I’m someone who loves to travel; I love the idea of visiting a culture so different to my own and getting to immerse myself within the lives of people on the other side of the world. I also love volunteering and being able to say, ‘Yes I made a difference to the world today’. I wanted to combine my two passions together which is when I discovered The SAFE Foundation Education Project in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Despite having very little teaching experience, I thought the idea of helping a poverty-stricken community and having the potential to change the futures of a group of vulnerable children was an opportunity I could not pass up.

The programme consisted of a 4-week teaching scheme during July 2018 working with the Cambodia partners NFPO to help strive to eradicate poverty through access to mainstream education. Through our partners, we had a helping hand throughout the entire programme. This was a totally new experience for me; I have never been to Asia, so the culture shock was intense. However, we had our lovely guide Samath (our driver, our translator, our first port-of-call all rolled into one) to lead us through our project. I can’t thank Samath enough for his help easing us into the scheme. 

Siem Reap itself is beautiful - the markets, temples and rivers make up the busy city. However the poverty was not to go unnoticed, with run down buildings and uneven roads. The crowded streets were filled with vibrant people who, despite their lack of material goods, always seemed to be positive and full of exuberance.

The project was a challenge as expected, but we took everything in our stride. Despite drinking plenty of water, I became very ill with dehydration so had to miss two days of school. I didn’t let this stop me, however, and came back to the school with more energy than before. The wet season was also an experience – on quite a few days the school grounds were flooded so the majority of children didn’t turn up. Instead of letting the rain make us miserable we just laughed through the torrential weather just as the children splashing around did. The language barrier proved to be tough to adjust to – the children knew little English and we only knew the most basic greetings in Khmer (the local language). However, with the main teacher Youk and Samath helping us to translate, we managed to jump this hurdle to provide the best educational experience that we could.

The ongoing poverty of the children took some getting used to. However seeing how positive, appreciative and full of energy they were throughout the trip was eye opening - it's made me appreciate so much. The kids found excitement and adventure in the smallest thing, whether it was the sports equipment we gave to them or joking around with water balloons. They were full of enthusiasm to learn, each one showing a sense of pride when they answered a question correctly. The local children of Siem Reap had an infectious happiness which I have taken back with me.

The work SAFE do and the projects they run is to be admired; I am now a regular volunteer with them and encourage anyone who has a passion for helping others to do the same. I couldn’t ask for a better team to work with and help me further my desire to work in the non-profit sector.

If you're interested in volunteering with SAFE, check out: https://www.thesafefoundation.co.uk/volunteer-with-us