Not just a student’s game? - Part One - by Ian Hammersley | Hope Agency

Not just a student’s game? – Part One – by Ian Hammersley

One of our volunteers Ian Hammersley decided to do a three part series on what it was like to volunteer at the project.. Here is part one!

“We have lots of mature volunteers going on our schemes, so don’t worry, you will love it there”
explained the young lady at the other end of the phone, “our eldest was 73, so you will be fine”.

Comforting words for someone who, at the ripe old age of 47, was looking to take advantage of
some spare time bestowed on them via redundancy. Due to family commitments, I could only visit
Hope for a fortnight, but what a 2 weeks it was.

My pre-conceived idea was that overseas volunteering is a gift of the young. The pre/post or gap
year students looking to find themselves, help others and have lots of full moon parties. Whatever their
reasons, could I, at my age, having spent over 25 years in a corporate world, gain the same benefits?

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What would I get out of it? Would I make a difference?

Having trawled through the numerous online volunteering companies – many of which seem to want
to charge more than the cost of an all-inclusive family holiday for the privilege – I found a company
that had, in my mind, much more realistic costs. After various phone and e-mail conversations, my
decision was made, I was going to Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in a rural school in
Bakod Village, Tramkak District, Takeo Province, Cambodia.

Tickets booked, clothes, mosquito net, activities/toys for my new students and enough first-aid
product to fill a small chemist packed, it was time to go. (Flights are easy enough to book, I went via
Dubai and Bangkok, before arriving in Phnom Penh but there are other options available if required,
just ask when booking with the relevant volunteer agency).

On arrival at Phnom Penh airport, I was greeted by the pre-arranged driver to take me to Hope. As
with all tropical countries, the minute you walk out of the airport it hits you like a tsunami of heat,
especially when you don’t travel in destination proof clothing! I knew I should’ve worn the shorts!

As we drove out of the city, into the countryside, in my mind, I had thoughts of this rural village
being like Walnut Grove from Little House on the Prairie. A small number of wooden houses, a shop
or two, and maybe a “saloon” where the locals gather to chat and laugh at the end of a hot day.
As we drove further down the pot-holed dirt track, in some ways, it was. Wooden shacks on stilts,
skinny cows grazing at the side of the road, paddy fields yearning for rain – it was May, and the rainy
season had not yet begun – barely clothed locals sweeping the seemingly endless waves of dust
blowing around, and children playing, laughing and smiling without a care in the world. The big
difference was that Little House was set in the 1870s, this is 2017. Could/should people still live like


The taxi driver dropped me just through the school gates, a play-area differing classroom material
builds to the right, and a new school block under construction in front of me. None of the usual
building healthy and safety regulations here. Bamboo scaffolding, wooden planks and a makeshift
ladder adorn the new structure. The builders work early morning and into the evening to avoid the
heat and humidity of mid-day, and even the volunteers get involved!


This was my new home for 2 weeks, and my attitude to life was about to change forever….!

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  • November 13, 2017
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