noticing one of the older children sitting quietly in the corner, not as excited as the younger children and a little more reserved. I decided to play a hand clapping game with my friend Rebecca and managed to persuade the girl to join us. After a while she became more comfortable in our presence and began to teach us new rhymes.
During our time in Cambodia we not only helped out in the orphanages but we also tried to contribute and help the local communities as well. We packaged rice up into bags and then went out to the surrounding homes to distribute the rice to the poorest of families. The rice is vital in their daily struggle to feed their families and I was truly grateful that I had a chance to play my part in helping out the local families.
The High School Special Care & Community program is not only about volunteering and making a difference but it is also an opportunity to immerse yourself in another culture. At first you may find yourself being overwhelmed by all the differences but this doesn’t last long and a curiosity to learn and experience new things takes over. The food was one thing I will never forget. Every night we had something different that was completely new to me but tasted amazing.
During our two weeks in Cambodia we visited many sites in Phnom Penh including the Royal Palace where the King lives and we also enjoyed a Cambodian traditional shadow puppet show. The most important trip we had by far was the trip to the Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields. These two places were extremely hard to comprehend in that so many people had died and that it was so recent. Nevertheless this was part of Cambodia’s history and it was important to learn about and pay your respects to the victims.
At the weekend during our time in Cambodia we headed up to Siem Reap. Here we saw the amazing temples including the magnificent Angkor Wat temple. It was an amazing experience and well worth the visit. I would advise that you try and see as many temples as possible as they will continue to amaze you.
Now that I have returned home I find that I miss Cambodia more than I could ever have predicted after only spending two short weeks there. I miss the weather, the other volunteers, the food, the staff, but most of all I miss the children. The fun that I had simply making the children laugh is an experience I will never forget and I hope to be able to go back in the near future and do it all over again.
The High School Special program has been a life changing experience and I would say if you ever have the opportunity to go to Cambodia then you should not hesitate to do so.