What Is It Like To Be A Volunteer? – Part One

‘I really admire you when I heard that you went to Cambodia to work as a volunteer.’

‘The organization gave me food and accommodation.’ I responded, thinking, ‘it’s not like I wasn’t given anything at all.’

‘But most of the people want more than that!’ He said.  I chuckled.

When I was in Cambodia, a few visitors coming from Hong Kong said similar things to me. Honestly, it’s nothing admirable. At least, I don’t think so.

I had my online students and I kept teaching them English online. I never stopped that even when I was a volunteer and the organization I volunteered for knew that. When I was teaching the kids in the village or in the college, I taught them just like the way I taught my online students and other face-to-face students.

I also lived like usual and took care of my skin as usual. Actually, I learnt this from a primary school teacher in a village in Kampong Cham province.  We went to her house every Thursday night for dinner.  She put makeup on and polished her nails. When I first saw her, I thought to myself, ‘if she can do it in a village house then why can’t I? I have brought all the skincare products with me anyway.’

So for me, my life over there wasn’t really that different from my life as usual. Of course, there were some minute details that I needed to adjust to like the insects (yeah, I am still talking about it), the food, the language, the culture, etc.

But those visitors actually remind me, a few years ago, I met a doctor who volunteered for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) at a fundraising event.  I said exactly the same thing to him. Now, I still admire them. Their living condition is much worse than mine and their tasks are much more complicated.  Guess what the doctor said?  He said, ‘there’s nothing admirable there. I was just doing my job as usual.’ I think I kind of understand how he felt now but I still can’t stop myself from admiring what they do.  

The doctor said, ‘there’s nothing admirable there. I was just doing my job as usual.’

A lot of people have asked me, ‘why do you want to be a volunteer?’ and I usually answered with a shrug, ‘I couldn’t find a job so why not do some volunteering work?’ 😄

The response that I usually got was, ‘I don’t believe you’, ‘you’re just kidding’, ‘even if you couldn’t find a job, you could do something else and earn some money instead of volunteering in a remote village in Cambodia.’

What they said is true in a way.

But if you ask me, I really don’t know why. One thing I am sure though is I am not a saint. 😅

I have always wanted to volunteer long term.

Many years ago, I thought of volunteering for MSF and working in the field but my experience etc. did not fit any of their requirements at all. I then worked for another INGO in their office as a volunteer but I started to realize I preferred the field work more. Then I checked online and asked my connections.

So, there you go.

‘why do you want to be a volunteer?’ and I usually answered with a shrug, ‘I couldn’t find a job so why not do some volunteering work?’ 😄

Speaking of my connections, there is one lady that I truly admire. She is actually the one who gave me the contact in Cambodia.  She volunteered in MC in India (Missionaries of Charity formed by Mother Teresa in case some people don’t know the abbreviation) where she took care of the mentally disabled girls. She stayed there for a couple of years. I read her book when I was in Cambodia and was inspired.  I mentioned it once briefly in my previous blog.   Looking back, I had been complaining about fleas, sand flies, mosquitoes and all kinds of insects that bit. The scars are still all over my body. If I wear a swimsuit now, everyone will see them.  

And where is she now? She’s in a deserted place in a desert in Africa.  There is no hope in that area because it’s a place even the government of that country doesn’t want to care about.  

That is admirable. 

Mine was really nothing.

So let’s go back to the question, what is it like to be a volunteer? This question also leads to many other questions like where can I find volunteering opportunities?  What can or will I do as a volunteer? What do I need to know and prepare beforehand?  Have I got what it takes to be a volunteer?  

So, with some knowledge and my experience, I will answer them one by one in the next few weeks.

Stay tuned. 😊


The primary school kids were attending my English lesson. In the first few months when there was no projector, I used my own computer to show them some clips. After Wah Yan College from Hong Kong donated a projector to us, the primary school kids were able to watch the clips on a bigger screen. Thanks to Wah Yan College, Hong Kong.

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