Yuan Zhao - Care & Community in Cambodia
Before summer, I was trying to find suitable volunteering aboard opportunities and the ‘Volunteer in Cambodia High School Special’ program immediately caught my attention.
The reason I was attracted to this program was the notion of being able to travel with a group of students who are my age. I can easily make friends with people all around the world and learn more about different culture customs in different countries.
Arriving in Cambodia
My journey started at Beijing International Airport with my sister Meng. Before our departure, the Cambodia accommodation team emailed us with our travel plan which listed what will happen after we arrived. The plan was very detailed so Meng and I were aware which route to take when we got to Phnom Penn. Phnom Penn was very different from where we come from, the heat was definitely overwhelming and there were tuk tuks everywhere in the city. I felt extremely excited and full of spirit to explore the city.
We arrived at our apartment after approximately one hour of driving and were showed to our rooms. The room was comfortable with enough blankets and pillows.
On the second day, we explored the city by tuk tuk (which was pretty fun!) to better experience Cambodian culture. We then drove off to Home of Hope, an orphanage in rural Phnom Penn, where we would be volunteering for the next two weeks. There were two Project Aboard staff members who were taking care of us all the way through the trip. At the end of the day, we went to a local restaurant and had an amazing dinner full of traditional Cambodian dishes.
On the very next day after our introduction we were heading off again to Home of Hope. The kids there ran towards our bus at the first sight when they saw us coming. They were squeezing each other in front of the bus door, trying to be the first to welcome us. At that moment all my worries of the possibilities that the kids wouldn’t like me disappeared: all of them were extremely friendly. When we got off the bus, every volunteer was surrounded by three or more kids who were holding our hands tightly, smiling at us with the deepest happiness.
During the first week at Home of Hope, in the mornings we painted the orphanage equipment and in the afternoon we taught and played with the kids. The painting work was exhausting at first, but we all got used to working under the sun very quickly. More importantly, knowing the fact that our work had contributed to the appearance of Home of Hope really satisfied us, so we simply could not care less about sun burn!
Teaching the kids was also full of fun. I got to teach them some English words and even some Chinese words - they also taught me how to count in their language. The exchange of knowledge really made me grow as a learner. After 2:30pm the kids were done with school so we got to play games with them, chatting with them, singing with them and doing each other’s hair! At the end of the program, we held a party for them and distributed gifts we brought from our home countries. They loved the gifts and I really wished I had brought more!
Being involved in the High School Special program in Cambodia was indeed not only about making a difference to the local community, but also about exploring Cambodia’s cultural richness. During the weekdays, we went to the market which sells various accessories and traditional Cambodia costumes at very fair prices. All the things sold there can present Cambodia culture in great ways: bracelets, earrings and necklaces with elephants on (elephants are the symbol of luck in Cambodia), comfy clothes and bags with unique patterns. These commodities are very beautiful - I never got tired shopping in Cambodia!
Apart from shopping, we also visited the Royal Palace, the Killing Field and the National Museum. By visiting these tourism sites, I learned the history of Cambodia and the struggles people in Cambodia were going through during the Cold War.
During the weekends, we travelled to Siem Reap and stayed there for one day. In Siem Reap, we visited the magnificent and splendid Angkor Wat, which is one of the world’s top 10 tourist sites. At night, we went to the famous Pub Street in Siem Reap right beside our hotel. We had delicious western dishes there. After dinner, we went to the night market for shopping.
The tourism elements in this program were full of new, unique and unforgettable experiences that I will never forget for the rest of my life. This volunteer experience was far more than just volunteering, it lead me to sink into Cambodian culture in a way that’s both enjoying and meaningful.
After two weeks, it was the time for me to go home. When we were saying goodbye to the kids at Home of Hope, none of us could restrain our tears. Even until I got back home, I could not stop missing those kids. Frequently, I go through the photos I took with the kids when I was in Cambodia, missing their laughs. Volunteering in Cambodia is one of the best experiences I’ve had so far in my life. I strongly encourage everyone to participate, it will be great!