Archive for the ‘Volunteer tourism’ Category

Angels from abroad

by Cindy Austin

Walking from pavillion to pavillion at the Chres school and orphanage I couldn’t help but notice the painted sides of the buildings. “Wash your hands before every meal,” one said. “Brush your teeth everyday.” The Australian English teacher told us that she’s focusing on health with her class of 12-18 year olds.

“They need to drink more water because they’re always dehydrated,” she said. “I make them drink a whole liter of water before they can leave my class.”

I then thought about the hundreds of wells I’d seen dug around every area of Cambodia we’ve covered, all with white signs describing who donated the money for them or what organization took the time to dig them.

The influence that NGO’s and volunteerism is very prominent here. We’ve met numerous people who have spent months of their lives coming from abroad to teach English to Cambodians. We’ve seen the wells and met couples like the Ross’s who saw a problem and chose to fix it.

It’s going to be harder to ignore the “support a child of 18 cents a day” commercials after seeing what a difference those cents can make.

Not just a teacher

By Jayshri Patel
“I won’t let them leave class until they finish their bottles of water,” said Claire, a young Australian teacher at Chres Village School and Orphanage (Chres) just five miles outside of Siem Reap. A handful of students groan and laugh at each other in the classroom behind her.
Three weeks ago,  Claire reacted to her students’ complaints of headaches and tiredness by mandating that each student drinks a full bottle of water during class. She realized that several of them were dehydrated when they confessed to drinking less than two cups of water a day.
But even after lessons on dehydration, a young and defiant boy runs out of class after pouring his water into a nearby plant pot.Claire shakes her head and smiles at me as I wait for her reaction.
“They know why to drink the water,” she explains, “they’re just lazy!”
Volunteering as a teacher, it seems Claire plays two roles. Primarily, she teaches the highest level of English offered at the school, and then she teaches her students whatever they need to know in life, much like a parent.

A lesson in thankfulness

Rom and Somit traveled 50 kilometers in a bouncy pickup truck this week to get treatment at the Referral Hospital in downtown Siem Reap. For a long time, so long that Rom can’t even remember when it started, her deaf 80-year-old husband, Somit, has been coughing up blood.

He was being treated by an NGO near his rural house in the Kralanh district, but his coughing got bad enough that they referred him to this facility. For two days, Somit has been waiting for treatment, sitting on a multicolored palm mat on the floor in the hospital hallway. At night, his family sleeps in the hallway with him. During the day, they wait outside, sitting in the dust while they wait for news. They cook on hospital grounds using the firewood and cooking pot they brought from home, packaged in a pastel rice bag — their only luggage.

Rom looks at me with the most stunning dark blue eyes as I ask her questions about her husband. She fidgets in her purple shirt and striped skirt, looking to her daughter-in-law for confirmation and answers. His cough is better since he’s been here at the hospital, she confirms. Still, the 200,000 riel (~$50) they will have to pay for each night he has a bed — which is not the same number of nights they wait at the hospital — will be a huge financial drain on the elderly couple and their family.

As I get angry and hurt and embarrassed by the way their healthcare compares to mine in the States — how did I deserve to be born into that privilege but they weren’t? — I’m struck by the realization that these people are grateful and hopeful. This just drives home the idea that has been bombarding me since I arrived in this beautiful, yet developing, country — if they can be thankful for what they have, I need to be infinitely more grateful for my dumb luck of being born in America.

Unexpected similarities

By Elizabeth W. Wilson

Posters with English words were scattered around the white walls of the small classroom. The shades were pulled over the windows and a ceiling fan moved around the warm air creating a slow breeze. There were twenty school with desks attached. We filled them, alternating between American and Cambodian students. We were there for an introductory English lesson.

I sat next to a young Cambodian woman who came prepared with her notebook and small pouch of pens. She gave me a good look, looked at the board, then looked back at me and smiled. She then asked me for my name.

“My name is Elizabeth,” I replied, “And what is yours?”

She managed to say “My name Kho Channa,” before her smile took over and she broke out in a laugh. Our conversation followed a normal progression.

We quickly found out that we have a lot in common. We are both 20 years old. We both have one older brother and we both dream of being professors. Throughout the class, we would both catch each other’s eye and laugh at the same things. While our basic conversation in broken elementary English made us sound like twins, it was hard to ignore the different worlds that we had come from. But despite our cultural differences and our language difficulties, I felt so natural laughing with Kho. As the class continued, we would both exchange smiles.

By the end of the class, I had realized that our different lives and cultures didn’t matter, because for one hour, we were sharing the same experience.

Choosing the right path

By Nicole Meadows

In the entrance yard of The Cambodia Land Mine Museum and Relief Facility, rusty six-foot rocket shells rest upright in the sand.

Inside, a green moat surrounds a gazebo with walls of glass. Anyone looking in would see round metal canisters hanging in clusters from the ceiling and piled on the floor. All of these are deactivated land mines, a small fraction of the millions laid across Cambodia.

The founder of the museum, Aki Ra, was a child soldier of the Khmer Rouge who now works to eradicate his country of land mines. He has also established an international school for child victims of land mine explosions, which is located next to the museum.

In addition to displays about the not-for-profit’s work and students, the facility tells the history of the Khmer Rouge regime, a topic that I had not yet understood.

An information sign about the site stated that the museum “is a firm supporter of utilizing tourism as a means of launching social awareness education. Doing so inspires humanitarian and developmental action.”

I feel like being a tourist here is a walking social awareness education, but maybe it depends on where you walk. Hopefully, I will be able to choose paths that inspire action.

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.