Nestled between Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam on the Gulf of Thailand, Cambodia is an exciting country to launch your volunteer adventure in Southeast Asia. Volunteer opportunities in Cambodia are numerous and the types of programs available are diverse, satisfying any skill set you have to offer or are looking to develop. With a tumultuous history following the Khmer Rouge takeover in the 1970s, today Cambodia is navigating a more vibrant economy based on textiles, tourism, and agriculture.
Ready to learn the ins and outs for popular ways to get involved and volunteer in Cambodia? Read on to learn about common causes and Cambodia volunteer programs to help make your meaningful travel dreams come alive.
The most popular projects for volunteers in Cambodia
From helping animals to supporting theater programs or getting involved with building and construction projects, the possibilities of how to volunteer in Cambodia are endless! You also can’t beat the location, especially if you’re looking to add meaning to your Southeast Asian adventure by doing more than lounging on a beach. With tons of tourist attractions in Cambodia to visit before or after your volunteer experience, you can make your trip an unforgettable adventure by giving back to the communities you’re traveling through.
If you're having trouble deciding how to volunteer in Cambodia, we got you covered!
1. Caring for Animals
Are you someone who can’t watch a television commercial about animal shelters without tearing up as Sarah Mclachlan plays softly in the background? If so, you should consider supporting an animal welfare project in Cambodia. Wipe away those tears because there are animals out there who need more than your sympathy; they need your time and effort to make a better life!
Volunteering abroad in Cambodia is unique because it offers so many specialized volunteer experiences in a wide variety of fields and causes. If you’re passionate about volunteering in the health sector, you can look into programs in medicine and dentistry, or even physical therapy. Make sure to research your health volunteering options thoroughly so you know what the requirements are before you sign up. Some medical volunteer programs in Cambodia will require a year (or three) of medical school while others are offering more of a beginner’s opportunity for those looking to get their feet wet in the medical field without requiring a prior medical background. No matter how you choose to volunteer in Cambodia, you will have a chance to experience first-hand the importance of quality health care while supporting access to it for others.
3. Water Projects
While the beaches of Cambodia will undoubtedly call your name, there are also many Cambodians in need of access to clean drinking water to prevent the spread of waterborne diseases. Take your passion for water from the beach to a community in need and support a water volunteer work in Cambodia. Live in a community near the famous Angkor Wat temple to help install water filters or travel by boat from Cambodia to Vietnam and learn about Cambodian culture while contributing to water projects that will change the lives of community members. Water is a precious commodity you take for granted when you can always trust the source. Help Cambodians trust the source of their water by giving your time through water projects!
4. Theater & Performing Arts
Wherefore art thou volunteer? Were you the lead in your high school plays? Did you take (and love!) theater classes in college? If being on the stage (or working behind the scenes) brings you joy, look into volunteering in drama programs in Cambodia. From teaching music to sharing your love of dance or theater, you’ll simultaneously learn from the Khmer people’s rich culture while sharing your own passion for these creative forms of expression. Bonus: you can overcome language barriers with the universal language of the arts!
5. Conservation & Tree Planting
Historically, Cambodia has been a country with vast forests and a hotbed for biodiversity, but agricultural activity and mass clearings of forests have given it the undesirable title as a country experiencing some of the worst deforestation in the world. Help turn that title around with tree planting Cambodia volunteer projects in dire need of some more roots. If you’ve got a green thumb, you’ll find a place to put it to work while volunteering in Cambodia. Even the Buddhist monks are getting behind the environmental cause to plant trees in their communities.
For some, Southeast Asia is synonymous with tourism. Why not make your tourism sustainable and add an eco- to the front of it? Support eco-tourism in Cambodia by contributing to anthropology projects related to the Bunong people or volunteering at an elephant sanctuary. Projects like these not only strengthen your own skill set as a researcher and environmentalist, they also tangibly support families whose incomes rely on tourism. Do your part to make tourism eco-friendly in a country where the footprint of tourists can be quite heavy!
If you build it, they will come! Are you ready to not only get your hands dirty, but also have something physical to represent your time volunteering abroad in Cambodia? Then why not look into building and construction volunteer projects? When you look back at your time volunteering in Cambodia you’ll not only have the memory of a meaningful experience, you’ll also leave a positive, physical impression trailing behind you.
8. Marine Conservation & Education
If the thought of tearing yourself away from the Cambodian beaches to volunteer makes you sad, then fear not; there are a number of marine conservation volunteer projects that can keep you on the beach and supporting worthwhile causes. You can chart the health of coral reefs and help conservation efforts for local fisherman, while keeping your toes in the sand or your flippers in the water. If you’ve been meaning to add a scuba certification to your list of qualifications, you can get certified in Cambodia while helping to grow artificial coral reefs that support biodiversity. We can raise our fins to that!
Are writing or filmmaking your passions and you’re looking for a way to take your skills around the world? Look into media volunteer work in Cambodia to satisfy your desire for adventure while honing your craft. With a rich, but also troubling, history, Cambodians are poised to share their unique perspective with the world. Help them find their voice and share their message so others can grow from their experience and better understand their background. This could also be a great jumping off point for a shiny new career as a freelance journalist!
Should I volunteer in a Cambodia orphanage?
Volunteering in a Cambodia orphanage might sound like a “duh” idea in theory. There are vulnerable children in the Khmer kingdom, and you have the time, energy, and spirit to make those kiddos feel loved, appreciated, valued, and overall “good." However, it’s actually more complicated than that. Way more. Those volunteers who feel genuinely called to work with orphaned children should be willing and ready to devote a significant amount of time to their project—like, 1+ years at minimum. They should also already have the necessary skills for developing psychologically healthy relationships that benefit the Cambodian children in need.
Unfortunately, some organizations have seen the advantages of hosting foreigners as short-term volunteers and myriads of Cambodia orphanages have sprouted up in the last few years. This is largely in response to market demand rather than an increase in true orphans in Cambodia. If you were a parent struggling to make ends meet and saw that your child might have three square meals a day at an orphanage, wouldn't you consider sending them there too?
This inverse relationship (demand from wealthy foreigners for experiences helping children + families that are down on their luck) has created many opportunities for volunteer work in Cambodian orphanages. It's up to YOU, as a meaningful traveler and responsible globetrotter, to do due diligence on the ethics of these organizations and to seriously reflect on the skills you bring to the table.
How will YOU volunteer in Cambodia?
When trying to decide between volunteer work in Cambodia, you will want to take some time to read reviews and compare the different programs available to you in the fields that interest you; there are a lot of options and ways to volunteer in Cambodia for you to choose from! All volunteer programs are not made equal and the time you have to research is finite, so take advantage of all the resources on GoAbroad to assist you in your search.
Cambodia isn’t just another stop on your Southeast Asian volunteering tour. It can be the first and final destination if you choose a volunteer project carefully; one that not only answers your needs and passions as an international volunteer, but also (and more importantly) sustainably and meaningfully supports the communities you’re serving. Always keep these causes in mind when trying to decide how to volunteer in Cambodia, and you are sure to make lasting impact!