A Day in the Life of an SC Volunteer
Volunteering on-site in Cambodia can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Over the years we’ve had volunteers from all walks of life, from their late teens to their 70s. We’ve had newlyweds who spent a 4-month “honeymoon” volunteering! It isn’t easy. But we’ve had MANY tell us – even those in their 60s and 70s – that it was the best experience of their lives.
So join us! If you can spend at least (preferably) 4 to 5 months there – or more – you can be an integral part of the Sustainable Cambodia program. You’ll find the people of Cambodia to be very kind and helpful, and you will grow to love the children! You’ll respect and admire the hard-working village families with whom we work. Some are in villages that joined the SC programs many years ago and are now “Graduate Villages”, where life is sweet. Other families will be from early villages where there is very little in material possessions. But they all have great courage and resiliency, and they have a deep desire to improve the quality of their children’s lives. And you will fall in love with the children. They are amazing!
We know that many people would like to volunteer but only have a few weeks or a couple of months. And that’s wonderful. But it takes about a month to go through orientation, where you get to spend time with each project and program and get settled into the Cambodian way of life. And then you’ll start working with a specific project and SC team of your choosing. By the time you’ve learned what you need to know, you’ll be two months into it. And so four months is really a minimum for meaningful contribution. And six months or more is even better… Remember that it will be one of the most amazing experiences of your life!
If you are someone who’s had a great deal of experience in a particular very-needed field, and/or if you’ve had previous experience in a developing country or if they’ve been part of our Youthlinc or Rotary trips, then a shorter period of time is possible. Just let us know.
The steps to volunteering:
- Download the SC Volunteer Guide.
- Read it well. In addition to lots of information about volunteering, it gives you details about living in Cambodia.
- We also recommend that you read some of the Volunteer Profiles to know what past volunteers have said about the experience.
- After studying all this information, if you wish to volunteer complete the online Volunteer Application. You should get an email reply within a few days from our onsite Volunteer Coordinator. They will arrange a Skype online call to answer questions.
If you are able to volunteer, you will never forget this amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience, helping people change their lives!
Where We Work
Sustainable Cambodia’s center of operations is Pursat, a small town about 3.5 hours north of Phnom Penh. Pursat has a population of approximately 80,000, with a central market and several blocks of businesses at its core. But the town is spread out, and the infrastructure looks more like that of a 10,000-person town. About 5 blocks south of the core of the town there is the 2-lane National Highway #5 that runs between Phnom Penh and Poipet (on the Thai border), passing through Battambang, the second-largest city in Cambodia. Highway 5 has a number of businesses located along it in the 2 or 3 kilometers where it passes through Pursat. The SC main Administration building and one of the school campuses is located on the south (right side) of the Highway, on the outskirts just before you leave Pursat.
The Nearby Villages
Many of the villages in which we work are easy biking or moto distance of the central school and Administration building, although we also work with villages that are an hour or more distant. Most of the villages are surrounded by extensive rice paddies. The children walk or bike along raised paths between the paddies to come to the school. We have multiple schools, both grades 3-12 and smaller community schools, and even a number of village preschools. If you love working with kids, you will love SC. And if you want to work on village development, most of the villages in which we work have active projects and programs on wells, agriculture, sanitation and income generation.
The School on the Main Campus
The main campus of SC, where our Pursat administration offices are located and where the Volunteer Houses are located, is also home to the Sylvia Lasky Memorial School (named in honor of Bruce Lasky’s mother, who was the first child sponsor). The school operates from 7 am – 12 pm, with 2 hours off for lunch, and then from 2 pm – 7 pm, Monday through Saturday. Classes include English, mathematics, science, geography, culture, and computers among others. Government school runs in the morning for some students, and the afternoon for others, depending on the grade level, and the students take classes at both government school and our school. No matter what time you arrive, there will usually be a class you can visit and teachers to meet.
Types of Jobs
Our onsite Volunteer Coordinator will guide you through orientation, where you will work with most of the SC teams and projects. This way you know everything SC does. Then you can begin to work in the area and programs that will be fulfilling for you and helpful for the program. During your orientation, you will meet many of the rest of the SC team. We maintain a full-time Cambodian teaching staff and the students are in a year-long course of study at the school. However, volunteers may assist teachers in classes and may run their own classes in English or another relevant subject of their choice, depending upon the needs of the teaching staff. If your experience includes formal teaching, library development, or computers, your involvement with the school might be greater. The schedule for teaching depends on the number of existing volunteers on site, but this can be arranged prior to arrival. We also need a great deal of help in coordinating student correspondence with sponsors, and this can take a good deal of time.
Types of Programs for Volunteers
The projects that are currently running include wells, water, biosand filters, latrines, health education, nutrition, animal pass-on, gardening and agriculture, Days for Girls kits, and fair-trade sewing. During and after orientation, volunteers communicate with the onsite staff and other volunteers at SC to discuss how their skills can contribute to the work of the organization, depending on the status and needs of the different projects.
Bring Your Passions and Skills
Sustainable Cambodia’s goal is to help the villagers by providing them with education and resources which enable them to develop their communities themselves, in a way that is sustainable. Volunteers can generally help with the organization of the projects and with their monitoring and evaluation. Particularly if volunteers have experience in development work or in any of the project areas, they may be able to implement new ideas and have greater involvement in the planning of projects. Volunteers may also provide education and training for the villages if they have relevant skills. However, the Khmer people do most of the work within the communities, as this is consistent with the principles of Sustainable Cambodia. Therefore, any opportunities for volunteers to do hands-on work in the villages will be fairly rare, as this could disempower the village residents.
Staying Onsite & the Volunteer House
The Volunteer House is on the site of the Main SC Campus in Pursat but slightly separated from it. It is concrete-block construction and boasts a number of small bedrooms, an open-aired living area, and a kitchen. By Cambodian standards, it is quite nice and much nicer than the straw or hand-cut wood homes in the villages. The house has its share of geckos who take up residence. During the hot afternoons, you can also make use of the space outside the house by hanging a hammock and enjoying a peaceful nap. The house has cooking/eating utensils, and rooms have good furniture and a bed. There is running water, but it only has hot water later in the day. The rooms have air conditioning and a small refrigerator. Volunteers can either purchase a bicycle (around US$50-55) and bike the 10 minutes to the market, or can pay a moto-taxi each way to the market. More information is in the SC Volunteer Guide.
Pursat is growing and changing. It is getting a bit more modern. While you don’t come here for the entertainment, it has a growing number of good places to eat, and more is available for purchase than a few years ago. There is an old market and a bigger central market, which is about 10 minutes by bike from the volunteer house and school. You can purchase food, toiletries, material, clothes, & most odds & ends in the central market. Around the market are various stores selling bicycles & parts, electronics, bakery goods, watches, more clothes, blankets, etc. There are guest houses, restaurants, a hospital, and a small museum in the town. Local people are generally very friendly, and as you travel around town, you will usually find most people shout out Hello. You will probably find that you are hot & sticky, and generally a bit dirty from the dust. It is just a case of adjusting, and most people get used to the differences fairly soon.
Pursat is probably as reasonably safe a place as most small to medium-sized towns elsewhere in the world. It is probably prudent to not venture out well after dark entirely on your own, but other than that, personal security is not a big issue. The school has 24-hour security to prevent property theft and to help ensure the safety of the children, staff, and volunteers.
Be sure to read the SC Volunteer Guide to get a complete picture… And come join us!
Other Questions & Answers:
Q: Will there be any formal teaching of Khmer?
A: Current volunteers are paying $25 per month for 4 hours per week of group lessons in Khmer, taking place Monday through Thursday in the volunteer house. Individual lessons are also available and can be arranged for roughly the same price. If you’d like to learn Khmer before you arrive, here are a few recommended by some of our volunteers:
Q: Will I be able to do trips/travel around Cambodia?
A: You may take extended weekends for travel and trips. Cambodia is renowned for its many holidays (literally more than 30 a year, but Sustainable Cambodia only has 18 official holidays, though on certain holidays such as Chinese New Year (not an official holiday) students won’t be around for a week or so. If you are a volunteer teacher, you may take a break from Pursat. The whole country is friendly and welcoming, and there are some Westerners traveling around everywhere, although fewer by far in Pursat than in Phnom Penh.
Q: How much money might I need each month?
A: This totally depends on your consuming behavior. If you’re Spartan and lucky, you should be able to get by on as little as $40(US) a month for accommodations and $60 for food. On the other hand, if you choose a room with AC and hot water, be ready to spend at least $250-$300 a month.