Volunteering in Cambodia – regardless of intentions – often does more harm than good, especially when do-gooders fly in for a few days before jetting off. So, unless you’re in it for the long haul then we suggest you think again. However, if you have great skills and plenty of time, then there are organisations that take on long-term volunteers who can really help the country’s development.
The first UN volunteers landed in Cambodia in 1991, with the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) opening an office in the country shortly after the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) started operations in 1992. Since then, more than 1,460 volunteers have worked in the country across almost all of the UN’s agencies. UNV participants can apply online, with specialist skills matched up to projects. Field placements depend on individual skillsets and the needs of underprivileged communities, and renewable contracts usually run for between six and 12 months. UNV also helped found VolCam, a network that connects international and local volunteer services, and is a valuable tool for those considering volunteering in Cambodia.
Since it set up in Cambodia in 2007, Peace Corps has welcomed more than 255 volunteers to the country. Currently, 114 volunteers serve in Cambodia, working mainly in education and health. Under its English Teaching and Teacher Training Project, volunteers help to develop Cambodian students, teachers and community members’ English skills and critical thinking by co-teaching with Cambodians in classrooms. Feed the Future programme volunteers help to educate mothers and children on the importance of nutrition and food preparation. This includes creating and assisting with the management of community, school and home-based gardens. The Community Health Education project aims to improve overall health and well-being, with volunteers working with health centre staff and schools in the areas of maternal and child health, water and sanitation, nutrition and gardening, reproductive health and non-communicable diseases.
Volunteer Services Overseas (VSO) has been working in Cambodia since 1991, with almost 700 volunteers supporting 152 partners across 15 provinces. The NGO’s core programmes centre on health, education, secure livelihoods and governance, with issues including gender equality and climate change. Missions start with an intense one-month training course, and field placements are dictated by requests from underserved communities. VSO also runs an International Citizen Service to support education, food and income initiatives. It recruits a team of youth volunteers to work in its projects in Stung Treng, Modulkiri and Battambang. This is open to people aged 18 to 25, with projects running for about 10 weeks.
This NGO works tirelessly across Cambodia to elevate the lives of marginalised youths. As part of its work, the organisation strongly advocates against irresponsible voluntourism practices, so it takes its recruitment process seriously. As with the previously mentioned organisations, Friends International is looking for transferrable skills that volunteers can pass onto the local population. Hopeful volunteers can apply online, with a list of open positions available. Specific projects can also be pitched to the organisation through its website.
If you love animals, then Animal Mama – a vet clinic and pet wellness centre in Phnom Penh – needs a bit of your time. As well as offering veterinary and boarding services, the social enterprise works tirelessly with street and rescue animals, taking them in, rehabilitating them and finding them new forever-homes. It also works with pagodas – where unwanted animals in Cambodia are often dumped – to carry out spaying and neutering programmes. Volunteers can spend time with the rescued animals, helping to prep them for their new homes by walking dogs and playing with kittens, cats and pooches. International qualified and trainee vets, as well as shelter workers, can also take part in an intern programme, where they are paired with a local student to get first-hand experience working in the field in Cambodia. And Animal Mama also accepts English teachers who can spend an hour a day for a minimum of two weeks teaching Animal Mama staff and local vet students the language.
Another great option for animal activists out there is the Elephant Valley Project‘s volunteer programme. Based in the heart of rural Mondulkiri, the elephant sanctuary offers permanent or temporary respite for over-worked and neglected elephants – so don’t expect any elephant rides. Its paid-for volunteer initiative runs from five days and five nights up to several months, and involves spending time observing the elephants, learning about their plight and that of the surrounding jungle, as well as taking part in conservation and community work.