I had a chat over coffee (or water for me :P) with other volunteers and shared our different volunteering experiences in Cambodia to our viewers on Saturday.
It was a noisy but fun chat.
Lots of laughter!
And yet, it was very inspiring, even for me too!
It was good to catch up with the volunteers after we left Cambodia. We all have a story to tell. Let’s start with our current situation in France, Thailand (stuck there unfortunately) and Hong Kong.
Clotilde: it was my first day to hang out with my friends yesterday since the lockdown in France! Hurray!
Camille: I can’t do much now. I was told to go to Bangkok where it’d be safer in March. [It’s been 3 months!] Yes. I continue to work for the NGO but I need to go back to the villages in Cambodia to get more information from the children. We can travel around within Thailand but we can’t cross the border. [When are you supposed to finish?] End of September this year. [Can you extend it?] No, because we have other volunteers waiting in line.
Me: I continue to teach. I start to have more offline language tutorials in Hong Kong now. It seems like it’s gradually getting back to normal. Meanwhile, I have some online classes too.
1. WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO BECOME A LAY MISSIONARY OR A VOLUNTEER? DID YOU CHOOSE CAMBODIA?
Camille: I had always wanted to help other people. I think the value of my organisation, Enfant du Mekong, is good. You don’t have to be a Catholic to volunteer for them but they have the Catholic values. [yes, I met Camille in the church in Kampot through a priest who invited me to visit him there. It’s very interesting that the NGO has such a close relationship with the church.] Yes, that’s why I like it.
Clotilde: It was the best timing. I finished my study, I didn’t have a job, I broke up with my boyfriend. I had no burden at all. I didn’t get to choose the country. MEP assigned it to me. [what if you don’t like the country that they assign to you?] I think they will assign another one to you, I think.
Me: I had always wanted to be a volunteer. I looked for volunteering opportunities online but when I read the JD, those people who looked for volunteers just wanted to exploit the volunteers. Most of them were au pair and they targeted travellers. I thought to myself, ‘why don’t I volunteer for the church?’ I then contacted a priest who happened to be working in Cambodia and he said they needed volunteer English teachers. So, I went.
2. TELL US WHAT YOU DID AND YOUR EXPERIENCE IN CAMBODIA.
Clotilde: I started doing accounting first. It was 2019 when I was there but I was entering data from 2017 to 2019 onto the spreadsheet. After I finished that task, I had nothing much to do so I started talking to other people, staff and students and started teaching the students English and French but at the same time, I learnt Khmer from them. It was hard to teach students who didn’t know any English English so I started to teach them in Khmer. [you extended your visa, didn’t you?] Not only my visa. I extended my mission for a few more months. I was in Cambodia for 11 months in total.
Camille: I travel within the country to visit children who are the beneficiaries of Enfant du Mekong. We have donors from France. They support these children so I need to visit these kids in the villages to check their progress. I bridge between the donors and the beneficiaries. [and you need to ride a motorbike?] Yes. [how long did it take you to learn to ride a motorbike?] Around 2 weeks.
[Clotilde, you learnt how to ride a motorbike too. How long did it take you?] Around 2-3 weeks, as opposed to some people who took forever. [cleared my throat a few times and defended: I didn’t need to and I had friends who took me around on their motorbikes. That’s you, Clotilde. 😛 And you said it was dangerous to ride a motorbike when I first met you.] Yes, I did. 😀 But it was so hot to ride a bicycle. It was 30+ degrees Celsius. Even when I was riding a motorbike, it was so hot that I sometimes didn’t want to wear a helmet. [I know!!] What was your experience?
Me: Initially, I worked in a village but the students there ditched me. They’d rather pay to learn English from a Cambodian teacher in the village who can’t even speak or write proper English than attend my free classes. I think that’s human nature. When you are given something for free, you don’t treasure it. After that, I volunteered in a Catholic college which was much better.
3. TELL US ABOUT YOUR LIFE AFTER VOLUNTEERING IN CAMBODIA.
Clotilde: My family came to Cambodia to visit me a month before I left Cambodia. Before that, I dreaded going back to France. I thought it’d be hard for me to adjust because nobody would understand me. But it did help that my family came. After they visited me in Cambodia, they understood what I went through. After my family went back to France, my father was even reading books about Cambodia, Angkor Wat, Khmer Rouge, the history of the Kingdom. Their visit helped me to adapt to France quite a lot. I am now working in a law firm.
Camille: [have you started looking for a job?] I don’t want to think about it yet because I come from the hospitality industry. [Oh, no!]
Me: Same old. I continue to offer online and offline English tutorials.
4. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE FUTURE TREND OF VOLUNTEERISM?
Camille: People will still volunteer and probably even more. I look after the kids (that’s what I am doing now) so I’d say there will be even more volunteers who will work for the kids. Because of COVID-19, the parents’ income may be less than before and schools are closed so they will ask their kids to work instead of studying. Financially, we [NGO] need to support them, we need to find donors, and volunteers will definitely help.
Clotilde: It is not going to change much. It will go back to normal but the NGOs may start to explore what they can do digitally and rely more on digital technology in the long run.
Me: In 2 or 3 years’ time, domestic volunteering will thrive, but after COVID-19 is gone, things will go back to normal and overseas volunteering will return. Agree that digital technology will be used even more than before.
5. CAN YOU STILL REMEMBER ANY KHMER? 😛
Clotilde: Yes, I talk to the Cambodian priests who are studying in France every now and then so I still remember.
Camille: Yes, even though I am stuck in Thailand, I am glad I still remember it.
Me: Yes, I remember some.
6. DO YOU ENCOURAGE ANYONE TO BECOME A VOLUNTEER? OVERSEAS OR DOMESTIC?
Clotilde: Yes. Actually, you can do a lot in both cases. You can do a lot in your own countries and if you volunteer in other countries, you get to explore other parts of the world.
Camille: Yes! Go, go, just go! It’s life changing.
Me: Yes, despite my bad experience, I still encourage people to become a volunteer because you can learn so much more about yourself. I’d prefer overseas where you can learn even more.
7. WHICH PARTY DO YOU THINK GETS MORE BENEFITS, THE BENEFICIARY OR THE VOLUNTEER?
Clotilde: You give less than you take as a volunteer. We had training sessions before we started volunteering and our mentor said ‘you think as a volunteer, you do a lot of this and that, and you give a lot? But the more you give, the more you will receive.’ And it’s true.
Me: The volunteer. I can see the changes in myself. I am more patient now.
Clotilde: Me too. My friends said I am calmer and more patient than before. It’s the Asian influence. 😀
Me: For me, it’s the Cambodian influence. 😀
8. MENTION ONE TRAIT THAT A VOLUNTEER NEEDS TO HAVE.
Me: Go with the flow. Coincidentally, all three are very similar.
Camille: You also need to be willing to sacrifice yourself.
Clotilde: It’ll be harder for older people to adapt, like you (she meant me 😓) [thank you for that] because you have had control over your life for so many years and all of a sudden, you need to adapt to this new way of life. But for us, we were students, it’s easier for us to adapt because we had always been following the others.
Thanks to all the volunteers who participated in this fun and inspiring event and to those who tried to dial in but unsuccessful due to poor internet connection.
Shehareen from Jesus Youth (unfortunately, we lost her due to poor internet connection in her area)
Clotilde from MEP
Camille from Enfant du Mekong
I, myself, as an independent volunteer but volunteered for the church
Of course, BIG THANKS to our viewers! I hope this session was useful, helpful and inspiring to you. 🙂 Feel free to share this post with your friends and other people you know who are thinking of being a volunteer. 🙂
I received a few enquiries and positive feedback from the viewers after the chat. I think it’d be better for me to list some websites here so that you can get to know more about the organisations that we mentioned in our chat.
(Camille went back to Cambodia in early July 2020 to continue with her mission with Enfant du Mekong.)
Independent volunteers but work for the church:
Contact me – comment in the box below (don’t worry, your email will not be displayed), email me, leave me a message on my Facebook Page or Instagram. I may be able to give you some direct contacts.
I later volunteered in a Catholic college, the only Catholic tertiary education institution in Cambodia: St. Paul Institute
For Australian citizens only:
If you are an Australian citizen, you are very lucky because your government encourages its citizens to become an overseas volunteer. You can find more information here.
Leave a comment below if you have any questions, feedback or comments on our session.
Tell us what you think about these questions too:
What do you think about the future trend of volunteerism? Who do you think gets more benefits, the beneficiary or the volunteer? Leave your comments in the box below. Again, your email will not be displayed, so don’t worry.
Find out what the Cambodian students think about their foreign English volunteer teachers here.
Check out the 4-part Guide to Becoming a Volunteer to find out more detailed information about volunteering:
If you have decided to volunteer in Cambodia, here are some useful links:
Before you go, click here to check out our other ‘Chat Over Coffee’ events.