Leah, Ireland

My experience in Cambodia

Right this moment I am sitting in my family home in Kilkenny, Ireland, looking out the window at a drizzly day. For me this is not a familiar sight as I have been in Cambodia for the pat 5 months. In fact very little about what I am seeing around me is familiar. Summing up what I have been doing, and all of the bizarre and wonderful things that did become familiar to me while over there would be near impossible, but I would like to give you a taste of the work that I have done in Cambodia, and an idea of what the future holds.

I was working as a research intern for SCOOP, and for their Cambodian partner NGO S.C.A.O. My daily tasks and activities varied hugely throughout my stay. I started off by teaching quite a bit. I was living in the village of Som Roung where the NGO has built a school that also has bedrooms to house volunteers. Each day there was ten English lessons that ranged through all levels of English. Teaching was a great way for me to get a feel for the village I was living in, and get to know the kids and their families.

Community development is another core element of the NGO’s work. So far S.C.A.O. has had two very successful projects that have provided clean water, and sanitary toilet facilities to families in the village. It is so important to be actively involved in the communities that NGOs operate in, and S.C.A.O. have adopted this point of view, and therefore strive to respond to the needs of the families they are surrounded by.

The largest body of work I was involved in was continuing a detailed baseline survey of families in the village, and mapping the houses, which is something that had never been done before. In March 2013 57 of the poorest families were surveyed. This provided the information that a lack of clean water and a lack of toilet were the biggest challenges for families; therefore S.C.A.O. took action to improve these facilities. I wished to continue these surveys so that all family’s voices could be heard and we could get the whole picture of what life is like for families and what their main concerns were.

I led a team of volunteers and Khmer assistant teachers and together we completed 102 household surveys. This was a large undertaking that brought us right into the houses of the families. We all sat and chatted for as long as it took until we had gathering the information we needed. It was an incredible experience to be welcomed into the homes of the families of the village, and seeing exactly how they lived, and hear from their mouths the challenges they face and what they want in the future.

From here, I gathered all the surveys and analysed the data. With this information I compiled a detailed report on all the operations of S.C.A.O. and the findings of the surveys. This report is available at the bottom and shows some exciting and interesting results. This report allows us to see in clear figures what SCOOP and S.C.A.O. have achieved so far. There are strikingly positive figures relating to school attendance rates in the village, compared to the Cambodian average. The results also show us the positive impact the community projects have had so far, and also where there is room for improvement and continuation.

Perhaps most importantly, the results also show us where attention is needed in the future. A lack of healthcare in the village popped up time after time as being the area of most concern for families. The survey results clearly point out that this is an issue that needs attention. This gives S.C.A.O. much food for thought for the future. This is an area where future collaborations with local health NGOs may be possible.

In light of the findings in the report I was invited to present to the Phnom Penh Rotary Club. This was a great honour. The aim of the presentation was to convey the importance of research as a tool to measure both the need for NGO support, and the impact of NGO support. I feel very passionate that in order for the most effective and targeted development to take place, it must be research based.

I have had a lot of freedom in my work here. It has been exciting, challenging at times, interesting, and so much fun. I have had the pleasure to work along side some of the most remarkable people. I would so it all over again in a heartbeat!

I would urge anybody contemplating getting involved with SCOOP, or planning to volunteer overseas to consider joining the SCOOP team. My time in Cambodia has been incredible, and inspirational. We are always looking for new volunteers at home and abroad, so please take it from me, gazing out at the rain, take a leap of faith and it will surprise you how much the beauty of Cambodia and its people will impact you, and the positive impact you can have.