There are so many ways to volunteer abroad and so many different charities, that trying to find a worthwhile project can be overwhelming. As a western traveler I feel like it’s only right that I give some time and “do my bit” while I travel, but it’s becoming increasingly hard to find legitimate volunteer opportunities.
I’d heard great things about volunteering with New Futures Organisation in Takeo, Cambodia from my friend Izy Berry who blogs at thewrongwayhome. Izy has visited NFO and Takeo five times now, and for her last birthday donated all her “birthday drinks” to the kids, raising money for bills, a health fund, teachers salaries etc. I wanted to see what was so great about Takeo, and why she kept returning.
Takeo is located south of Phnom Penh. There’s not much going on here. You don’t visit for the nightlife, the shopping, or the tourist attractions. But if you want to see “real” Cambodia, this is the place to go.
New Futures Organisation
New Futures Organisation is a non-governmental organisation operating a bunch of free rural schools in the villages around Takeo.
Takeo is an agricultural region, and most people here work in the rice fields. It’s beautiful, but a lot of the villages are in the middle of nowhere so the kids can’t get to school. NFO has built schools where they’re most needed, giving these kids an education and opportunities that they otherwise wouldn’t have.
NFO also runs a children’s home for kids who have nowhere else to go. Some are orphans, and others have parents who can’t afford to keep them at home.
The main problem with a lot of charities and organisations around the world is the lack of transparency. With all the negative attention that has been in the media about “voluntourism” lately, it’s easy to see why some people are hesitant to volunteer at all.
At NFO I paid $6 a night for my bed, and I could then choose to pay a couple of dollars for meals if I wanted to eat at the house. I also paid a bike deposit of $20 which I donated at the end of my stay, and $1 a day for bike hire. There are no hidden costs, and all donations given to NFO go straight into keeping the kids fed and educated.
Teaching the Kids
The NFO centre is close to town and I spent my time teaching English at Little Po school, which is around 7km bike ride from the centre. Considering I hadn’t ridden a bike for a few years and I’m not exactly in the best shape of my life this was an adventure.
The kids start school around lunch time, and are taught by a teacher named Team, a funny, exuberant man who somehow manages to keep complete control of a few hundred kids at a time.
The road leading to the village is a dirt track and since it’s currently wet season in Cambodia it was often very muddy, with huge puddles everywhere, and plenty of animal poop. As we rode through the muck we kept a sharp eye on our surroundings and dodged pigs, cows, chickens and kids.
Along the way the villagers waved to us, using their limited English to say hello and ask our names. The kids would get so excited, jumping up and down, running along with us, and holding their hands out for a high-five as we rode past.
Once at the school we’d drink some water and say hello to the kids:
Most of the kids called me Spicy, as Stacey was a little hard for some of them to pronounce. As you can see in the video they were often very tired, as in the morning they’re usually working and helping their parents out.
We’d teach them for around an hour, have a break, and then teach for another thirty to forty minutes. After the break it was a struggle to get much out of them so we’d usually play games.
Unlike the kids at home, these kids are desperate to learn and actually want to be at school. They’re incredibly grateful to the volunteers and every day we would leave with a handful of pictures and bracelets and a high-five or hug from what seemed like a thousand children.
Volunteering with NFO was challenging but fun, and one of the best things I’ve done on my travels so far. I’m hoping to head back to Takeo after my visa runs out in Thailand. I’d like to stay at least three weeks so I can spend some more time teaching the kids and hanging out at the children’s home.
NFO is always looking for volunteers, so if you’d like to spend some time volunteering in Cambodia and getting to know these awesome kids, head to http://www.newfuturesorganisation.com/ or like NFO on facebook here.