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My 12 weeks in Cambodia

I spent 12 weeks volunteering in Cambodia this year. Here’s a glimpse from my time there in photos.

Things get going quickly on an ICS placement. When the UK volunteers touched down in Cambodia, we started off by meeting our team of 8 UK and 8 Khmer volunteers. We were working on a livelihood programme in Banan, north-west Cambodia.

The team in Banan
My team in Banan.

There was so much to get acquainted with and our in-country orientation took place in the district of Kampong Cham, a few hours away from the capital city of Phnom Penh. We learned about the history of the country, a little about what was in store for us over the next few weeks and the very basics of the Khmer language.

Eating during our induction
© ICS/ Sanna Ali
Getting to know the team over delicious Khmer food.

After our induction, we set off towards the provinces, learning more about details about our projects and placements.  Most importantly, we were paired into to counterparts, two volunteers who support and learn from each other – one from the UK and one Khmer. I was thrilled to be in Banan, a community made up of a cluster of three villages. It’s famous for its mountain, Phnom Sampov, which houses close to 7 million bats, which rush out at sunset – creating this incredible spectacle.  

the bat spectacle in Banan
The bat spectacle in Banan

While we were there we lived in host homes - local families that would welcome us into their houses for 12 weeks. My host family was lovely, teaching me more about Khmer culture, preparing my favourite foods and taking extra care of me when they learnt of my fear of frogs! When I left, they gave me a picture of them to remember them by. I’ll miss them dearly and hope to see them in the future.

Photos of our placement
Pictures from my host family.
Volunteer with her host family.
Me with my host family and Khmer counterpart.

While on placement, I was part of the business team. We worked with a local partner organisation on a project to empower local youth and vulnerable women. We also worked on a project to support the relationship betweem organic growers, sellers and buyers, and encourage organic produce.

Working with local vegetable sellers
© ICS/ Sanna Ali
Working on our projects.

We also ran 2 different youth club sessions every Sunday, providing training in English, business skills and tourism classes, so that the local youth could join in the emerging tourism market – one that has been growing since the popularity of the bat phenomenon.

Sessions at our weekly youth club
© ICS/ Sanna Ali
Sessions at our weekly youth club.

On our days off we would take time off from the grind of the week. Sometimes we planned visits, cooked food from our home countries for our host homes, explored the local area or climbed mountains. Even though the heat was testing and the trek uphill was difficult – the views were always worth it.

Cooking for our Khmer counterparts
© ICS/ Sanna Ali
Cooking for our Khmer counterparts

As part of ICS we held Community Action Days – day-long public activities to raise awareness about issues we care about. The first was on International Women’s Day, where we invited strong, local women to share their stories and encourage young people to work together regardless of their gender. The global theme this year was Press for Progress, so we got children to pledge and handprint for one of our activities.

Running community action days in the community
© ICS/ Sanna Ali
Running community action days in the community.
Printing with hands as part of the Press for Progress campiagn
© ICS/ Sanna Ali

For our second Community Action Day, we held education sessions on the importance of health and hygiene through literature, activities and games. We also installed hand washing facilities for primary school students and made bins out of recycled plastic bottles.

Running a community action day at a local school
© ICS/ Sanna Ali
Running a community action day at a local school

We also held a sustainable development goal action day and planted 100 trees in a local primary school. After delivering sessions on the importance of climate action the children paired up and we planted trees together.

Children at the school with saplings
© ICS/ Sanna Ali

Week 11: It was hard work, but we got to see so much local culture, taste the local food, learn about religion and experienced and have adventures with different volunteers. Because of our work in the community we were invited to the local highschoolʼs Annual Khmer New Year festival, which was a huge honour. The girls dressed in traditional clothing and boys dressed smartly to celebrate the ‘Sangkral Festivalʼ.

The team dressed for a local celebration
The team dressed for a local celebration.
Two monks cross the street in Cambodia
© ICS/ Sanna Ali
Being part of the local celebrations was a huge honour.

The Banan placement was nothing short of a dream. Absolutely extraordinary. We experienced and exchanged cultures, formed new bonds of love and respect with the local community and reached our delivery targets. The goodbyes were emotional and I’ve made friends I will stay in touch with.

Team photo

If thereʼs any advice I can give, it will be to not miss this opportunity and volunteer overseas in local communities. You learn so much through experiences, the lessons are truly parallel to none, and you’ll cherish all the memories for times to come.

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