We catch up with the brilliant Gemma White to discuss her experience volunteering in Cambodia. Gemma got involved in the much needed educational projects based in Phnom Penh, providing a brighter and more prosperous future to disadvantaged children.
Gemma already does a large amount of philanthropy work with charitable organisations back home in Australia and would like to use this experience to help encourage other young people to volunteer both in Australia and abroad. We asked her a few questions...
Why Volunteering in Cambodia?
I did not know what to expect but had always wanted the experience of volunteering abroad – I thought Cambodia would be a perfect opportunity to do so and I can’t recommend this project enough. From completing philanthropy work for charitable organisations in Australia, I had seen first-hand how donating time and effort can unite people and benefit those in need.
What did a typical day consist of?
A typical day volunteering in Cambodia consisted of having a delicious breakfast at the Narin Guesthouse (yogurt, fruit and muesli and a coffee to get the day started). I was on the early learning childcare project in which our tuk tuk would pick us up from the guesthouse at 8.30am for our 30 minute drive out to the school. We would then teach 2x 45 minute classes with a 15 minute break in between. The children would then eat lunch, sleep and play for 3 hours before our 3rd 45 minute class in the afternoon. Our tuk tuk would promptly arrive at 3pm for our drive back to the guesthouse. There were always other volunteers staying in the same guesthouse to spend the nights with, explore or check out new restaurants.
Tell us a little more about your time volunteering in Cambodia
I quickly became friends with Jantina, another volunteer on my project who was from Holland. In the first couple of days Jantina and I realised that our project didn’t have much structure in place in terms of a teaching program. We bounced some ideas off each other to come up with new teaching material with neither of us having taught before. I would recommend you go with a bit of a plan and some ideas for teaching content.
Jantina and I decided to design an ‘8 Week Lesson Plan’ in which we spent our 3 hour lunch breaks creating (in total we spent about 25 hours creating this guide book). The program was designed to be used on a continuous rotational basis so the children can learn more on that particular subject every 8 weeks, with each volunteer having their own input and ideas incorporated into teaching.
The project we were working on was for children up to the age of 8 years old, and like anything we thought to start with the basics. The 8 week program we designed taught a new subject each week, this included; hygiene, body parts, clothing, emotions, weather, seasons, food, animals, families, housing, shelter and time. Each week we would incorporate the ABC, colours, numbers, drawing, writing, nursery rhymes, bingo, puzzles and memory games to keep learning fun and interesting.
What did you do in your free time and what would you recommend to other volunteers?
We would often come back each day after teaching and have an hour or so rest before heading into the main area of Phnom Penh. I would go to dinner with at least 1 other volunteer and try a new restaurant every night down by the riverside (just a $2US tuk tuk ride). I would highly recommend ‘Friends the Restaurant’, it is run by young disadvantaged people that have been taken in, given shelter, food, clothing, an education and training to become chefs, waiters or whatever they dream to be.
I also explored Cambodia’s history, the ‘killing fields’ and ‘Toul Sleng Genocide Museum’ - both a must see to experience the real history of Cambodia. The Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and Wat Phnom Temple are all places to visit in Phnom Penh.
Highlight of the trip?
I was fortunate enough to be in Cambodia for Independence Day which celebrates the anniversary of Cambodia’s independence from France. On this day I got to meet the Prime Minister of Cambodia and some of the Cambodian Military – this was a pretty cool experience!
I also took my suitcase full of clothing and shoes to give to disadvantaged people living out in the slums. Although, it was not a nice experience to see how some of the Cambodian people live, it gave me a good insight into the country and where the children come from that I was teaching every day in my project.
Any advice for others thinking about volunteering in Cambodia?
My first bit of advice is to go with no expectations! I always go with no expectations when I travel, that way I enjoy every experience for what it is.
You will need to be respectful of the culture in Cambodia, shoulders and knees must be covered. I always wore a t-shirt and loose trousers that were tight around both the waist and ankles so mosquitoes couldn’t get in.
Summarise the trip in 3 words?
Amazing, Inspiring and Enlightening
We'd like to thank Gemma for sharing her experience with us but more so for lending a helping hand to a volunteer project which really does change lives. To check out what Gemma is getting up to next you can visit her Instagram page here: @gemmaaa_white. We've already heard that she is inspiring many others to get involved in volunteering next year - keep up the good work Gemma!
Team Real Gap Experience