Travelling can be a life-changing experience whereas volunteering is an eye-opener to the causes around the world. So why not put both together? With the right kind of volunteer travel, Tan Ee Lian found herself in a major uplifting solo adventure in Cambodia.
As a frequent traveller around the Asia continent, it became a natural interest of mine to forage into the roots of the country— by living with the local villagers. Stripping major tourism landmarks and shopping districts off the list, there are no better scenic adventure than of our own to bond and understand the actual circumstances of the local life. Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia with millions of residents still entrenched in the shackles of poverty. And a large percentage them resides in the countryside with no access to education, career and other opportunities.
Angkor Legacy Academy
While seeking for a way to help, I found Angkor Legacy Academy that are willing to host foreigners to volunteer in their school. The academy is located in the countryside at Lolei Village. It is about 40 minutes away from Siem Reap city centre and this is where I became a volunteer teacher in Angkor Legacy Academy. The academy is a non-profit organisation founded by Sovannarith Sok in April 2011 with the intention of helping the villagers to fight against poverty.
For two weeks, I stayed with Sovannarith and his family in the academy. It is not a typical life choice many Cambodians would take, so I had the opportunity to sit by the river with Sovannarith to discuss about his history of starting the academy. Previously an English teacher, it was always an ambition of his to help the less fortunate villagers. He founded the charity so the villagers could have free education in the academy. It is a struggle to get local teachers to work for free, hence, the academy relies on volunteer basis.
Teaching is a pleasure as every student is interested and keen to learn. There wasn’t a day where I don’t have kids yelling “Teacher, me! Me!” when I needed a student to answer the questions. Besides English, the children are also determined to learn Mandarin. When I was there, founder Sovannarith was taking Mandarin class in the city centre on every weekday.
The dedication of a teacher and his students are truly remarkable as I spent almost every night waiting with the kids for Sovannarith to come back from his Mandarin class. Once he returns, without having dinner or taking a break, he starts a night class to share what he learned with us. Besides that, Angkor Legacy Academy has more charity programs than just free education.
Volunteers can participate in their food donation program for the poor and disabled as well as community development activities like repairing roof and roads in the village. The academy is currently working on starting a computer class for the kids to develop useful skills.
Living as a Volunteer Traveller
Being a solo volunteer traveller is akin to the journey of a backpacker in terms of budget, experience and the chance to meet new friends. In the academy, there is a dorm for volunteers to stay for free and the academy have volunteers from all around the world. Like a backpacker, I have made great friends from England, France, Finland, Netherlands and many more.
Substituting the absence of room service, it remains a blessing for us to taste local and authentic meals everyday—bought from the local market or prepared by Sovannarith’s wife. With ample time on my hands, I took the chance to immerse myself in the carefree life of the villagers. Although it is hard to find a mutual understanding without being able to communicate with each other, it is barely a problem here in Lolei Village. Smiles easily replace words. The locals are also extremely warm and happy to welcome visitors into their homes.
One memorable experience there was when we were casually filling potholes in the road when it started to rain. We were soaked and the road pretty much turned into small rivers. Despite all that, we were surrounded by kids who see rain as a major amusement. The innocence of children running around and playing in the mud reminded me that one doesn’t need a lot to be happy. We just need enough.
On the weekends, volunteers are free to roam wherever they want. I spent my weekends exploring the city centre and visiting one of the best UNESCO world heritage site; Angkor Wat. As compared to all my previous travels, this was the greatest two weeks of my life—receiving and learning so much from Sovannarith and the villagers. I think I left a part of myself there and it is just a matter of time before I am back there with my students.
How to Get Started
To volunteer in Angkor Legacy Academy, you may call +855-92422944 or visit their website for more information. Angkor Legacy Academy is located at Lolei Village, Bakong in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Text and Photos by Tan Ee Lian