Dan Millen - 2015 Program Participant

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

My friend told me that whilst travelling I should give something back (I listen to most things she says!). So, I went online, found Globalteer, and fancied a go at sports volunteering; an opportunity and experience I will never forget!

What surprised you most about Cambodia?

How many expats there were. I didn't realise Cambodia was such a hot spot for people from other countries - and I'm not just talking backpackers. There were people I met that now lived in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, had children and were making a real difference. It was very surprising to me.

Volunteer coaching Cambodian children

Me teaching the kids - it was a hot day!

What aspect of your program made it unique?

The community feel it has. You go into it believing you are just another volunteer, there to listen to the coach and following instructions like a trainee or apprentice, but this program is so much more than that. You are asked about your experiences with certain social points (e.g. drugs abuse or domestic abuse) and you provide your own input into lesson plans and the projected social messages. When out on project, you provide training drills and games from your own knowledge and experience. It was a lot more proactive than I first imagined.

Man dressed in a traditional Cambodian shirt

I tried to embrace the Cambodian culture, but I think I offended them more sometimes!

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

Nothing short of first class. The sport volunteer team were great to work with and the rest of the staff in Siem Reap were exceptional. I had many great experiences with all of them. A mention should also be made to the daily Tuk Tuk pickups who took us to and from the projects. They were all fantastic.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I could've spent longer in Siem Reap; that's the truth. Although I was there for nine weeks, I think I could've made more of a difference if I could have been there for a few weeks, even months more.

Describe a day in the life of your program.

An early morning de-brief with the sports manager on the previous day's activities, social message response from the kids, and any improvements we could make to increase the kid's enjoyment and interaction (don't forget, some of these kids had only just joined an NGO or school). Once we arrived at the project, we'd meet with the teachers, exchange pleasantries, and then I would take the 10 to 15 minute warm ups of my choice. This would include races, cardio workouts, and team building games.

The lesson would then begin with an explanation from the coach, citing our reasons for playing the game we were about to begin, and what the social messages surrounding it were. The kids would then give their views and opinions, which we would mold into the lesson. The lessons would last roughly 40 minutes. Finally, we would have a five minute de-brief to ensure the kids understood the meaning of the lesson, sometime they would, sometimes they wouldn't. The main aim was for them to have fun and they always would. I'd crash out!

What did you like to do on your free time?

Exploring. I loved walking around Siem Reap, finding all the nooks and crannies, and going to Angkor Wat, West Baray, the floating fishing village, Tonle Sap lake, and other surrounding parts.

What was your favorite part about living in Cambodia?

I think being so close to Angkor Wat was the biggest seller. Who wouldn't want to be so close to that magnificent complex?!

Selfie with Angkor Wat in the background

What a place!

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?

It was a large room with two double beds (I was waiting to be joined by a roommate that never came) at Bou Savy Guesthouse. It was a great place to stay. Best thing: the food! It was cheap and so tasty.

What was the hardest part about volunteering abroad?

I think trying to understand that most of the children have nothing, and that offering them some form of education is everything to them. Without sounding like a charity appeal or some celebrity on sport relief, I think coming from the Western side of the world where education is easily accessible, trying to understand that the Cambodian children have nothing but the will and determination to do everything they can to learn was hard to comprehend at first (if that makes sense?). Most kids I know at home want to get away from school as quickly as possible.

How difficult was it to communicate with locals?

Liking to be a bit of a culture vulture, I decided to learn Khmer and had a fantastic teacher in Vith, who taught me two to three days a week for my nine weeks in the country. I was then able to communicate with the kids (Saum Sdab, listen please), my fellow coach (Khnhom Sralanh anak, DK - I love you, DK) and to say thank you to my favourite noodle lady who made me noodles for $1 with double egg (Arkoun).

Now that you're home, how has volunteering abroad impacted your life?

I now have been helping out charities back home with donations and gifts. I've realised that a lot of people need a lot of help, and giving even a small amount can make the difference. I never believed it until this project.

Breakfast in Cambodia

A breakfast a Bou Savy whilst writing

Would you recommend Globalteer to others?

Definitely. If you have the money and the right attitude, of course.

If you could volunteer abroad again, where would you go?

I loved Vietnam the most out of my travels. I had four fantastic people travelling with me, two Dutch guys and two Danish girls who were life changing for me. If I could have them volunteer with me in Vietnam, I'd drop tools and go in a heartbeat.

But, I loved Cambodia and the sports program so much, I'd like to go back and do it all over again, this time for longer!