Chloe Sutton - High School Specials, Care & Community in Cambodia
I decided to volunteer with Projects Abroad because I had only heard positive things about them. My sister volunteered with them a couple of years earlier and I was so jealous of her experience that I wanted to go for myself. I knew that I wanted to volunteer at some point and the summer before my final year at school seemed like a good time.
I chose to go to Cambodia for a few reasons, one of which being that I had never left Europe before and was desperate to go to Southeast Asia. Although I went to Cambodia with my friend Abi, flying half way around the world seemed quite daunting to me as I had never been on vacation without my family before. However, traveling with Abi made me feel safe and made the flights and overall trip more fun for me. It is also great because now I have someone to talk about my trip with who understands how amazing it actually was!
My First Impressions of Cambodia
After four long flights, we finally arrived in Phnom Penh. I was amazed at how different it was to home. The first thing that hit me was the heat. I live in Scotland and found the humidity and hot temperatures very different – to say I got used to it would be a lie. At the airport, we were greeted by one of our lovely Projects Abroad coordinators and were then taken to our hotel for the induction.
On the way to the hotel I was struck by the lack of rules on the roads. I would look out the window and see three kids on the back of the same motorbike staring into the van. I was also amazed at how loud and busy the city was. When we arrived at the hotel, we met the other volunteers who were all participating in the High School Specials. They were all amazing and I made friends that I will stay in contact with for a long time.
My Care Placement
We volunteered at Asia’s Hope, a care home and school in Phnom Penh. We would have an hour-long bus journey there and back every day. The journey was really fun as it allowed all of us to spend more time with each other and get to know one another better. When we arrived at the care home for the first time, we were all very excited to meet the kids and they were equally excited to meet us. As we drove in, they all ran over to the bus waving. They would grab our hands and drag us off to play or just hug our legs and hilariously pose for photos. After our first day, we all left so happy and we were all looking forward to returning.
Working at Asia’s Hope was great fun. We had four tasks to focus on while the children were in class. We painted the wall with pretty and educational pictures, which looked incredible by the time it was finished. We fixed up the playground which included painting all the swings and toys and making creative new apparatus for the children. We also built a bamboo walkway in front of one of the placement’s houses. This was tough work because of the heat, but it was rewarding as the kids loved it. By the time it was finished, we were all proud of what we accomplished.
We also helped in the classrooms teaching the children. I loved doing this because I want to be an elementary school teacher, so I found the experience useful and enjoyable. Teaching the children the alphabet was fun because they were so eager to learn and happy for us to be there. The teachers at the school were so welcoming and I never felt out of place.
During the children’s break times we would play with them outside. Their energy was so contagious and they managed to make us all run around in the heat with them. All of the children were sweet and one little boy made me a bracelet out of his playdough, which is something that I will not forget. Even a couple of months after I left I still find that I miss the kids so much. They were such fun to spend time with and they made a huge impact on me.
Sightseeing in Cambodia
One of the things that I loved about my project was that although we spent lots of time at the care home we also managed to see lots of the city. We were also completely immersed in the culture, from haggling in the busy markets to touring the beautiful Angkor Wat temples.
During one evening we went to a traditional Cambodian puppet show. Although the story was a little difficult to follow, it was entertaining nonetheless and was definitely a great new experience. We also went to the royal palace which was beautiful and we took lots of amazing photos.
On the weekend we went to Siem Reap, after watching the sunrise from Angkor Wat in the morning. Before my trip I had googled the temples to get an idea of what they were like but nothing could have prepared me for what we saw. The temples were incredible and they made me realize just how far from home I was.
Back in Phnom Penh, we went to the killing fields and the S-21 museum. This day was not exactly fun but it was interesting to learn about Cambodia’s recent history. Although it was upsetting, it would have been silly not to go.
I was sad to leave Cambodia and the other volunteers because we had got to know each other well and I had grown attached to the country. I was exhausted by the time I returned home but I still managed to tell my family everything that had happened. I always end up talking about my project for ages whenever anyone asks because I had such an incredible experience.
My trip to Cambodia made me realize just how lucky I am and I have so many amazing memories because of it. I would recommend Projects Abroad to anyone because the staff are so lovely and welcoming and the project as a whole allows you to immerse yourself in the country and culture. It is a great way to make new friends from all around the world and to gain independence. I honestly think that my trip helped me grow up and become a more grateful person.
Read more about the Care & Community High School Special in Cambodia.