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I spent three visas and three months volunteering in Cambodia; I wish it was four. There were many reasons I kept renewing that visa, from culture and ethics, to beauty and beaches – even the bucket showers weren’t that bad. However, nothing stole my heart more than the Khmer people.
On meeting the Khmer people you wouldn’t know of the strife and genocide that populates their history; you wouldn’t realise most people earn under $80 a month (that’s about £1.25 a day) or children often miss school in the wet season to work on the rice fields. Despite all of this however, the Khmer ethos is one of equality and kindness.
This kindness is evident in every aspect of society. I’ve walked down rural village dirt tracks and had children run to greet me with flowers in their hands and smiles on their faces. I’ve had my moped break down on the way to the market and no-one’s averted their glaze or pretended not to notice, they’ve tried to help with all their might. I’ve been invited into local people’s homes where language barriers are insignificant and food does the talking. And I’ve been witness to the love and equality between children and parents and husbands and wives. This kindness is not constricted by social boundaries or prejudices; it is part of Khmer culture.
This unadulterated respect I have for the Khmer people can be best articulated in a ‘this-one-time-I-was-in-Cambodia’ story. As a gift for the Khmer translators we worked with, the volunteers decided to take them away for a week to the south-west province of Koh Kong.
For westerners, especially those of us that embark on international volunteering programmes, the concept of travelling to different places as a source of enjoyment is ingrained into us. For the Khmer people however, this is not a luxury many experience. So when 18 of us (10 volunteers, 5 Khmer translators and 3 Khmer children) piled into a 13-person minivan, there was a sense of excitement in the air.
After six – slightly squashed – hours in the minivan we got the boat over to Koh Kong Island, where we (plus a couple of workers) were the only people on an island the size of Hong Kong. Needless to say, it was paradise. But what was even better than this was seeing our Khmer friends enjoy the first holiday they’d ever had.
The children had never seen the ocean before and the mid-20-something translators had never spent more than 2 days away from home, so to see them playing volley ball on the beach, building sandcastles and even catching their own crabs to cook for dinner, was an eye-opening and reflective experience.
All in all, I think the moral of the story is, if you decide to volunteer in Cambodia (which I can honestly say will be the best decision you’ll ever make) not only will you build memories that will laugh a lifetime, you’ll meet inspiring people whose stories will forever stay with you.
So what are you waiting for? Book to volunteer in Cambodia now by calling 03339997516 or request a call back from a member of the BUNAC team.