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Teaching street children in Vietnam

I chose to be involved in this project as I wanted to get to know a different culture 'from the inside' and I really feel I've achieved this.  The volunteers have made all of uSuma with one of the street children in Vietnams very welcome and have gone out of their way to take us to see the real Vietnam.  As for working with the children at the different schools, this has been an incredible experience.  Being with children, many of whom don't have much in terms of material possessions, but who more than make up for that in smiles and warmth, has been a real pleasure.  They've really allowed us into their worlds and it has been a joy to get to know them and see them learn and develop, even during a short period.  I would fully recommend signing up for a project such as this - you will get so much more than you could ever imagine out of it!

Suma Surendranath's placement in Vietnam was arranged through PoD.

Interesting and Fulfilling Time-Out in Asia

Volunteering at the inspirational Samrong Orphanage in Cambodia

Leaving our hostel in the centre of Phnom Penh we climb inside our compact Tuk Tuk cabin attached to the back of Kiwi's motorbike; bottle of water in one hand and surgeon-style mask in the other we set off on our 45 minute commute.  It is a familiar start to the day for me and 2 other volunteers.  We are setting out to work in an orphanage just outside Cambodia's capital city.

Ollie with studentsThe morning rush hour in Phnom Penh is congested and chaotic (a metaphor for life in the city).  Kiwi is nerveless and steers our path between the trucks, 4x4 Lexus' and countless motorbikes, which often carry entire families.  We reach the dusty highway, masks and sunshades firmly in place to protect our eyes and lungs.  A mixture of concrete buildings and huts exist along the side of the road amongst a sea of rubbish.  The inhabitants often smile and wave as we pass by.

We turn onto a farm track.  The last part of our journey is a roller coaster, jumping out of potholes and swerving to avoid falling off the subsiding road.  We pass huts on stilts, skinny cows and farm yards where children jump and scream upon sighting us.  The stream along the side of the road is almost bone dry and vegetation is sparse across the fields.

Finally we arrive at our destination: the oasis that is Samrong Farm.  By the gates, a group of 10-year-old children compete in the ferocious arena of marbles.  We're greeted by the shouts of 'cha, cha!' (short for 'teacher') from several other kids gathering round.  As we clamber out of our vehicle the sun is already hot and the oasis is as dry as the fields surrounding it.  In such conditions you would imagine life to be hard, but you wouldn't know it to see the warm smiles and hear the laughter of the inhabitants at Samrong Orphanage.

Compared to children in the Western World they have little and yet they give so much in generosity of spirit and enthusiasm for every day.  Despite the journey it is a pleasure to arrive at work in the morning.Little Miss Sunshine

The gong chimes for the beginning of class and more students appear from their dormitories for the morning lesson.  As they gather in the classroom there is an air of mischief, some playful teasing and laughing.  But, upon arrival of the teacher, I can't help but notice their obedient nature and a willingness to learn.  Throughout the lesson there is an enthusiastic participation accompanied by more laughter.  There is camaraderie amongst the children built upon a brilliant sense of humour and a community spirit.  The students range from 6 to 20 with the older kids assuming motherly and big brotherly roles.

The fact that Samrong Orphanage works so well is testament to the efforts of a few special people and in particular Mr Sjef Philipsen, the inspirational founder of the project.  His infectious enthusiasm rubs off on those running Relaxing in the shadethe project on a day-to-day basis, volunteer teachers and the children themselves.  And, equally important, his desire to get the project completed is crucial to the raising of funds in Holland and the rapid progress on site. Most recent additions to the project in 2009 are a new classroom and a giant greenhouse - the first of it's kind in Cambodia which will allow the orphanage to grow it's own produce all year round despite the country's extreme climate.

I have come to Cambodia as part of a career break during which I'm traveling through Asia.  Having worked in London for 6 years I decided that it was time to leave the desk job.  One of my co-volunteers is on her gap year after finishing university in Los Angeles while the other is a Swiss chef who has just completed 20 years working in hotels in Asia.  But, for our time at Samrong Farm we are all relishing our new roles as volunteer English teachers.

At the end of each day we share an Angkor beer and a feast of local food back in Phnom Penh while exchanging stories from the classroom.  We are enjoying the break from our western lives.  The work is worthwhile and rewarding.  Cambodia is a poor country in the developing world and benefits from the contribution of volunteers in schools, orphanages and hospitals.   Our newfound Cambodian friends are warm and welcoming.  As volunteers we benefit from their generous nature and experiencing their rich culture.

Volunteers are always welcome at Samrong Farm whether they can offer two weeks or 6 months of their time.  I would recommend the project to anyone, whether you are traveling through Cambodia or looking for a worthwhile career break/ change of scene from the western world.  I will leave Phnom Penh with many fond memories and new friends.  I would be happy to hear from anyone who would like to know more about visiting Phnom Penh and working at the Samrong Orphanage.

You can contact Oliver Smallwood and find out more about his placement by contacting i-to-i who made the arrangements for Oliver.