New projects in Cambodia are on our website. Take a look and see which project interests you in volunteering here.
Siem Reap, with its close proximity to the World Heritage temples at Angkor Wat, is a popular destination for volunteers. The projects we currently support there are two community centres, both doing fantastic work at providing education, training and community support for some of the poorest villages around Siem Reap. They provide worthwhile and enjoyable placements for volunteers who have the expertise to support teachers and childcare workers. However not all volunteers want to work with children or have the required skills and experience to do so! So we have now added projects focused on business and on health and social care to our portfolio in Cambodia.
For those of you with business skills – whether that be sales and marketing, web design, creation of promotional materials, product design, fundraising, conducting customer surveys, or business and financial planning – you might be just the person to help the Khmer for Khmer Organisation (KKO), a small locally-run NGO based in Siem Reap. I met the people running KKO during my visit to Cambodia this summer and was impressed both by their aim to make their business self-sustainable rather than depending on funding from tourists, and by their thoughtful and open approach in considering what support they might need from volunteers to fill skills-gaps in their own expertise.
KKO’s stated goal is ‘to help Cambodia return to those more prosperous times of quality education, jobs with liveable wages and communities where people participate in decision-making and development’. With most jobs in Siem Reap going to those with good language skills, KKO run free educational and vocational training programmes for children and young people designed to give them a head start in the job market. Programmes currently run by KKO are:
- An English language programme for young adults, teaching 270 students daily, in the realisation that the need to speak and understand fluent English is a prerequisite for those hoping to find work in the tourist industry.
- A computer training programme for 12 students, providing them with a level of training which exceeds the basic entry level of computer skills required in most jobs.
- Motorbike mechanic training, which provides four young people a year with the necessary skills to maintain and repair motorbikes, the most commonly used means of transport in Cambodia.
- Sewing training, which provides intensive training for 12 students a year, enabling them to find work in the textile industry or to start up their own businesses.
To help them towards their goal of self-sustainability, KKO runs two enterprises under the label ‘off track’. ‘Off track accessories’ is a newly-opened shop in the heart of Siem Reap’s tourist zone producing and selling unique handmade products. It is expected that this shop will generate profits to support KKO’s budget as well as generate employment for some graduates of the sewing programme. ‘Off track tours’ offers unique bicycle, trekking and motorbike tours to the temples and the countryside around Siem Reap. These tours have become so successful that they already generate enough money to cover about 35% of KKO’s running costs.
The support KKO have requested from volunteers is in the broad areas of sales and marketing, business planning and fundraising. They are looking to widen their portfolio of ‘off track’ enterprises in order to move closer to their goal of self-sustainability without in any way diluting the quality of the educational and vocational training packages they provide. It would be great if we could send them some volunteers with the skills to help them achieve these goals.
For those of you with experience in the broad field of health and social care, we have added a number of possible opportunities for you to consider. Although there are many skilled professional healthcare workers in Cambodia and some good healthcare facilities, basic understanding of healthcare is at a generally low level, especially in the rural areas. Many people live in villages where there is no piped water supply. Water comes from community wells and has to be boiled or run through filters until it is safe to drink, but 30% of families don’t have water filters. Many villages have no sewage system. In these circumstances it is difficult to maintain the levels of hygiene we would consider essential. In addition, due to Cambodia’s turbulent political history, levels of education are generally low. Most children now attend school but this was not so for their parents’ generation, so many people are simply unaware of issues such as good nutrition. Treak Community Centre, where we already send volunteers, is keen to expand their programme of community education and would welcome volunteer support to help them prepare resources and plan workshops for people in their village to help improve basic health and hygiene and teach basic first aid and nutrition. If you are a healthcare professional you will understand how important it is to make sure people understand the basics, and you will know what a massive difference a little knowledge could make to people’s lives.
Due to high levels of poverty in the countryside, many families move into Siem Reap in the hope of finding more ways to make a living. Many have ended up living on the streets, begging for money and food in order to survive. Families living in this desperate situation are at huge risk of losing their children into institutional care, and many women have ended up working in the sex industry just to make enough money to survive. Our partners in Cambodia support a project called Green Gecko working with families who are looking for alternatives to this way of living. The project began by working with street children and is now expanding to work with their families, helping them to stay together and to improve their standard of living through long-term health, education and training initiatives. They are looking for volunteer support to organise and run social and health workshops, as well as courses in art or other therapies. In addition, this project has recently opened the Purple Mango Wellness Centre where they offer alternative therapies such as reiki and reflexology. Volunteer practitioners offer individual treatments to those who can afford to pay, with the money going towards the costs of running the project. However more importantly they also provide teaching and training to members of the families supported by this project and to others in the local community, either enhancing their existing skills or introducing them to a new skill which could provide them with the means to earn a living. If you have expertise in any form of alternative therapy which you could teach to local people as well as offering treatments to paying customers, this project could certainly use your skills. You would be helping people who have lived in the most desperate of situations to work towards an alternative way of earning a living in the future.
There are also opportunities for volunteers skilled in more traditional therapies such as physiotherapy, speech therapy or occupational therapy. If this is your specialism you could work at Purple Mango offering training to local people as detailed above, or you could work at Grace House, the community centre we have supported for some time now. Grace House now has a small section providing respite and transitional care for children with physical disabilities, as well as an educational and therapies-based day centre for children with special needs. They too would welcome support from physiotherapists, speech therapists and occupational therapists to help provide specialist training in these areas.
And finally, if you are a qualified and registered doctor or dentist, we now have a possible project where we can place you. The Lake Clinic cares for the health of people living around or on the Tonle Sap Lake. There are sixty floating villages of varying sizes on the lake. The vast majority of these are impoverished groups of people whose income is often no more than 40 cents a day. Their diet is protein-rich – exclusively rice and fish – but lacking in fruit and vegetables, which are expensive and difficult to obtain, and many villagers have no awareness of the benefits of eating these foods. These people have only had variable or non-existent access to basic medical care as they live far from dry land in the rainy season and have not been associated with any government health centres. Since 2008 the Lake Clinic has been sending medical teams to these remote areas by boat. Each boat carries a team of doctors, dentists, nurses and midwives who go to the floating clinics on a weekly basis, providing diagnosis, midwifery, immunization, oral health and health education. Each trip lasts three days and living conditions during the course of the trip are very basic. Appropriately qualified volunteers (doctors and dentists only) do join the teams if there is a vacancy for someone of their specialism; if you feel this is the type of volunteering you could do you would stand more chance of getting a place if you could be flexible with your dates.
So if you feel you have the skills and experience to make a worthwhile contribution to any of these projects, do please get in touch with us. As you can see, we can accommodate people with a range of skills and experiences, and on all these projects you would be working alongside local people who are working really hard to improve the standard of living for the poorest people in this very welcoming country.