AndrewJones' Travel Journals


  • From United Kingdom
  • Currently in Cambodia

Living & Volunteering in Siem Reap

I gave up my job at the end of March 2015 and in a few weeks time I'm Cambodia bound, volunteering for 12 weeks for a community project in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Either I've taken leave of my senses or I'm following a path Or somewhere between the two? This journal is about my trip

A Day in the Life

Cambodia Siem Reap, Cambodia  |  Jul 04, 2015
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 To school and back by bicycle 

Since my last journal entry I've completed my volunteering orientation programme (very impressive title) with Markus from Interweave, which was very enlightening and wide ranging and included practical training plus a tour of some of the local must-see sights. For example, I've now seen Angkor Wat at sunrise (not so spectacular when it's cloudy and the sun wrongfoots all the tourists by sneaking up behind the clouds) but nonetheless the temples are nothing short of spectacular, plus I had the luxury of my own tuktuk driver, the magnificent Mr Dee, plus tour guide Makara, whose knowledge of the Angkor Wat Temples is indeed extensive. Markus also ensured that I knew my way around Siem Reap, including the all importart bars and restaurants, plus a crash course in the Khmer language. For me the language is still a work in thankyou Markus and Pholly.

Maybe I can best describe where I am at the moment by giving you a day in the life sort of scenario. So here goes............sleep sleep sleep, sound of mobile alarm going off way earlier then I'm used to and me briefly wondering where I am and why I can't hear the M4 motorway. Then once I'm dressed (obviously) I make my way to breakfast and a cup of tea at the hotel grounds, before starting my cycle ride through town and out the other side to Salariin Kampuchea, the school where I'm volunteering.

For the first week I wobbled rather than cycled but I reckon I'm getting better every day, which is just as well because cycling in Siem Reap is an early morning adrenaline rush of an activity, due to the fact that traffic doesn't usually stop, even at junctions and maybe begrudgingly at the few traffic lights in town. There is definitely an art to riding around Siem Reap, whether you're on a motorbike or bicycle, and it seems to depend on maintaining forward progress against all odds, but knowing when to give way to other traffic and when to carry on regardless.

Towards the end of my journey I leave the town behind and reach the countryside, which is generally speaking a more deprived area than the town. There's a good deal of building work going on on either side of the road out of town, mainly for the tourist trade, such as hotels, but it's clear that there's a big contrast between the rickety wooden houses of the poor and the substantial homes of the more well off, built behind walls and with imposing gates.

There are 6 members of staff at Salariin Kampuchea, composed of a director, two English teachers, an IT teacher, an assistant English teacher, a librarian and an accountant. OK that's 7 staff. Aswell as me there's another volunteer teacher who is there part of the week. All the staff are Cambodian apart from me and Frank, the other volunteer, who is an Aussie.

The school offers educational and employment support to the community’s many vulnerable children and young adults by providing programmes which complement and fill the gaps in public education with the aim of significantly improving life prospects of young people living in the surrounding villages. The state education sector is chronically under resourced and so organizations like Salariin Kampuchea aim to fill the gaps in public education and provide a route out of poverty and into employment for young people.

I've been made very welcome at the school by the staff and students and I'm gradually getting to know everyone. It's taking me a while to get to know the students, and I'm rubbish at remembering their names, so I'm going have to try harder there! Part of my week I'm involved in project work such as helping with funding bids and reporting and we'll also be looking at the school's monitoring systems for recording outcomes and activities. That's broadly speaking my working background.

The other part of my week I'm in an altogether new place called 'teaching'. All my Mum's family were teachers but I was pretty sure I'd get through life without teaching. Wrong! It's a big help that the students here want to learn English, and I have one of the English teachers in the classroom with me, and he's leading at the moment, because otherwise there might be chaos, but I do believe I'm making progress. Hopefully the students think they're making progress with me aswell!!!

It's a supportive environment which is really helpful for me, but sometimes I still can't quite believe I am where I am, teaching in a school on the outskirts of Siem Reap, Cambodia!

At lunchtime, which is from a Western point of view a generous lunchtime, I cycle back into town to a cafe or restaurant, sometimes do some shopping and general exploring, and then return for the afternoon.

Yesterday I did fall off my bike, but have only myself to blame. I was trying to take a selfie with my mobile as I peddled along, with predictable consequences. OK, I won't do that again. What sort of example am I setting to the youth of Chreav province?

A the end of the school day, at 6pm ish, I'm back on my bike (although some staff work on 'til later). To begin with I did my best to get back to the hotel before the sun went down, having no lights on my bike (lights after dark on vehicles are optional in Siem Reap, although I think the Police might say otherwise), but now I have Markus' blinding torch/searchlight to attach to my bicycle helmet. Yes I have a bicycle helmet. It gives me comfort.

Then maybe a dip in the hotel swimming pool or a beer.

There are things that I think I've adapted to well in Cambodian life and other things that are a work in progress for me, but that was always going to be the case and I already feel that the people I've encountered and the experiences that are unfolding here have begun to affect my outlook and maybe my belief system. Time will tell! That's for another day.

So I've rambled on and come to the end of this blog. There are some photos!

Thankyou if you're still reading to this point


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