I've been volunteering with HVTO for the last two months but still it feels as if I had just come here. I had a marvelous time and would like to share some of my experiences with you to give you an insight of what it is like to work and live in Sophy and Sreth Villages, where the HVTO school is located.

When I first arrived in Siem Reap (which is a motorcycle-ride of about 30 minutes away from Sophy) I was warmly welcomed and introduced to the project by Sim Piseth, the founder of HVTO, and Meng Seaknam, the program manager. From the first moment I had a really good relationship to both of them, as they are very kind, open-minded and funny. After that, Seaknam brought me to the village, as Piseth was busy working again (he leads a really busy life - besides all the work he does for HVTO voluntarily, he has a full-time job as tour guide), and I got to know my host family, which consists of Seaknam and one brother, two sisters and their parents. But as Seaknam and his sisters moved to Siem Reap and their brother to Phnom Penh to study at University, I normally lived just with the parents, and their children would come to visit us on the weekends and in their holidays. All of them are really wonderful people and have definitely become a second family to me. The life with the parents was very convenient: Although they don't speak much English (basically just a few words), communication never seemed to be a problem. In the beginning we would teach each other words in each one's language by simply pointing at stuff and saying its name - but me as well as the mother were rather bad at remembering the new expressions and we always laughed at each other when we asked for the very same word the 10th time. The house is very clean and has everything one needs (although of course it's not a western house) and the mother did everything and more for me, for example by cooking the best meals I would find in the whole country and making me eat so much that I gained 4 kilos of weight, and made me feel more and more at home.

Already on the first day I jumped in at the deep end and started teaching, which felt a bit weird in the beginning as I didn't have any teaching experience before, but the three Khmer teachers helped me a lot and made me feel very comfortable. One great thing about HVTO, compared to other organizations like it, is that they have a regular program that always goes on, if there's a volunteer or not - a volunteer is more like an add-on that gives new inputs and enriches every day life at school. The students like it a lot to see foreigners (as well as all the other villagers) and whenever a tourist would eventually come here (maybe once every 1-2 weeks, as the village is quite far from the usual tourist paths) all the children would gather around them and ask all sorts of questions - so on the first few days I was more like an attraction than a teacher, but soon the students got used to me and could study in a really concentrated way. The school usually has 3 classes per hour in 3 classrooms, and in the afternoon 5 computer classes. The youngest students are being taught by "student teachers", which are some of the oldest and best students, mainly to learn the English alphabet and some basic sentences. The older ones study with the Khmer teachers (or with me) using mainly two books: "Let's go" and "New Interchange". I mostly taught the oldest ones and focused on conversation skills and pronunciation, whereas the Khmer teachers explained the grammer - a division of duties that worked just fine. The students are really keen to study and work hard, although they often have to help their families in the fields in their narrow free time - very admirable.

In my free time the students would take my to their homes, show me around the villages or the local pagodas (some students are monks) and invite me to have lunch or dinner with their families, which I always loved. I got to know the real Cambodian way of living, a thing that a tourist in the major Cambodian cities can not do anymore, as they are too westernized and touristy. I even got invited to a wedding party! An other great thing was that one of the teachers, Kru Un, taught me Khmer 1 hour per day and as I after sunset always studiously did my homework I progressed fast and managed to be able to read and write after the first month. It is great to pick up some local language because most people here (apart from our students) do not speak any English and appreciate it a lot, when a foreigner makes the effort to talk in their language.

All in all it was an experience that I will never forget, that taught me a lot and made me grow in self-confidence and experience, and I can completely recommend it to anyone interested in volunteering.

If you should have any questions or want to know something about me or my stay here, please don't hesitate to contact me!


Best regards,

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  • E: sim@hvto.org
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