How volunteering in Cambodia inspired me - by Richard Jonas. | Hope Agency

How volunteering in Cambodia inspired me – by Richard Jonas.

The experience made me appreciate the comforts, the opportunities, the support network,
the material things that we take for granted, the value of money, the value of gratitude and
sentiment, the people that we have around us, the power of a smile, the access to
education, the food and water supply, the hot shower and toilet facilities.

When everyone has the same focus (helping the young and underprivileged) there are
friendships to be gained, experiences to be gained and new outlooks acquired. I have
discovered inspiration through looking through the eyes of those who have so little
materially but so much with respect to happiness and work ethic.
I learned that giving has given me so much back, more than I could have possibly hoped for
We used restaurants which supported disadvantaged people and the experience
left me with a strong desire to do more for the wonderful children of Cambodia

I Joined the Hope school project on 01/08/17 and left three weeks later, a much wiser,
happier, grateful and inspired person, having made great friends and banked incredible
memories of such wonderful Cambodian children.

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The Project base is in Bakod village towards the south of Cambodia, around 80km south of
Phnom Penh (Cambodian capital). I spent a few days in Phnom Penh before joining the
project to gain a sense of Cambodias history and beliefs.

Project base facilities included cold showers (a welcome relief on such hot days), toilets with
buckets for waste toilet tissue. Bunk beds x 14 in a room, no mattresses but there was an
electrical supply, fans and lighting. Power cuts were quite frequent but rarely lasted more
than a few minutes. 2 meals a day supplied for the reasonable cost of $27.50 a week. There
were school pet dogs and cats at the project and they were friendly. The nearest wifi
hotspot was about 10km in the local village Ang Tasom although Internet access was
available on site through 3G.

Schooling of children happened at Hope school and at New school, which was around 12km
from the project base. This allowed children from further afield to attend. The New school
temporarily shut down due to lack of volunteers and government constraints although was
fully expected to reopen in early 2018. Some children sadly lost their opportunity to learn
due to the closure and being unable to travel the extra distance required to get to the Hope
main project base.

Facilities , at the New school, had shutters but no windows, no lighting, no electricity supply,
no running water supply, No computers, clocks, canteen, sports facilities. No respite from
the heat other than shelter in the buildings. Blackboard and chalk at new school, whiteboard and pen at Hope main project base.

Toilets were essentially a hole in the ground and Children used the pond to wash hands etc.

Children attended voluntarily (1.30pm to 4pm although some stayed to around 6pm) after
their state schooling in the morning (approx 7am to 11am).

English is not taught at state school so the project is essential for the children to learn
English, a language which is extremely important to their prospects of escaping the poverty
trap.

Childrens ages ranged from primary school age through to college age and they were set by
ability and were very keen to learn without any disruption. They were grateful for the
opportunity to learn English and were incredibly happy. They preferred to finish work
rather than play as they were there to learn. Children were creative and articulate in their
presentation of their work.

The Charity also works in supporting children at the local orphanage, teaching and playing
with the children. The older children play football with volunteers. They are so happy to
play football and laugh their way through the games, if only the game was played with such
joy in our homeland. They were very talented young players without an ounce of arrogance
or aggression that often accompanies the sport in our country.

Young children often rundown their gardens to wave to volunteers and shout hello.
The Charity also works to support the local community where families in real poverty
(timber built outhousing, cement bag walls, no electricity, no running water, no toilet
facilities etc. Volunteers contribute towards bags of rice and seeds to sow to help families.
Some families live off $2 a day, collecting snails , eating them and selling them to get by.
Children have fun days once a fortnight, where they can be creative through play, they may
go swimming or go to play football as the charity orgainises transport for such trips and
volunteers pay for the activities.

Volunteers came from a number of countries, but the vast majority were from England. The
average age was around 23 with most were at Uni or having just finished Uni.

Some volunteers used the experience as an escape from their normal life, with people
staying anywhere from two weeks to three months whilst I was there. Others committed a
large part of their life to help run the project.

Weekends were spent at cities or villages of choice. Hotels were cheap and there was some
great places to eat with stunning views. A trip to Bokor mountains saw us riding mopeds
for 30km up the mountains. Views were spectacular, seeing for miles over Cambodia.
Weather changed incredibly quickly as we were travelling up the mountains.

We visited a floating village where everything from houses, schools, churches etc were all
built over the water, on stilts. Where we would use cars, they would use boats.
Fishermen would stand up to their waists and cast nets to catch fish and many people,
including children, worked in paddy fields with water up to their knees gathering rice.

The country
The Country has strong religious beliefs with Buddhism and Hinduism prominent. Whilst I do
not consider myself to be at all religious, being blessed by a Buddhist monk was a very
special moment. Cambodian people are very welcoming and warm. There are incredible
temples to visit including some which were used in the filming of Tomb Raider. Tours of the
main temple sites were breathtaking.

Cambodia is moving forwards after the atrocities of a mass genocide in the late 1970s under
a communist government. Many educated families were killed and hence growth within the
country was stunted.

Cambodia has beautiful landscapes, islands and waterways.

The roads around major cities are incredible with very few traffic lights and traffic seemingly
doing wherever they fancied. Being transported by Tuk Tuk felt like being in some kind of
computer game at first. Incredibly we only saw two minor traffic incidents whilst we were
there.

There is work in tourism for people in Phnom Penh, where Tuk Tuk drivers take tourists to
place such as the killing fields, Royal Palace, National museum and Siem Riep, where tourists
are driven to see the temples that surround the city. There seems a much stronger western
feel to Siem Riep than the capital city Phnom Penh.

There were market traders wherever we went, some of the markets were massive with low
ceilings and tight walkways, quite stifling to walk around let alone work in.
Men can be seen to be chilling out in bars whilst women attend them so there appears to be
an inequality between men and women.

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