The group of volunteers is a varied one, though we are told that the number of educationists is unusually high. Altogether there are over 100 VSO volunteers in Cambodia, fairly evenly split across the three areas which have been prioritised for work here:
- Sustainable livelihoods – everything from a volunteer advising small crafts organisations and craftspeople about marketing and sourcing markets for their products to volunteers with specialist expertise in fish farming;
- Health – there is a particular emphasis on maternal / infant health, though not exclusively, and volunteers are working either directly delivering service (such as the young paediatrician, Ingran, whom I am sharing a room with just now), or working to support /train local practitioners (nurse trainers in hospital or health advisers for example) or working with local organisations to develop their professionalism (we have a volunteer supporting the Cambodian Midwives’ Assocation, for example) or working at policy level within the Ministry of Health;
- Education – there is the same mixture of volunteer participation at different levels in the system, with a particular focus on primary and the first three years of secondary school.
Within our group we have:
Ingran – a paediatrician from London who will work in a provincial hospital in an area with significant maternal and child health problems;
Paul, a teacher from Oxford, who will work in a rural area supporting schools with inclusion;
Dave, who worked for Oxfam, who is the only member of our group going to work on improving liveliehoods;
Four of our group will be working as teaching and learning advisers in local education offices, supporting the development of more active learning approaches within schools and classrooms:
- Gilly, a teacher from North London, in Kraje, in the middle of the country;
- Jan, a teacher from Holland, in Sturn Treng further North;
- Janet, a retired Headteacher from near Ipswich who will be doing the same thing in Ratanikiri in the far North East;
- Vicky, a teacher from the Phillipines who has just undertaken a placement in North Eastern Ghana and is now going to be working in Kampot, in the south;
Leandra, a teacher from Holland, who has just returned from a two-year volunteer stint in China, is going to be working in the Teacher Training College in Battambong, Cambodia’s second biggest town near the Thai border;
Daniel, a teacher from Uganda, will be working in the East near Paul, in the district education office in Mondulkiri;
Kath, a retired NHS senior manager with a nursing background, will support the Midwives Assocation and John, an Irish educationist will do the same kind of job with the Cambodian Teachers’ Association. These two will work in Phonm Penh, which is where I will be based in my job with the Curriculum Development section of the Ministry of Education, overseeing the progress of the inclusive curriculum development , ‘Child Friendly Schools’.
We also have a number of ‘accompanying partners’, who have come out to support their ‘partner volunteer‘ – in some cases they might well find useful activities to undertake in the area where they are based. André (Leandra’s husband) taught English in China, for example. Along with André are Théa (with Johannes), Sam (with Gilly – not here yet, due to arrive Friday) and Dave (here with Janet). It makes for an interesting mix overall, a mix of ages, backgrounds and professional experience. As always, living in a group has its advantages and disadvantages. Our mutual interactions, concerning language learning, or eating etc, probably inhibit our interaction with local people a bit, but on the other hand it is reassuring in your first few days in a completely new country to share some of your experiences and feelings. This helps with cultural acclimatisation, as long as the acculturation is not too much about the volunteer group. We are all aware of this, and a bit frustrated that we have not yet started our work, although we recognise the sense of the language course. Alongside of the language course, we are out and about in the streets of Kampong Cham, seeing and listening to what is going on, ordering food, shopping in the market – all of these things help in informal ways with acculturation. All that said, I am delighted that I am starting work the week after next. I will try to build on my two weeks’ language learning with a tutor (maybe on the ‘you teach me Khmer I teach you English’ model?) once I am settled in Phonm Penh.
Because I did not manage to complete my vaccination schedule before I left, I will have to cut short the course this week in order to go back to Phonm Penh on Friday of this week. I will have to stay overnight in PP and come back Saturday morning. It’s going to cost me a few pennies and two days of the language course, but I knew that whenever the practice nurse and I worked out the schedule for vaccination in late July. By that time it was too late! Maybe something good will come of it, as I hope to settle my house rental contract and work out when I will get a set of keys for the place, when I am in PP this weekend.