Empowerment through volunteering

By Beth Pollak

Post-secondary education is different between Cambodia and America. This much I knew coming in. I just didn’t know what these differences might be.

In America, students are awarded scholarships for good grades, achievement, need, or a combination of the three. The scholarship that I received to come here was solely merit-based. In Cambodia, these are not the only components that qualify a pupil. Repayment in the form of volunteering is one of the main requirements of the Journeys Within Our Community scholarship program.

In this program, students are partnered with donors, as I have been for the Honors International Scholars Program. They communicate with their donors once a month, sending them e-mails about what problems or successes they’re having in college, and the donors reply with suggestions and tips to help out the students. I am required to send my donor (who is anonymous) a postcard from my location telling about how this trip has helped me reach my goals. The donors will never contact me.

Another part of the JWOC scholarship is the service component. The recipients must work 5-10 hours a week volunteering with JWOC programs including microfinance lending or teaching English, which they get to choose based on their major. I have to do no such thing.

The program has three goals, according to Andrea Ross, owner of Journeys Within. It helps get students work experience in their field, pays for them to get a higher education, and gives them a level of social consciousness – they learn that they can give back to the community, even as poor college students.

Personally, I think that the Cambodian students get a whole lot more out of their $500-per-year scholarships than I will get for my 3-week, $3000 stipend to go out of the States. They learn, in the long run, to be empowered.

Maybe this trip – and talking with the students – will help me find that same empowerment.

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2 comments so far

  1. Eric Pollak on

    I hope the empowerment of volunteering will help when you come home. Nice blog. Of course you left off the $1,700 flight cost.

  2. Amy Pollak on

    Beth, I am sure you dad was A’OK with writing that check 🙂 I mean…. it is for a “higher” education, right?


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