Volunteering in Cambodia

When we decided to sell our house and most of our possessions and travel the world, we also agreed that we would spend up to six months of each year volunteering with NGO’s, charities, eco projects and other interesting groups. This decision was driven by our desire to try and help others as we travelled as well as making sense from a practical standpoint, as in most cases we would be provided with a place to sleep and a meal a day in exchange for our work.  In order to sustain a nomadic lifestyle for a prolonged period on a finite amount of money we will need to stretch our funds – and volunteering is one way of doing just that. We chose to use http://www.workaway.info as the portal to find our volunteering work. 

Our first volunteering job is at the Dolphin School of English in Kratie, Cambodia, teaching English to village kids. The school is run by the energetic Mr Yuth, and offers free accommodation in exchange for 3-5 hrs of teaching five days per week. For a donation of $5/day per person his wife is cooking us 3 traditional Cambodian meals each day 🙂 We each teach around 25 kids for an hour a day, as well as 5 restaurant staff who need to learn English to serve foreign tourists for another hour.. Usually there are around 6 volunteers, but as it is the rainy season in Cambodia less travelers are visiting the country at the moment. So it’s a bit hectic, but we are coping. Our accommodation is in a spacious double room with a ceiling fan and mosquito net.

Of course the change in lifestyle is a massive one for us…We lived in a large Victorian double storied house with hot shower on demand, cable TV and supermarkets within easy reach. In Cambodia we have yet to see a mall…instead there are literally tens of thousands of little shops all selling the most basic of essentials, and traditional open air markets for fresh produce and meat. There are no fast food outlets with modern toilets – if you need to go then be prepared to squat…

We travelled the 238km from Phnom Penh to Kratie in a minibus taxi at a cost of $5…As foreigners we were given a bit of special treatment by the driver, and some extra space for our luggage at no additional charge. The 5hr ride was pretty bumpy as the road was often pot-holed and it was a relief to finally to get to our destination. We were welcomed by Mr Yuth’s delightful young daughter. who together with her younger brother somehow managed to carry Ackhona’s 17kg backpack up the stairs to our room. Mr Yuth arrived minutes later and gave us a quick rundown on what had been done with the four classes by previous volunteers. We quickly realized that what was needed was a basic evaluation of the students grasp of English before we just blindly carried on from page 18 in the book. After a 1hr nap we ate lunch and then set about putting together a plan of action. That involved having 200 photocopies made of some worksheets to test the kids language skills.

More about our experiences at the Dolphin School English in my next post…


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Derek Antonio Serra is a photographer and filmmaker who has run several successful businesses in the film, tourism and advertising industries. He has recently embraced the nomadic lifestyle after selling his businesses and home. His passions are photography, travel and writing.