‘My orientation in Siem Reap was excellent and the way they welcomed and cared for the welfare of their volunteers was what helped me to settle in quickly and start functioning as a useful member of the team as soon as possible. Particular thanks go to Sophea who made sure I knew the cycle route, arranged a SIM card for me, got my VISA extension sorted and was just a reassuring, friendly English speaking person if you weren’t sure about anything.
The school had also clearly given serious thought to my placement and had planned out an induction week. The NGO Director, Michael, also took the time to come out to meet me with the Head Teacher so that we could all formally introduce ourselves and he helped provide some useful background information about how as volunteers we could best work alongside our Cambodian colleagues. I can honestly say that the atmosphere was so professional, warm and welcoming with a large dose of humour that you couldn’t possibly not feel that you were a valuable part of the team even though it’s quite clear they have volunteers coming and going very regularly.
In that first week I drew up a plan for my time for the placement period so that I could apportion the hours I had available to the various tasks and not spend too long on one particular thing to the detriment of something else. This proved to be useful as a month isn’t a huge amount of time and I did want to achieve something by the end of it rather than start a lot of things but not finish them.
My placement supporting the Head Teacher was very clearly defined so I was able to get going with that very quickly. To support his professional development he had asked for training in time management and team management so I delivered three coaching sessions on these topics tailoring my knowledge to his specific needs.
The second project was working with the Project Manager, Sa Lin, on the product development, sales and merchandising of the fledgling social enterprise sewing group. Her main aim for me was to create a display area in reception for the products. As part of this, I needed to get a bigger picture of who the market was for these products, what products would appeal, what price they should be, what the costs were for each product and how they could be marketed with the display being one part of that. I spent some time looking at shops and markets in Siem Reap that sold handicrafts to see how they did it and to get ideas. I shared these with Sa Lin and together we picked ideas we liked that we thought would work.
One of the products that the sewing group had made was a foldaway shopping bag and it needed a design on it. We decided to get the children to draw a design as it was felt this would be a memorable souvenir of a visit to Treak. One class came up with a couple of good designs and we took them to the local silk screen printing company to discuss. With a few tweaks they should be able to progress this. A side benefit of this visit was that they were impressed by the quality of the workmanship and said they might sometimes have a bit of work they could put Treak’s way when a customer wants a small run of bags.
The project are already very good at posting on Facebook and Instagram but needed more guidance on how to use it strategically to create wider awareness and to drive action. I did a coaching session for Sa Lin on Instagram which helped towards that.
Finding out how much of a difference you can make, how keen they are to learn new things and have your support.
Feeling part of the team at the school and at the NGO office – you feel like you are a valued part of their organisation
Working with Dara who is such a super chap and so keen to learn!
The unusual things that happen because it’s Cambodia! Having the audio backdrop in the office of a Buddhist funeral on loudspeaker throughout the whole village for 2 days running and being allowed to go in and see the musicians and religious offerings; witnessing a huge, noisy, colourful procession one morning on my way into work to mark the start of becoming a monk for 5 young men.
If you have a skill that you could share and would like to immerse yourself in another culture then volunteering abroad is a fabulous experience. Because I was there to do a job that I really enjoyed it kept me going when sometimes other aspects were hard such as getting used to the heat or feeling under the weather! I think it’s important to contribute as much as you can whilst you are there. I never felt I had all the answers but the willingness to get alongside your Cambodian colleagues and share with them what you know is really helpful.’
To read more about volunteering at Treak follow this link: https://travel-peopleandplaces.co.uk/projects/278/children-belong-in-families—community-support-in-Treak%2c-Cambodia-(CW)