HOW AND WHERE TO VOLUNTEER IN CAMBODIA

Before you volunteer in Cambodia, we suggest you understand the pros’ and cons’. Volunteering is a fully-fledged industry in Cambodia and as such can be controversial. It can be an immensely rewarding experience, however it can also have a vey negative effect on the people you are trying to help. Some organisations offer little more than a voluntourism experience, and as result there is no benefit for the local community, while others may exploit volunteers or work them too hard. Good volunteer work could mean doing practical, sustainable work such as building houses or providing training so the community can develop itself.

To make sure your trip has a positive impact on yourself and the community you’re trying to help, there are a few things you should consider:

WHAT TO ASK YOURSELF BEFORE YOU DECIDE TO VOLUNTEER IN CAMBODIA
  • Are you volunteering to help the community or are you mainly doing it for yourself? Are you going abroad because you want help people or because you just want to take pictures to post on social media or add something impressive-looking to your resume?
  • Do you have the necessary skills and the mental strength to help people?
  • Would you feel confident doing the same activities in your own country?
  • Do you have the same social values as the organisation?

Also, be aware that you will be living and working in a very different culture and potentially in rough conditions. While you volunteer in Cambodia, make sure to be sensitive to the Cambodian Culture by dressing and behaving appropriately (longer skirt and covered shoulders for women and long sleeved shirt and long trousers for men).  It is important to understand that you need to be flexible to volunteer in a country like Cambodia and accept that some things may not go as planned (or as advertised).

WHAT TO ASK THE ORGANISATION YOU ARE CONSIDERING VOLUNTEERING WITH
  • What exactly will you be doing for the community and how will your assistance have an impact?
  • Does the organisation look at the work and/or background of the volunteers?
  • How do the organisation’s values align with your own?
  • Does the organisation conduct it’s work in a transparent and ethical way?
  • Could local staff be doing your job? Are you taking employment away from local people by being there? Some organisations prefer hiring volunteers to do the work to paying the local community.

First of all, make sure you ask around to get a better understanding of the reputation of your chosen organisation. The safest volunteerism opportunities are established by not for profits organisations,  such as the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia. This organisation, located in Phnom Penh, registers all of the different local NGOs and international present on the territory.

BE AWARE OF YOUR IMPACT

Generally speaking, the best opportunities are pre-arranged by an organisation that has an understanding of the local community and ensures they are being assistive in a culturally sensitive way. Be careful of organisations that ask you to pay a high fee. This practice contributes to the rise of a voluntourism industry, which operates without really helping the community.

Also, stay away from any project where you can volunteer for less than 3 months. To make a meaningful impact you need to be around for longer than that, and work with an organisation that understands this.

ABSOLUTELY AVOID ORPHANAGE VOLUNTEERING AND TOURISM

One of the biggest challenges is volunteering with children. A report from The Human Science Research Council on volunteering in developing countries demonstrates that the “unstable attachments and losses experienced by young children with hanging caregivers leaves them very vulnerable, and puts them at greatly increased risk for psychosocial problems that could affect their long-term well-being.”  Children need stable and consistent staff working with them, yet it is one of the most booming industries for short-term, inexperienced volunteers.

In Cambodia, an additional concern is that many of the ‘orphanages’ are fraudulent, unsafe, and exploitative organisations. Children are taken away from their parents and put in ‘orphanages’, which tourists are encouraged to visit and give a donation to. Be vigilant of any suspicious behaviour relating to child maltreatment or other malpractice and report it to the NGO Childsafe. Their website has more information about the problems surrounding orphanage tourism.

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