Volunteering in Cambodia: An Addictive Experience
I went to Cambodia on a whim; I was almost not going to go. I’d met some travellers who had just been there and described it as “boring, dirty and Angkor Wat is the only thing worth visiting”.
I didn’t have high expectations.
I knew throughout my travels that I wanted to volunteer somewhere. Volunteering overseas is a great way to get a unique insight into a local place, to meet people and to challenge yourself.
In Laos I met a girl who was borderline obsessed with her experiences volunteering in Cambodia, so I decided I would go to this little town called Takeo and see what the fuss was about.
Instantly, I fell in love. This was the Asia I had searched for, but failed to find along the tourist trail. I would bike to a smaller village nearby with a village school, peddling along the fiery red roads while getting high-fives from half naked little children. My cheeks hurt from smiling too much.
It was bliss.
Volunteering in Cambodia was the best thing I have ever done.
What Did a Typical Day Look Like Volunteering?
I visited the volunteering organisation, NewFuturesOrganisation.com, a total of five times. Each time I was there. I found myself surrounded by a great group of likeminded travellers, which meant that alongside the volunteering work things were very social. We would quite often stay up late indulging in $5 bottles of whiskey and sharing our hopes and dreams.
Because most of the teaching was in the afternoons, we’d usually sleep in somewhat and then bike down to the local market for $0.30 coffees and fried bananas for breakfast. At times I volunteered in the morning teaching English to the monks at the local pagoda which was fascinating. I learned a lot about how monks live and could ask them pretty candid questions and they’d reply honestly – they relished the opportunity to practice their English.
In the afternoons I’d start the challenging bike ride out to the village school. The teacher of the school, Team, taught around 200 students in an open aired building. Yes, you read that right, one teacher to 200 students. The first time I walked in and saw how many small children were crowded on the seats together I was taken back.
When there are volunteers, we take a small group of students away and give them lessons based on their learning ability. The children were very, very grateful for the opportunity to learn English and relished the break from the harsh reality of their poverty stricken lives.
In the evenings I would enjoy dinner together with the other volunteers, people who had traveled great distances in order to make a difference to these children.
How Much Did This Experience Cost Me?
I get angry when I see companies offering volunteering experiences in Cambodia or similarly priced countries for $2,000+ a month. For that amount of money I could afford a luxury holiday in Cambodia, so I think it is unreasonable for someone to pay that much to donate their time.
I believe in supporting the cause while I am there and have no problem making a small donation to cover training costs, the cost of the local staff and other small bits and pieces, but I think it is unreasonable to pay more than you would for a luxury holiday.
The entire experience, volunteering in Cambodia, donating some money to the organization I volunteered with and my bits and pieces along the way would have cost no more than $400 for the whole month. That includes an obscene number of iced coffees which are made with condensed milk and absolutely delicious!
Obviously the price to volunteer anywhere will depend largely on your spending habits, but I don’t think you should spend more than a few hundred dollars on the admin costs and supporting the charity.
Would I Volunteer Again?
My travel plans this year are mostly focused around visiting Bali, Europe and then moving to Panama to lower my personal tax bill, so I’m not sure Cambodia will be in my future for this year, but I will definitely be back.
Have you ever volunteered anywhere? What was your experience like? Let me know if you have any questions about my experiences volunteering in Cambodia – I’d be happy to answer them.
Izy Berry is travel obsessed; she’s clocked up over 30 countries and is only getting started. After a brief stint home, she’s becoming location independent and wants to find the perfect balance between earning and income, lounging on the best beaches in the world and volunteering overseas. She was stabbed in Indonesia, but is still a huge advocate of solo travel. Connect with her on Facebook