You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place . . . like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again. – Azar NafisiI
I’ve now been home for exactly two weeks, and already I’ve returned to my old lifestyle. I’ve made some minor changes, trying to watch my eating (because I lost 4kgs in Cambodia!) and exercise more. But I feel the post travel depression sinking in. Nothing has changed here, I’m not on some new exciting adventure every day. I’m back home with no job, no money, weather that can’t make up its mind whether it’s summer or winter, and back to being told what to do. All my freedom and independence has left me, and quite frankly, it sucks. The above quote really resonated with me, because I will never be that person I was in Cambodia ever again. I wasn’t a completely new me, but I was open to trying new things, meeting new people, and going on adventures! (Like those on the back of a motorbike with a man I’d only known a short while!). Settling back into a routine is definitely hard, and while I like my life here, I do miss the excitement, the stress, and the feeling of not knowing what to expect. I do, however, enjoy being able to cross the road with ease. That is one thing I do not miss about Cambodia.
Being home gives me the chance to reflect on my overall experience of being away on my own, and what I actually accomplished over there. Did I really achieve what I set out to do? I guess as I mentioned in my last post, I’ll never really be able to gauge if I achieved any improvement with my class. I really hope I did, and I really hope they are able to use sentences more easily now and not revert back to just using a word or two to get their messages across. I definitely think I made more of an impact working in administration. I was able to see immediately what I was doing helped. I was able to organise the files, edit the website, follow up on forms, ensure everyone had an ID card. It was disappointing I was unable to help more with the fundraising though. I had some ideas which I haven’t been able to follow through with. The main thing is setting up a crowd funding platform for ease of donating. I am pushing through my facebook page for people to donate to me, so I can then pass the money on as a lump sum by a certain date, to save people having to go to the bank and pay a fee to transfer it. I want to get the director more involved with social media, because it is so important these days for people to be active online to gain recognition. In fact I just stopped writing this post to contact the director about whether I can establish an Instagram account for the school!
The school I volunteered at was great, I just wish they could have a Western organisation partnered with them the entire time to really help establish better practices and something where she can more easily receive donations and volunteers. I think if she was able to have a permanent person on site to help her along it would be really beneficial. For example there were times when she let people walk in off the street with only providing their passport for her to photocopy. Whereas when I applied (at the time it was through AboutAsia who are no longer partnered with them due to the person leaving the position) I had to get a Working with Children check, and a Police check. Which, I believe, everyone should go through if they are wanting to work/volunteer at a school no matter which country they are in! The director told me the only reason she does this is because at times she is desperate for volunteers, so if you want to keep the school open you have to take what you can get! She does work with an organisation called Frontier in order to get volunteers, but from what I saw of this organisation, she gets a pretty raw deal. Some of the girls who undertook their placement through Frontier said they were paying over 2,000 pounds, which is over AU$4,000 for this program (which placed them in a school for two weeks, doing some conservation for a week or two, and then doing some fun trekking or other adventure thing. Classic voluntourism program) but the big thing here is, the director of the school does not receive a cent from Frontier. Not one single cent out of $4,000. Ridiculous. Especially considering the cost of living in this country for a month would equal no where near even $1,000 if you didn’t do touristy things. Especially when their accommodation was like US$3 a night. They were really disappointed to find out that none of the money went to the organisations they were volunteering at, and I was disappointed that they were so naive as to not research into where their money went. Having said that, I was lucky in the sense that I had undertaken a unit at the University of Tasmania called Volunteering in Asia which taught us how to scrutinise organisations and to ensure there was transparency with where your money goes. I’m sure though even without being taught the logistics of volunteering, it would occur to you to question the cost of such a high amount for such a program. Anyway, if you’re reading this and truly want to help out as a volunteer, rather than just enjoy a fun holiday with a bit of “volunteering on the side” chucked in, please, please do not go through Frontier.
Another issue I had with my time at the school, was there were a few public holidays while I was there, and at one point they closed the school for an extra day after the public holidays as they didn’t have enough volunteers to run. So that was 4 days out of my time there that I was not in the class, which was a real disappointment as I wasn’t there for long anyway.
Really, I don’t consider a one month placement to be very efficient. I think I’ve mentioned before that it is so inconsistent for the students to finally get used to another style of teaching only to have them leave again. I really only felt settled into the class by about my third week. It takes a bit more than a week to learn names, then another week to establish your relationships and classroom management, and then finally you can really settle into your teaching and a routine. That only leaves one more week and bam your gone. So the students have to engage in the process all over again, while you’ve returned to your normal life, none the wiser if you’ve actually made a difference. It’s so difficult. To be honest though, I am not sure how well I would have coped if my placement had been longer than a month. By the end of the month I was definitely tiring of the city I was in, I wanted more than anything to stay at the school, but the city itself was just becoming overwhelming. I was over the intense humidity, I was over the constant harassment in order for them to make a sale, I was over the food disagreeing with me, and I was over living out of a suitcase. I think if I had stayed longer, it probably would have affected my attitude in the classroom. I guess it all depends on the type of person you are.
Overall I think my experience has been worthwhile for me, to open my eyes to a whole new world. I am well travelled in Europe, but really facing a third world country is not something I have experienced. It has also been helpful in terms of my degree (Master of Teaching) and will look good on future job applications. It’s hard because being a volunteer is supposed to be selfless and you do it for reasons of purely wanting to help others. But I think it is ok volunteer for your own reasons, such as helping to further your career or to find self fulfilment, because everyone needs a motivator to volunteer and whether it be selfish or selfless, it is that motivation which drives you to do it. So embrace it, whatever it is, because it will get you there!
I’ve decided just to throw in some photos that I either haven’t uploaded, or re-uploaded just to sum up my time here.