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Cambodia forum

Free volunteer work in Cambodia

Posted by Phoenix66 on 15/5/2011 at 17:46


I'm planning to go to Cambodia sometime in September or October and was thinking of doing some volunteer work. I could be wrong but the most popular (and probably) rewarding work there seems to be teaching English or working in orphanages so I'd like to do that. I've found quite a few websites that offer this but they all charge at least £150 a week which seems like a rip off right? Therefore, I'd be really grateful if anyone knew of any organisations that were cheaper or ideally free, or at least tell me if £150 + is worth it?



#1 Phoenix66 has been a member since 15/5/2011. Posts: 6

Posted by AbigailatPenhandInk on 16/5/2011 at 02:56 TF writer

Check out SCAO, a children's centre outside of Phnom Penh. They don't charge volunteers for volunteering, but they do ask people to cover their food and accommodation costs. You would need to be prepared for basic living, and to make sure you are contributing to the children's education, do some research on English teaching before you go, or even better, take a course. They would also find teaching computer skills very useful.

#2 AbigailatPenhandInk has been a member since 9/11/2010. Location: United Kingdom. Posts: 179

Posted by Rita00 on 16/5/2011 at 17:45

Aside from a possible rip off there are other reasons to be sceptical about expensive volunteer programmes. I think it's fair to cover your own living expenses but now that 'volountourism' has become popular I have read a lot of criticism about unscrupulous volunteer agencies that exploit volunteers to make a profit rather than be of benefit to the area. Do extensive research before you sign up for anything . I'm not saying all are and I'm sure there are many programs that can be rewarding to the volunteer and beneficial to local people, just beware of bad ones.

#3 Rita00 has been a member since 11/5/2011. Posts: 5

Posted by Seby_C on 17/5/2011 at 00:15

I agree very much with the above points Rita00. There are many agencies out there who are in it for themselves, almost working like estate agents or recruitment agents 'selling' the next big humanitarian crisis or poverty stricken region and thus the next volunteer opportunity.

I would like to add something else though. There are very few people who will ever actually go to the heart of this debate. I know of an organization who offers 100% free volunteering teaching in rural schools across the Siem Reap province. In fact I worked for them, and it's only in hindsight I regret having done so. I even volunteered for 2 months in one of 'their' schools, before joining them as an employee. That was 2 years ago, yet I still live in Cambodia and would certainly not recommend the organization who 'own' schools and send in useless teenagers to their schools, and would like to suggest the following is considered before volunteering here.

- Do you have any first-hand knowledge of the culture, customs, and etiquette of the place you will go to volunteer? If not, can you hear and understand the needs, long and short term, of the locals... that is... what THEY want, not what YOU think they NEED?
- Do you have specific skills you can bring to the communities, that will be useful for their future self empowerment to lead their own dignified lives and make change from within their communities?
- Does painting a school building improve education?
- Can you offer a long volunteer stint? If not, will a succession of volunteers who get close to the kids then leave benefit the children's emotional development... or affirm that they are poor and their lives the subject of passers by?
- Would you want a similar scenario taking place were it YOUR children?

I simply ask people think harder before coming to volunteer here. Cambodia is a special place, and I am not denying that there are positives of volunteering (for the right organization who has really thought things through!), nor the wonderful fact that in this world there are people like you who are willing to travel responsibly and want to give something back. But I believe we need to wake up and think before heading to an unknown land about our impact. If we do deduce that it might not be useful, STILL COME to cambodia by all means, but learn about the country and make informed decisions about where and how to get involved. There are needs here, but we need to work together to empower these people, not belittle the teachers in the countryside by storming into their classes and showing them how to do the ABC for the hundredth time while they sit quietly in a corner.
Please take a look at the following links, and please understand that this is purely in the interest of Cambodia that I say this - I have no doubt whatsoever by the fact that you want to volunteer you have the compassion to want to give something back and make changes - I simply ask that you think it through before committing to anything, as I say to anyone looking to volunteer here. Feel free to contact me and I will do my best to help from here on the ground!
Best of luck

#4 Seby_C has been a member since 16/5/2011. Posts: 11

Posted by giblet on 19/5/2011 at 10:50

Students don't learn English when teachers come in and out for two week stints. They learn the same things over and over again (count to 10!) but never get a deeper understanding of the language. Imagine if your whole childhood education was taught by substitute teachers. Many schools and "orphanages" use volunteers to avoid hiring permanent teachers.

Read this: Before you pay to volunteer abroad, think of the harm you might do

You don't need to do phony volunteer work in order to come to Cambodia and have a wonderful visit. Trust me, where you live there are homeless or poverty-stricken people that are in desperate need of services. If people were as enthusiastic about doing volunteer work in their own home-towns as they are about doing it in Cambodia, the world would be a better place.

#5 giblet has been a member since 29/11/2010. Posts: 39

Posted by Rasheeed on 19/5/2011 at 10:59

I like petting orphans.

#6 Rasheeed has been a member since 4/11/2010. Location: Cambodia. Posts: 311
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Posted by Phoenix66 on 21/5/2011 at 01:23

Hi guys,

Thanks very much for all of your brilliant responses so far, I really appreciate it as I didn't know exactly how to go about getting volunteer work. I should have said that I'm planning to do the work for between 6 to 8 weeks which may help to narrow down which places I should try.

I also wanted thanks to Seby_C as I have to say that I'd never thought about what impact my volunteer work would have on the kids out there. It's a good point that maybe they won't learn much from you if you're not there for long. Apart from working with kids, I'd also be happy to do other things like teaching computer skills or doing admin work. I'm open to ideas. I also wondered how I would go about getting the proper visa. I assume I'll need some work of work visa?
Thanks again for all your replies so far :)

#7 Phoenix66 has been a member since 15/5/2011. Posts: 6

Posted by giblet on 21/5/2011 at 11:22

Phoenix66, do you volunteer or work with children at home?

#8 giblet has been a member since 29/11/2010. Posts: 39

Posted by Phoenix66 on 29/5/2011 at 17:48

No I don't, which may not help matters I know!!
Having thought a bit more about things, I'm now planning to volunteer for say between 4 to 6 weeks as my time will be quite limited.
Also, do you need a special visa in order to do volunteer work or would a normal one be ok?

#9 Phoenix66 has been a member since 15/5/2011. Posts: 6

Posted by giblet on 29/5/2011 at 19:40

So what exactly are your qualifications for working with children?

I realize your intentions are good, but these hug-an-orphan Cambodian vacations are ultimately bad for Cambodian children, many of whom are put in orphanages BECAUSE of this sort of tourism.

Orphanage Tourism in Cambodia

#10 giblet has been a member since 29/11/2010. Posts: 39

Posted by Phoenix66 on 29/5/2011 at 20:01

Well the bottom line is none I guess. As I said in my original post, I just got the impression that most volunteer work in Cambodia would be to do with teaching kids. That's why I thought I should ask around about it. From what you and others are saying though, this doesn't seem like such a good idea after all and I'm having a rethink now about what kind of work I should do. As I said, I just wanted to volunteer and do something useful but I would be happy to not work with kids and to maybe do admin work or just teach some computer skills to people. Thanks a lot for the websites you posted, they're real eye openers. Makes me realise that I was probably quite naive I guess in trying to get volunteer work with kids. Never thought about the impact on them, wow.
Are there any more ethical short term volunteer projects that you would recommend then? Conservation maybe?

#11 Phoenix66 has been a member since 15/5/2011. Posts: 6

Posted by giblet on 31/5/2011 at 15:14

Phoenix66, it would be good to think about what your real motivations are.

Is it to help Cambodians?
To have something to put on your CV when you get back?
To have an excuse to stay in Cambodia and learn about the country?
To impress your friends and family?

If it's number one, most of the volunteer work you might do won't actually make any impact. I know it's sad to hear this and you probably won't believe me, but most organizations don't need volunteer unless you have really specific skills. Admins are paid $3/day, so why do they need you to spend $1,000 on a plane ticket to come volunteer as an admin? The reason organizations take volunteers is not because the work you do will make an impact, but because people who volunteer often end up giving money to the organization or getting their friends and family to give them money. So you really aren't going to help Cambodians unless it's through monetary donations. Coming to Cambodia as a tourist and hiring local guides, staying in locally-owned places and eating locally will help Cambodia more than a month in an orphanage will.

If you're just looking to pad out your CV or impress your friends with Facebook status updates etc., then I guess it doesn't really matter what you do. I'd still say stay away from kids organizations because they really do perpetuate the problem. Most places will be just as impressed that you had the courage to travel by yourself rather than have an agent place you in a sham volunteer situation.

If you're looking for an excuse to stay in Cambodia for a while, be brave! You don't need one. Just come and stay and learn about the country. It's possible to have an amazing, informative experience where you learn about the culture without volunteering. Do a research project or just stay here and soak up the culture.

It's very easy to think that just because we come from Western countries we can swoop in and fix things here because we are so much more skilled than the locals. But in reality, that's not true and that's not how it works and volunteers end up taking jobs away from locals who desperately need them. For those of us who have volunteered in Cambodia, most of us came away feeling like we did not make a difference and wishing we had known more before we came.

Here is some more reading for you:

Specifically about volunteering in Cambodia:

Guidelines for voluntourism:

#12 giblet has been a member since 29/11/2010. Posts: 39

Posted by AbigailatPenhandInk on 31/5/2011 at 21:11 TF writer

................ To answer your question about visas, just get a business (or think it's now called 'normal') visa when you arrive, which can be renewed indefinitely. A tourist visa will only give you one month plus one month extension. Whatever your reason for visiting Cambodia, if you think you'll be more than 8 weeks, it makes sense to spend the extra $5.

I'm staying away from the value of volunteering debate, but agree that the better informed we are, the better choices we can make. I still visit the children's centre I volunteered at (as a qualified English teacher) and regularly see the kids as I only live a short ride away. The kids live in a family-like environment with loving adults, are not kept away from family members and are getting opportunities I believe they wouldn't have otherwise. For me, that works. However, there are very interesting issues raised by the article links posted, thanks!

#13 AbigailatPenhandInk has been a member since 9/11/2010. Location: United Kingdom. Posts: 179

Posted by Seby_C on 31/5/2011 at 21:47

Giblet – those four questions – if they could be posed and explained so well to all volunteers coming to volunteer here, or pop up on google as some kind of ‘WARNING! …or… ADVICE!’(if only!) people would be inspired to think hard about their impact before arriving, and that could solve so many problems before they even start.

And Phoenix66, if every potential volunteer / human being was courageous and humble enough as you to return to this debate and admit having questioned their initial intentions and thus come out with a different perspective, that could equally solve so many problems regarding this subject. The same could be said for many NGOs and their employees too.

This is nothing personal, as I said in my first post, but as giblet challenges it does sound like you have your heart set on following the volunteer route. And who would blame you, I mean if you google Volunteer in Cambodia it’s just obvious with all this poverty and starvation and the thousands of people beckoning you here, that you are desperately needed. This is not true. Sure, skilled volunteers or EXPERTS are often needed, but you say you have a month. What computer skills can you teach in a month that a Cambodian cannot, and then how could you follow up after you leave? Continual negative media, supported by NGOs who 'survive' based on promoting this negative media in Cambodia and indeed the world, often paints a one-sided picture that Cambodia needs western help. No, Cambodians want to be leaders, and they already are and will have plenty more, and Cambodians will lead Cambodia into the future. That's their right, and there is actually SO MUCH positive stuff going on here… visit cambodia and learn about that! All the NGOs (that’s an understatement – 3000+ and counting, and goodness knows how many extended holidaymakers who have adopted their ‘own schools’ which they ‘work with’ unregulated until it all gets too much) saying they are ‘lending a hand’, ‘helping them with the first step’ or ‘giving them the intellectual tools’ when actually they are taking over with western ideals will just continue to create a mental poverty in the psyche of Cambodians that they are poor, because they are from Cambodia. If foreign interveners continue to label this country as so desperately vulnerable and get involved at every stage when Cambodians are doing things their way, successfully (and development takes a long time, wherever you are from, however skilled you are), NGOs will thwart their own development and we risk creating an entire population who will resign themselves to this mentality of being a ‘poor Cambodian’. We should be nurturing and encouraging creativity and positivity, freedom of expression, confidence, ambition. All of us on this planet can display these qualities and feelings, but where will those in developing countries direct this if we keep labelling them as so poor they will only get anywhere with Western help.

That said, there are some fantastic NGOs out there; in my experience they are usually the smaller ones where the protagonists are Cambodian staff, or a mix of both Cambodians and Westerners at all levels. From my experience, if they are the better NGOs (and what is a good NGO is very subjective and only my opinion) they will likely meet and discuss what they do, and Cambodia and what they know about the country, with anyone who takes a genuine interest. It may turn out that could lead to a worthwhile volunteer role, but it likely will not. Perhaps I have digressed from the volunteering debate specifically, but unresearched and uninformed volunteering choices, even with the best intentions play a key part in perpetuating Cambodia's problems. Whatever happens, don’t volunteer until you learn about the country first, and if you do decide to volunteer do your research thoroughly on any organization you are considering volunteering with. They should answer your questions. If they don’t... very bad start.
Best of luck with whateveryou decide.

#14 Seby_C has been a member since 16/5/2011. Posts: 11

Posted by onlyincambodia on 18/7/2011 at 14:20

Consider checking out the organization ConCERT Cambodia which can connect you to legitimate organizations with specific needs depending on your skill set and length of time.

click here

It has loads of information on its website about responsible tourism and responsible volunteering. It works in Siem Reap only.

It is important to note that volunteering in orphanages, schools or children's centers for less than 3 months is NOT appropriate. As has been mentioned before, it's inappropriate to just drop in and out of children's lives. Can you do that back home in your country?

It's time to begin re-thinking this idea of voluntourism and that that only way to help in Cambodia is by playing with kids or teaching English. It's not the kids who need the help, it's the adults who need the mentoring and training to improve their skills so they can be better teachers and whatever else.

It's time to stop thinking that the only way to volunteer is with children. If you improve the opportunities for adults, then they will do a better job of taking care of the children.

#15 onlyincambodia has been a member since 18/7/2011. Posts: 1

Posted by giblet on 29/7/2011 at 14:19

Cambodia's 'orphan tourism' sparks concern

#16 giblet has been a member since 29/11/2010. Posts: 39

Posted by Tom_gdg on 23/10/2012 at 22:28

Serb_c I just want to say i really like what you and giblet are saying and I 100% agree. Im planning on travelling to Cambodia for the first time next year to spend 3months there (hopefully more). Im hoping to do some volunteer work myself but having great difficulty finding placements which offer something different to a 2 week teaching placement for ridiculous prices. I really hate the thought of doing something and blindly thinking i'm making a difference of some kind when really i'm not. I plan on having money with me to donate and really would like to put it somewhere were it counts. I'd be much more interested in building work and community projects rather than teaching. The idea of living in a rural community i really like and would like to help whilst staying. do you think this is possible?
I just wanted to know anything you would suggest to me which matches up with what i'm saying as i'm having trouble finding it myself.

#17 Tom_gdg has been a member since 23/10/2012. Posts: 1

Posted by linden51 on 1/12/2012 at 22:36

Hi Phoenix66.

Check out the following link to the wiki which I have been (painfully, slowly) compiling for free/low-cost volunteering in SE Asia. The Cambodian page is the most populated so far, so you're in luck. Hopefully, you'll get a few leads there.


#18 linden51 has been a member since 8/1/2009. Posts: 13

Posted by marcodepolo on 17/1/2013 at 01:27

On a different type of volunteering, probably less controversial, the people from the FootPrints organization are welcoming help to improve the quality of life of the 100+ animals at the Teuk Chhou zoo in Kampot. Their aim is to transform the zoo into a wildlife education park and they do have a lot of work on their hands.

Check out their website here for more detail info

#19 marcodepolo has been a member since 10/8/2012. Posts: 3

Posted by linden51 on 17/1/2013 at 05:37

I have upgraded my site to Wordpress and am currently populating the Cambodia sections. At present it is merely a directory though I do wish to eventually include reference to the debate - as above - re the ethics, efficacy and attendant reponsibilities of volunteering in these contexts.

#20 linden51 has been a member since 8/1/2009. Posts: 13

Posted by expatInsurance on 17/1/2013 at 23:49

I fail to understand this concept of volunteers being asked to pay for doing some good work. This is crazy, insane and illogical. Ideally volunteers should be paid a small stipend to help them survive there, instead of other way around. This aboutasiaschools appear to be a nice platform for volunteers, as it appears to be free.

#21 expatInsurance has been a member since 10/1/2013. Posts: 10

Posted by giblet on 17/1/2013 at 23:58

You might find this article interesting:

By now it's becoming widely recognized that short-term volunteering is not an effective solution to Cambodia's problems and in fact may do more harm than good.

#22 giblet has been a member since 29/11/2010. Posts: 39

Posted by linden51 on 18/1/2013 at 00:08

I tend to agree 'giblet'. A significant majority of the orgs. I am posting to my site are signalling a preference for long-term over short term candidates. One to three months at least allows for some sense of continuity if not demonstrating genuine commitment.

#23 linden51 has been a member since 8/1/2009. Posts: 13

Posted by linden51 on 18/1/2013 at 00:21

Another story just in on the same topic;

#24 linden51 has been a member since 8/1/2009. Posts: 13

Posted by linden51 on 7/2/2013 at 01:08

Re post #19.

I have been informed by Footprints that they have had to relinquish their involvement with the rehabilitation of the zoo at Teak Chou. No explanation was given. - Michael

#25 linden51 has been a member since 8/1/2009. Posts: 13

Posted by taorathey on 7/2/2013 at 05:08

Let me make something clear from the beginning. I don't care about your heartfelt desires to contribute to a country. I care about the Cambodians who may suffer from your good intentions. Leave them alone, do-gooders have done enough damage already. Leave them alone, leave money and then leave.

#26 taorathey has been a member since 28/12/2012. Posts: 5

Posted by Bushwaker on 19/2/2013 at 16:36

Important to read this article ifconsidering volunteering (it focuses on Cambodia, but relevant to allcountries):

This is in no way meant to deter anyonefrom helping and volunteering - there are great projects out there.
Just do your homework, consider the impactof short stays on children who easily get attached to "new friends"and generally, make sure the operations are legit and have the children's bestinterests at heart.


#27 Bushwaker has been a member since 19/2/2013. Posts: 2

Posted by linden51 on 20/2/2013 at 01:12

I agree.You can't tar them all with the same brush. That is detrimental to the ability of the legitimate NGOs to source volunteers. Yes, as a general rule stays of a month or longer are preferable and you will actually find a lot of responsible orgs. setting that as a minimum. It is pretty easy to sift out the bad from the good. Just check out their websites, make sure they have a child safe policy in place and require you to provide a police check from your home country - this is a good indicator of their bona fides (but not necessarily the only one). A lot of orgs also have strong links to overseas orgs or have been established by concerned expats. Read the accounts of other volunteers who have worked for them - either from their website links or sourced independently. It's really not that hard to 'do your homework'.

#28 linden51 has been a member since 8/1/2009. Posts: 13

Posted by sophannheng on 10/2/2014 at 23:28

Hello Friend
I'm Mr Heng Sophann , I'm school assistant like school principle too , now i finding volunteer who want teaching English in my school or help some things in my school too . My school name Wat Chork primary school 3km west of Pop Street , in PnheaChey village Svaydankom commune Siem Reap town Cambodia . ( E-mail : ) .

#29 sophannheng has been a member since 5/2/2014. Posts: 9

Posted by strawrimp on 1/7/2014 at 09:09

dsc07382.jpgIf you can play music, teach music local kids

Music for Everyone School

#30 strawrimp has been a member since 18/5/2011. Posts: 1

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