Volunteering in Cambodia at REACH Siem Reap
By Katie Sands
My name is Katie Ní Sheanáin. A little about me… I’m 20, Irish, and landed in Cambodia around 4 months ago!
Katie is our first international volunteer after the lockdowns.
Earlier this year I was offered an incredible opportunity to come out and volunteer with REACH, an NGO located in Siem Reap dedicated to improving the lives of impoverished Cambodian children. I flew out from Dublin to Amsterdam, from Amsterdam all the way over to Singapore, and lastly; Singapore to Siem Reap.
As for my first impressions on arrival? It’s HOT.
But there’s a lot more to Cambodia than the heat. My first destination after getting settled in led me to getting in a ‘tuk tuk’ to REACH, where I received a warm welcome from the team and students there. I became quickly and well initiated into the team and the cause after joining in on REACH’s 200k in 2 days bike ride, and while I definitely did not come near cycling the full thing, I had a wonderful time. I was able to see how a lot of Cambodian’s live out in the smaller towns and villages in the countryside, and found new experiences in eating the food here, and listening to some of our Khmer staff singing at dinner. This ride quickly brought me a new awareness of the poverty and struggles a lot of people here are dealing with, and an even bigger appreciation for the work REACH is putting in. We cycled in and through the temples around Angkor Wat, and while the heat beat me, I was amazed at so many of our younger students completing the ride, and hardly looking like they broke a sweat doing so!
On the "Side by Side 2022" ride 3 days after arriving to Cambodia.
Despite my lack of Khmer, the children are extremely friendly and we communicated largely with rock paper scissors, nursery songs and other games. I was taught how to count and say basic sentences, but their comprehension of English is far above my understanding of Khmer! Cambodia is also the first place I met my genuine nemesis; mosquitos. I have never before experienced such a feeling of dread over the sound of buzzing, but there's a first for everything.
When at REACH, I enjoy helping out in the classrooms with teaching English and writing up lesson plans, and when I’m not, Siem Reap has many sights and activities to see and do. I live close to the ‘Old Market’, where I quickly accumulated a collection of the infamous ‘elephant pants’. I was taken out to Angkor Wat to witness the sun rise over the temple and tour all around it, and I met my first monkey! Cute and definitely more interested in my watermelon than me, it was definitely worth giving up my lunch for! Angkor has definitely lived up to its status as one of the wonders of the world, and the temple being so close to Siem Reap is a huge bonus.
Cambodia is full of beautiful places waiting to be discovered.
During the past few months I’ve visited Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city and somehow, impossibly, it is ten times busier than Siem Reap! The markets and streets here are bustling with life at every time of day and night, despite the huge impact Covid 19 has had here. From there I made my way down to one of my now-favorite places in Cambodia, the islands. For around 2 weeks I lived in absolute paradise on Koh Rong, where I was able to snorkel every day, witness fire shows, meet the locals and try desperately to tan my fair Irish skin. Update; I closely resembled a tomato for the entirety of 2 weeks.
After my time away I was happy to be back in Siem Reap and with REACH. I’ve been tasked with helping develop a course for our older students who come in on Sundays, and while during the week I work on this in the morning and teach in the evenings, on Sundays, for the moment, we can just have fun. I introduced this group to the piano and fiddle, and their enthusiasm for learning was a joy to work with and we have a lot of fun. These kids are very quick on the uptake, and some definitely have the makings of musicians in them. Others quickly found their skills and talents lay in ‘Just Dance’, and were very happy to spend the morning competitively dancing to the world's top hits.
Sharing skills and knowledge can impact heavily in the lives of our students.
In the classroom, the students are just as quick. English is different from Khmer in every way you can imagine, but the level of understanding they already have in the language is incredible, especially when you take into consideration a lot of these children have not had previous experiences in education. The methods of teaching here at REACH reminded me of Montessori teaching, in that the learning of each child individually is prioritized over the classes overall test scores, the class and teachers engage in collaborative learning and learning through play. The classrooms have all been very creative in coming up with new games to learn vocab and grammar etc etc., and you can see that while REACH is of course, a place of education, it also acts as a safe place these kids can come to to learn, relax and just play.
If Cambodia isn’t on your travel list, I heavily recommend putting it on there and paying a visit. The people are wonderful as is the culture and celebrations, and there's always a lot to learn about this country. I really enjoy volunteering here, and I am just as excited to see what’s next for REACH!
Celebrating Katie's birthday!
Are you interested in volunteering at REACH?
The success of REACH Siem Reap relies heavily on the time, compassion and dedication of volunteers from around the world. We wholeheartedly value and admire every single person who supports our cause, without these special people, we would cease to exist.
Based on your skills and interests, our team will place you in the area that need your support and time.