Cambodia is a thriving, welcoming country coming back from a tragic past. There are opportunities around each corner for those who have a desire to help Cambodians get back on the right track through volunteering. Individuals who choose to volunteer in Cambodia can participate in a range of project areas, from education to advocacy of social justice issues. A variety of opportunities in “Asia’s hidden gem” await eager volunteers from all over the world.
Due to the horrific genocide engineered by the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979, there is an entire generation missing in Cambodia. Approximately 1.7 million people were killed, and with them disappeared many native trades and skills traditionally passed down through the generations. Creativity, self expression, and knowledge were considered rebellious acts against the Khmer Rouge, so education and all means of making a living were halted. Though the country is rebuilding, broken pieces of the culture still remain and Cambodia is home to some of the most heartbreaking of social justice issues.
The effects of this genocide remain present in many ways. One is in the staggering unemployment rate, which contributes to the massive poverty. Crippling poverty is a fact of life in Cambodia in many parts, and for some that can be hard to fathom. Many Khmer people live on less than $1 a day, and their futures can seem quite bleak. While a visitor coming to volunteer in Cambodia may feel overwhelmed by this degree of hardship, they must recognize that there is always a way to rebuild. Due to this lack of economic development in the country, there is an extremely low cost of living, so getting by on a tight budget is more than possible for international volunteers.
There are opportunities for volunteering in Cambodia throughout the country. One note of caution: many volunteer organizations in Cambodia ask for a long term commitment, the longer the better. This allows time for the volunteer to become well acquainted with the culture, language, and needs of the people. That’s not to say short-term trips aren’t beneficial; but long-term trips can accomplish more.
While Cambodia is still rebuilding educational systems, volunteers are needed to teach specialty trades and skills. Therefore, Cambodia is in need of English language instruction, and this can be a great volunteer project that has a lasting positive impact. With tourism ever on the rise in Cambodia, business leaders in that country are seeking bilingual staff and volunteers. Opportunities to teach English are available in adult classes, teenager classes, and even preschool settings. Teaching opportunities range from part- to full-time, and from classes, groups, to individual instruction in live-in settings.
Business development is booming and volunteers well versed in marketing, social media, business, economics, finance, and the like are extremely helpful and well received. Micro-finance companies are taking off with great success throughout Cambodia, allowing impoverished applicants to start small businesses. Not only do local program beneficaries have the financial support they need, but they have mentors and instruction to help them keep their businesses successful and thriving. This means of business development forges a community bond and keeps the successful loan program sustainable. Volunteers willing to mentor, finance, and play a role in this community and economic development are invaluable.
Human trafficking is very prevalent throughout a large part of Asia and is very evident in the form of sex trafficking. Volunteers in large part are needed in rehabilitation settings with women, men, and children rescued from forced bondage. Cambodia is home to many organizations working to combat sex trafficking. Two of the leaders in this area are Iris Ministries of Cambodia and Daughters and Sons of Cambodia. Both have options for short- and long-term volunteer opportunities, though “short-term” refers to a period of three to six months. Daughters and Sons of Cambodia will sometimes make an exception for a shorter visit if one possesses a particular skill set needed by the organization. These needs range from skills to help the organization itself (such as business developers, PR and marketing specialists, fundraisers, computer technicians, or to teach skills and classes to the participants (musicians, chefs, artists, photographers, etc.).
If you are looking to volunteer in Cambodia, you don’t need to look too far. There are jobs for every level of experience and all different passions, and you'll find that the benefits of volunteering in Cambodia are insurmountable. While you might need to make a longer-term commitment than in other countries, bear in mind it is always for the better of the company or organization hosting the volunteers; and staying longer than one anticipated only adds to the adventure that is Cambodia.