As we booked our flights, destined for Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I couldn’t help but think about the stigma surrounding voluntourism. Cambodia isn’t your usual Asian destination, with the majority of holidayers choosing Bali and Thailand for their budget getaways. But we were on a more directed mission. We were there representing The Bodia Group, a Brisbane based not-for-profit organisation that supports education and invests in sustainable social enterprise in Cambodia. Officially established by the Sinclair siblings in 2015, their Cambodian trips have become an annual occurrence, the development of which can be followed through their Instagram account.
I arrived in Phnom Penh with six friends, there to support the Bodia Group. Travelling alongside the founder of the organisation, our goals were to finalise university scholarships, evaluate the success of their first farm development project, and to engage in English and conversation classes for 9 days. Our very first tuk-tuk through the bustling, underdeveloped city was an accurate introduction to the Cambodian lifestyle. It was easy to understand Cambodia’s failing government in the unpaved streets, the makeshift homes and the scattered mounds of rubbish. With this in mind, we left our hostel and began the hour-long tuk-tuk to SCCDO, the Save the Children Community Development Organisation. We were ready to make a localised, tangible difference on the ground by encouraging development through learning. It was humbling to know that English, being a powerful skill to these young Cambodian’s was something we were able to provide. SCCDO was filled with 15 smiling faces aged 9 to 19. All at different stages in their lives, these children were there for various reasons, equally benefitting from their improved access to quality schooling, shelter and brighter future prospects. They were one big family, finding comfort and joy within each other and the roaming stray dogs that wondered their street.
English is used in the majority of Cambodian industries and therefore makes for better job opportunities. So, we spent the next 10 days following a succinct English curriculum, spending several hours a day teaching and reinforcing sentence structure, pronunciation and readability. It is these skills and this type of volunteering that can give disadvantaged children an advantage in the future. However, the poverty was something we only really understood when faced with the confronting reality of a makeshift room bursting with bunk beds and a large rice cooker filled daily only from the generosity of two senior Norwegian philanthropists. Poverty, that first inspired the Sinclair siblings to begin this journey.
For our next stop, we began the bumpy, two-hour drive to the Takeo province, visiting the farm developed by the Bodia Group. Built with funds raised from the 2017 Bodia Ball to render the local organisation financially independent, we were taken on a perimeter tour to evaluate farm updates, taught to fish with rice balls and fed fresh farm-grown chicken, Cambodian-style. Two years later, that $17,000 raised turned the Bodia Group’s humanitarian hopes into completed projects. Back in Phnom Penh, we continued exploring the city by day, indulging in mouth-watering traditional meals like Fish Amok and Morning Glory. To mix things up we even decided to opt for a night of luxury at the end of our Phomn Penh stretch on Valentine’s Day, staying at Blue Lime Hotel. Having our own private pool was a luxury that was both affordable and tranquil, but it was the traditional Cambodian touches that made our stay. From there on out we said our goodbyes to SCCDO and Phnom Penh to get to know Cambodia a bit better.
We soon arrived in Siem Reap, experiencing one of the wonders of the world at sunrise. Walking across a rickety bridge and through an ancient temple with hundreds of others in the dark hours of the morning was an experience I won’t forget any time soon. Neither will I forgot the soft glow of the morning sun first illuminating Angkor Wat. Koh Rong was our next stop, but we now had a few additions. We brought along the manager of SCCDO and his wife to accompany us on this island adventure, for a break from their daily routines of looking after the children. With the eldest in charge at SSCDO, the children were in good hands. For a true island experience, we all stayed in raised beach bungalows just metres from the calm water. Sandy beaches and translucent water paired with fresh seafood barbeques made for a relaxing end to our trip. On the island, we took a boat trip led by a pirate born and bred in Brisbane (one eye, no joke), and 10 bottles of whiskey. Snorkelling at untouched nature reserves with vibrant coral and small fish was defiantly a highlight, as was the surprise blood moon on our rocky return home! As we walked the beach with our bags, beginning the long journey home, we were reminiscing on the best moments, already planning our return trip. We were missing SCCDO but thankful for the work we did and the adventures we had. We’re looking forward to the upcoming 2019 Bodia Ball and planning more future Cambodian developments!
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