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Volunteering in Asia

Volunteering in Asia forum

Paying $$ to Volunteer? Usually not a good idea.

Posted by sunflowerorphancentre on 23/1/2009 at 17:17


My name is Amanda. I am an American living in Phnom Penh, at an orphanage about 15k outside of the city. Myself and 3 other westerners (another American and 2 Australians) have raised money to completely support and run our center. Living here and seeing many orphanages that require you to pay to volunteer makes my stomach turn. These "fees" are meant to make you have peace of mind but are usually not used to support the children but to support high salaries and buy items that by most Cambodian standards are considered extravagances. If you are really dedicated and REALLY want to volunteer, you should be bringing your own money to the place and spending it as you see fit or have the organization type up a letter of requests for items needed.

Our center isn't yet well enough established to have a full on volunteer program but we want to start a test project. We are looking for people with AT LEAST 2 weeks to spend at the center, people with a talent or skill that they could easily pass onto the children. ex: puppet making, painting, sports skills. During your time at the center you would organize a curriculum and talk with all of the children about your idea, you would then select a few children who seem truly interested and you would provide all of the materials for them to learn the skill. No cash required and most of the items you would need, believe it or not, you could find at local markets.
While English lessons are always appreciated, these children really need mentors and skills to aspire to.

Our center has 17 children, 16 of them have HIV. We have 9 boys and 8 girls who have been together for 7 years. Many of the children's parents are deceased but many are just very sick or too poor to take care of them. ARV medicine is provided for them free of charge and they are all in very good health.

If you are interested please visit:
or e-mail SunflowerOrphanCentre@gmail.com

Of course, we will have to discuss your travel itinerary and your curriculum and your idea. This is a chance to make a true difference for these children and give them something they wont soon forget without handing over a wad of bills to a stranger.

Thanks and enjoy your stay in Cambodia!

#1 sunflowerorphancentre has been a member since 23/1/2009. Posts: 3

Posted by somtam2000 on 23/1/2009 at 18:21 admin

Hi Amanda,

While no doubt there's some NGOs that don't spend volunteer fees in the most switched on manner, that's not to say that paying to volunteer isn't a good thing. There's many organisations in Cambodia that are doing absolutely terrific work -- and which require volunteers to pay.

Off the top of my head, one main reason why I'd say volunteers should pay is that rarely are volunteers "no cost". Instead, especially for those new to a country, they require considerable support -- finding accommodation, training and orientation and other "getting started" costs. All of these costs (be they in time or financial terms) divert resources from what the NGO should be doing -- NGOing -- be it helping orphans or building a dam, new volunteers are a distraction.

Because of these costs, it makes far more sense for an NGO to opt only for longer-term volunteers rather than short term ones. If the short terms ones are required to make a cash contribution, then that goes towards offsetting the resources they're diverting in deciding to volunteer in the first place. It also helps to indicate a commitment from the volunteer.

I think a much more important question, especially regarding soliciting for people to volunteer to work with children, is what type of screening are you undertaking to make sure that the kids are not put in contact with those who shouldn't be anywhere near children?

#2 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 8,090

Posted by mike1700 on 27/1/2009 at 07:56

To Amanda
I just returned to NYC after 1 month in Cambodia. My goal was to go around the "pay to volunteer system. Goal accomplished!! I spent time in 2 different orphanages and also fed the kids at the garbage dump 7 times. The kids stole my heart and i miss Cambodia very much. I am in the process of starting my own charity, everyones doing it so why not me. I will be going back in 2 months and cant wait. Your post is exactly what i think. I learned a lot in 1 month and spent my money where i felt it did the most good. Your doing amazing work jersey girl and hope to meet you either home or in PP.

To Mr. Admin, very very well said. You gave another point of view that made a lot of sense. In my 1 month i learned of many scams that exploit these amazing kids but there is also a lot of good being done. To volunteer for 1 week I think the "pay" route is fine, but for 2 wks or more, that just does not make sense and is probably paying for their fat Lexus and Land Cruiser and the huge logo on the side!!!
I also enjoy reading all you posts.

#3 mike1700 has been a member since 5/12/2008. Posts: 7

Posted by sunflowerorphancentre on 30/1/2009 at 15:16

Mr. Admin,

I read over your response, and I would like to retract my harsh statements. There are most definitely some places where the money is well spent and yes, to house, feed and train volunteers is not cheap but from my experiences here, Cambodia is a place filled with so much beauty which can sometimes turn into a lot of greed and ugliness. I just wanted to make people aware of the facts and upon speaking to some of my volunteers in the past and googling "volunteer in Cambodia" myself, I only saw programs you must pay for. I think that overall, you don't need to pay in advance to make a substantial difference and if you are dedicated and make the right connections, you can most definitely work something out. Its really about time and dedication- following through on a plan and not just volunteering to say you volunteered.

The second point you brought up is VERY VERY important as well. With the program that we run, volunteers are supervised at all times, myself and my staff never leave the children unattended. No volunteers stay at the centre and all activities must be organized and chaperoned. Cambodia is finally really cracking down on some of the human trafficking issues it was once plagued with but it wont be cured that easily. Thank you for bringing that up.


Thanks for the comments, keep up with Cambodian Kids and let me know if you want to collaborate or talk about anything. Good luck with your endeavors :)

#4 sunflowerorphancentre has been a member since 23/1/2009. Posts: 3

Posted by brucemoon on 30/1/2009 at 21:01


This is a great 'discourse' and I hope will get a 'sticky' label.

I am personally the secretary for a large Australian community group that raises funds for the disadvantaged (primarily, but not fully) in Vietnam. We have all sorts of 'problems' dealing with the increasingly 'novel' ways invented to siphon funds from a 'program' to another 'cause' (read my back pocket).

We also have the 'problem' of 'do-gooders' seeking to involve themselves with the disadvantaged in order to advance their 'interests' or 'beliefs'.

Our experience has been that short term visitors (up to a week) can be a very real distraction, not only for those administering the centre, but also for the disadvantaged. In many respects, these people need a continuity of stable support. That said, if organised appropriately, 'visitors' can be helpful and fun.

I do concur with the view that short term visitors ought contribute financially - that tends to weed out those 'inappropriate' volunteers and assists in their 'management'.

I also concur with the view that longer term volunteers ought not be charged. Maybe the compromise is that all volunteers pay for about a week, then negotiate an agreement thereafter (if the volunteers isn't appropriate, this can be the mechanism to weed out). Negotiating an agreement also heightens the relationship between management and the volunteer. And, focuses on volunteer interests/skills.

Amanda talks of a need for visitors to teach a small(ish) skill (small to us, but often large to them). This is very important to assist in self esteem development.

Mike talks of outwork. In Cambodia especially, those in 'care' fall well short of the actual need. Outcare is a very important component, and one that visitors can do well (and learn much about poverty, themselves, and the moral issue of dignity).

To those reading this topic, and thinking about volunteering, I suggest that before you commit yourself to a 'cause', go and spend a few days in the city/area. Assuming you've done your homework, spending time in the city / area will empower you to better know your motives, and have some understanding of the larger 'problems' facing the disadvantaged in the city / area.


#5 brucemoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by mattocmd on 31/1/2009 at 12:14

Seriously....NEVER PAY!!!!!!

Cambodia is so corrupt that a lot of people are making money arranging "volunteer opportunities." The kids are exploited so that others can profit.

I was just there and got the inside scoop from an Australian expat living there. They had three volunteers to come work at the schools there. Each paid over a grand and spent the week painting and cleaning. PAY A GRAND TO WORK FOR A WEEK PAINTING??? With the cost of labor in Cambodia being so low...WTF! Truth is, the owner of the school steals the money and the person who arranged the volunteer group.

To everyone: DONT BE STUPID - dont give money to anyone, dont buy postcards from the kids, dont buy the kids lunch, especially dont give money to any of the Africans in Phnom Penh who claim to have lost their wallets. Trust me you are only making things worse. Who do you think you are anyway, Jesus? Find a better way to make yourself feel better about yourself. If you do want to give, I guess one of the internationally recognized organizations...some group that helps them help themselves.

Wahhhhh as i sit on the beach some kids are forced to sell fruit so ill give her a dollar so make myself feel better about being well off....Now I am a great person YAY!!!! No, now the kid will keep begging instead of relying on the much needed NGO social worker. So seriously...piss off!

#6 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 368

Posted by brucemoon on 31/1/2009 at 12:25


Your perceptions are valid, jaundiced as they are. Nevertheless, you describe well the circumstances by which the young disadvantaged are exploited. And, the severe exploitation by the mega-rich is more than palpable!

I was not - and never would - suggest such sums of money. I doubt others contributing here would endorse.

Rather, there is a 'problem' in that some seek to 'volunteer' but are really only pandering to their ego. I agree with Somtam in that there are costs in 'managing' a volunteer (especially one without experience). And, those costs need to be recovered somehow.

From another perspective: mattocmd, how would you suggest the disadvantaged get support from westerners, and how would you suggest money gets to those in need.

To my way of thinking, in circumstances such as these, criticism is important but can only be justified if a 'solution' is also advanced.


#7 brucemoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by mattocmd on 3/2/2009 at 18:24


My "solution" was to give to internationally recognized programs if you really want to help. Perhaps endorsed by UNESCO, the UN or a similar type of trusted organization.

The people who want to help, but offer no real skills or experience, aren't doing it moreso out of selfish reasons than out of kindness***. To them it's taking travel to the next level. As a result these "volunteers" are exploited and some rich Khmer (or foreigner) gets a nice payday. Then the happy foreigner returns to the homeland and tells everyone of his/her great deeds! YAY When really that $1000 volunteer fee could have actually been used to help people. Instead of paying to paint walls or read books to kids for a week (making matters worse by encouraging further corrupt acts).

Lets face it, its a wonderful country to travel through but its !@%$!-ing corrupt. Make up for your small man-hood, not getting hugged enough when you were little, etc. in other ways. Stop exploiting others to make yourself feel better.

*** This is in no way a shot to the OP..who, from her description, is actually helping the people.

#8 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 368

Posted by mattocmd on 3/2/2009 at 18:27

PS. Beware of giving money to some NGOs. You might just be paying for some overpaid volunteer's Hummer.

#9 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 368

Posted by brucemoon on 4/2/2009 at 07:28


I take offence at your comments. They are unnecessary, unhelpful, and ill conceived.

Until you entered the discussion, the focus was about those who actually want to contribute and how that can best be achieved.

As you point out there are some associated with NGO's (non government organisations) that use these entities to acquire luxury status goods (eg. cars etc.). A very glaring example is your nominee - the UN.

If giving money to a top down organisation gives you peace of mind, sobeit.

There are others that want a bottom up approach - a hands on engagement. Not only does this satisfy their own moral aspirations, but it usually also allows them to get much closer to the relevant aspects of hardship / corruption / needs / etc.

Even if people pay large sums of money - and even if some gets hived off to the 'undeserving' - these people still get to experience a side of poverty. Better that than "getting the low down from some 'expat'" and making unhelpful comments.


#10 brucemoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by mattocmd on 4/2/2009 at 11:19


Don't take offense. It is certainly not directed to the type of person who reads travelfish. Actually I was in Cambodia last week and saw a lot of corruption first hand. Also, talked to some people and really learned a lot about this subject.

I didn't endorse the UN, just groups they would endorse. Or a similar group...really didn't have the time to look one up that would be a fine example, just listed a famous one that came to mind quickly. Perhaps a group that gets audited on a regular basis...and hey, at least we know the UN gets audited.

When corrupt people make money off of something: it encourages them to continue to do it, do it more, and others to do it. When someone pays to volunteer in Cambodia, they are making things worse if someone is profiting. Is someone profiting when you pay to volunteer in Cambodia? HAH, most likely to 100%! OK, can't say everyone is, but after being there it's apparent that many are.

I really don't get what point you are making and why you take offense. I think my comments are in line with the subject: "Paying $$ to Volunteer? Usually not a good idea." I wish I could tell you the world was a great and happy place and everyone had good intentions, but lets grow up and face it. You have to be careful because many places/people are fu***d.

I just think that if you have to pay to volunteer than you aren't really needed and you'd be better off supporting someone financially who does have the skills. For example, giving $1000 to "Doctors without Borders" would do more good than paying $1000 to paint walls in Khmer schools.
The table below will help me clarify my opinions.

You came to Cambodia and feel bad about being “rich.” What can you do to help?

1. Do you offer any real skills? (If "yes" go to number 3/If "no" go to number 2
2. Will you learn a skill first that can actually be used to help people? (If "yes" go to 3, if no go to 4)
3. Find an audited and trusted group where your skills can be used to help the people. Have a look at their financial statements to ensure money is not wasted by the group. Since you offer real skill, you wont have to pay to volunteer. Do not proceed in this table.
4. Instead of paying to volunteer, why don't you use your money to visit the beautiful country? You can see the sights, support local family businesses, eat at restaurants owned by hard-working locals, etc. This will ensure that your money isn't supporting corruption! You are also helping the local economy! Does this sound like a good idea? (If "yes" go to Cambodia, any remaining cash after your trip can be donated to a trusted organization, if "no" go to number 5)
5. So you offer no valuable skill but still insist on paying to help. Please note that labor is cheap here and locals can be paid to do whatever it is that you will do here (not to mention that this creates jobs, helping the local economy). Will you change your mind? (if yes go to number 4, if no go to number 6)
6. According to volunteer websites YOU CAN HELP! For only $1050 you can help for four weeks! ((ONLY $145 per additional week!) this is real data). You can feel better about yourself knowing that a large portion of your money will be used to line the pockets of someone who doesn't need it! This helps everyone! Think about "Reaganomics" and the "trickle down effect." The rich locals/foreigners might steal the money, but when they put an addition on their house, it creates jobs! YAY!! Return home a hero!! Everyone hold hands and let’s go hug a tree!!

#11 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 368

Posted by mattocmd on 4/2/2009 at 11:27


"Even if people pay large sums of money - and even if some gets hived off to the 'undeserving' - these people still get to experience a side of poverty. Better that than "getting the low down from some 'expat'" and making unhelpful comments. "

When people make money being corrupt, it encourages them to continue to do it, do it more, and others to do it.

Whitey isn't helping anyone except his/her own ego.

#12 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 368

Posted by exacto on 4/2/2009 at 11:32


do you really not understand how anyone would find your comments offensive? these posts seemed unusually aggressive for you mate. do you really think everyone trying to turn a kind deed is doing it for their ego? that's harsh. take care.

#13 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,840

Posted by mattocmd on 4/2/2009 at 11:39

I really don't want to sound aggresive and hope I'm not offending anyone. It just seems personal because I was just there and its all fresh in my mind. I saw more than enough and I don't think they need us making matters worse for them.

I just think it needs to be handled with "tough love" to get the point across and hopefully save someone "$1050 (plus $145 per additonal week)".

#14 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 368

Posted by brucemoon on 4/2/2009 at 12:26


Your last few comments reveal what was not said earlier - you appear to be VERY upset / angry / P**d off / etc., at the immense gap between the elite and the remaining (non-religious) population.

On that I concur.

To see government officials driving top of the range Lexus 4WD's (SUV to you) when a small Korean or Chinese 4WD would suffice represents such a situation. Clearly, these officials didn't get their luxury 4WD's via the government budget allocation process. We could both go on.

Like you, I also hold a great distaste for corruption. Especially when the disadvantaged are 'held to ransom' by those who have and should know better.

I personally address the matter of corruption in a global context.

I know of no society that does NOT have levels of corruption. I can point to examples of what we call 'embedded corruption' here in Australia. Embedded corruption is using the 'system' (usually the gov't system) to receive taxpayer funds for purposes that produce no result to the taxpayer and merely line the pockets of the recipient. We also have a process called 'beer money': whereby getting something done obligates a donation (typically large) to the welfare of the workers (ie beer) - but all know where it goes.

I'm sure you'll be able to point to examples in the US. I suggest embedded corruption and 'beer money' in the US is called 'pork barrelling' and 'favours'.

The real sadness perhaps is that unlike our OECD nations, corruption is so blatant in Cambodia AND the need of the majority is so so obvious. This contrast makes the fact of corruption so hard to 'chew'.

From another 'angle', the US made (but now worldwide) credit 'crisis' is really going to have an impact on the lives of all Cambodians - rich and poor. If we are not going to feed money into the Cambodian 'system' - however right or wrong - what will be the plight of the disadvanted?


#15 brucemoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by mattocmd on 4/2/2009 at 17:21

If we are not going to feed money into the Cambodian 'system' - however right or wrong - what will be the plight of the disadvanted?

From the looks of things, doesn't look like things could get any worse for the disadvanted. If you donate a sum of money to the disadvanted and they get only 10% of it (when 100% is meant for them), should we continue just for the sake of them getting that 10%***? Or find ways to ensure that this number gets closer to 100%?

Just sitting back and saying "well, thats just the way it is" isn't going to solve any problems. This can all tie into my comments posted earlier where I believe I did suggest ways to increase that 10% that I mentioned earlier.

***obvoiusly I have no idea what the exact percentage is

#16 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 368

Posted by Stigron on 15/2/2009 at 08:23

Interesting thread. And interesting observations.
From my experience most of Sth East Asia is what we westerners call corrupt. But lets face it they've been operating for well over a thousand years.

I met a bloke in Thailand who was running a business there. Corruption!!! He couldn't believe it when he started. But you get used to it.

The answer?? Hmmm education? Maybe educating the next generation that this corruption needs not continue.

I haven't been to Cambodia yet.(few weeks time we are) but I'll be taking your comments into account.


#17 Stigron has been a member since 15/2/2009. Location: Australia. Posts: 28

Posted by mattocmd on 15/2/2009 at 10:36


As cynical or bitter as my comments were, maybe others will think twice before giving money away that could end up in the wrong hands!

#18 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 368

Posted by sunflowerorphancentre on 15/2/2009 at 18:52

wow! some interesting conversations going back and forth here! Just wanted to remind all of you about the original post: spending money to volunteer. I really want people here to post places where if you are spending money, the money is going to the right place and the programs work. For example, I visited a center called NHCC (New Hope for Cambodian Children). Volunteers are on long term basis only (usually a good sign= more transparency, nothing to hide sort of thing.) Volunteers have their own place to stay and have to pay $ 5 a day for all of their food. This is a fair deal. Recently, I have had some serious issues with my org and had to rethink everything. This is one of the challenges that makes Cambodia so inspiring to me. If you can make it happen here with an NGO while remaining honest and transparent, you truly can make it anywhere. Anyways folks, keep up the CONSTRUCTIVE criticism and know that there are many people who have been here for YEARS seeing all of this first hand. Lexus and Hummers aside, corruption doesn't always come from the places you would think.

peace and love.

#19 sunflowerorphancentre has been a member since 23/1/2009. Posts: 3

Posted by KRStamm on 10/4/2009 at 00:56

Amanda, in response to your initial post... I would love to be involved! I will be in SE Asia this coming fall(oct to dec) and would truly enjoy thee opportunity to volunteer with you! I was starting a project to knit hats that I was going to distribute to women with new babies to help keep them warm. Send me a PM if we can collaborate while I am there.

ps. I am a former American Red Cross worker and I answered YES to 1 and 4

#20 KRStamm has been a member since 10/9/2007. Posts: 38

Posted by jrt7 on 8/5/2009 at 08:14

Also of interest for those who want to volunteer for/support good organisations without paying for the privilege is Chab Dai, www.chabdai.org. It's a grouping of non-profits focusing on trafficking and child sexual abuse. Several of their organizations are smaller and don't advertise internationally, but could use volunteers. Chab Dai can act as a coordinator for people wanting to volunteer with those groups. They typically look for volunteers for three weeks and up, but they're a good contact point even if you're around for less.

#21 jrt7 has been a member since 8/5/2009. Posts: 2

Posted by brucemoon on 8/5/2009 at 09:22


Similarly, Amnesty International are focussing on Laos this quarter.

They advise that an emerging problem is that poorer residents in and around Phnom Penh & Sihanoukville are being forcibly repatriated to a place called Andong in the far north-east.

Amnesty say that the police come and give these people an 'eviction' notice. The police then come back and 'offer' the families some US$1000 for their land to go 'peaceably'. If the families don't agree, the police apparently return some time later and tell them dismantle and leave!. Amnesty advise that thereafter the police then set fire to the homes. The police then forceably put the families onto trucks and take them to Andong. At Andong, they are given a tiny piece of land (with no ownership papers) and a plastic tarpaulin. There is no running water, no sanitation facilities, only dirt tracks. There is no work, so these families are now effectively refugees in their own country.

The 'purpose' of the 'repatriation' is that land developers want the land for themselves.

Amnesty has recently focussed on one group - known as Group 78 - who are collectively attempting to stop the eviction. Go see:


(there is another vid on the 'vid block' after the first ends.

also read...


I was going to sign off with my usual 'cheers', but in this instance, I'll just say..


#22 brucemoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by mattocmd on 8/5/2009 at 23:07


How the hell are ya???

I have been on Jeju Island, Korea since February, but I when i was traveling I always felt like you travelfishers were with me on my journeys! Any new adventures???? I have a few. Let me know how you are!!!

email me at mattocmd@gmail.com

Cheers mate!!!

#23 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 368

Posted by brucemoon on 9/5/2009 at 04:32

Hi, Matto

Came back from a month travelling overland between Chiang Mai & HaNoi (via Laos).

Made a blog too...


When you look at the vids, you'll identify with the comment we got "Scary what two old farts can get up to".


#24 brucemoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by brucemoon on 15/5/2009 at 04:33


Sorry, the address of the blog should be:



#25 brucemoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by brucemoon on 15/5/2009 at 04:47

Changing the topic of this thread back to volunteering and costs, I came across some comparisons on a website recently.

An organisation called 'Travel to Teach' [based in Thailand] seeks volunteers to assist school teachers in various [mainly SE Asian] countries to teach kids English.

Despite this worthwhile concept, the organisation still charges volunteers for the privilege to donate of their time and skills to 'teach'. I'm not sure whether the organisation is efficient about keeping its costs down, or whether volunteers are viewed as 'cash cows'.

In any event, they have a website that illustrates some of the costs being charged by organisations seeking volunteers to donate their time and skill: but still make a payment.

If you are interested in a comparison of costs, try looking here:


Aside from my concern over the potential lack of efficiency in cost management (this is perhaps the same in any volunteer organisation with a continued income base), what appealed to me about the website is that they do explain where the fees go, and in what proportions.


#26 brucemoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by mattocmd on 15/5/2009 at 07:17

I bet you could just contact/visit some random schools and ask the principal if you could volunteer for a few weeks or months. All of the schools teach English but few have native speakers. Any good principal would be happy to have a native speaker volunteer.

It seems it would be more of an adventure this way anyway.

The students would benefit the same but you would save at least $1000!

#27 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 368

Posted by somtam2000 on 15/5/2009 at 07:34 admin

Good discussion going here!

Just popping in as Travel 2 Teach have come up -- I've met Kerstin (the founder) of this undertaking and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend them as a place to go as a paying volunteer. I certainly wouldn't say the volunteers are seen as cash cows -- if they are, they're pretty lean cows compared to some of the larger "pay to volunteer" businesses.

#28 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 8,090

Posted by MADMAC on 18/6/2009 at 01:01

A friend of mine went to Malavi, she was a trained doctors assistant, and she found a local clinic being run by and NGO (medecines sans Frontiers) and she had one month vacation and vonlunteered there. She bought her own food, paid for her own bungalow... was zero overhead for the clinic, just a month of free, trained labor. She did it twice and fund it very rewarding. Her second trip she brought thousands of condoms to and AIDS literature to distribute, as well as some volunteered pharmeceuticals she was able to get out of a Swiss pharmeceutical company as a donation.

I like the idea of showing up somewhere and just asking who's in charge "do you need any help"? If the answer is yes, great. If the answer is no, have a fun vacation.

#29 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by finola55 on 11/9/2009 at 20:14

***CHECK THIS OUT *************

http://www.savechildreninasia.org/index.htm (this is a really informative website)

I am currently working as a volunteer at this orphanage, just 7km from Phnom Penh, teaching English. They REALLY need volunteers. Whatever your skills are bring them along! It has a great atmosphere and has really felt like a second home. It doesn't cost anything....meals and a bed are provided in exchange for your enthusiasm and help! Although donations and sponsorship are greatly received. Give what you can afford.

If you are interested it is best to telephone the orphanage on:


They can't afford the internet just yet so they don't manage to check their emails too often! If you have any questions don't hesitate to message me before you contact the orphanage. It might be easier since Mr Samith's (manager) English is quite basic.

I am coming to the end of my second week and now have an even better idea of the organisation...

Due to increased demand and enthusiasm SCAO now runs 5 English classes a day, with over 130 local people attending, free of charge. Only last week the classroom extension was completed to accommodate the rising numbers.

Their most recent project started just 1 month ago. A Sewing School with 4 machines is open 3 days a week. A sewing teacher is employed to teach locals and SCAO members how to produce clothing from scratch. It is proving to be very successful so far. In the long term this project hopes to both educate and create a sustainable form of revenue for SCAO and for local impoverished people.

Another project in the pipeline is a Motorbike Repair School. Three of the senior SCAO residents are currently working hard on their Internships to become fully qualified Motorbike Mechanics. Again, the plan is to extend this project, free of charge, to the local community, teaching people essential repair skills.

Further to this, SCAO is funding the education of 11 students. They are currently putting students through Public School, High School and University.

If anyone wants further information don't hesitate to ask me!

#30 finola55 has been a member since 11/9/2009. Posts: 6

Posted by Deadpoets on 12/9/2009 at 13:42

Hi Brucemoon,

Thanks for the info from Amnesty International. They are one of my favorite organizations, including Doctors Without Borders and Human Rights Watch.

Indeed, it is sad that residents in Boeung Kak Lake, Phnom Penh are forcibly evicted, threatened, or harassed from their land. Many, if not all, have legal claims to the land under the Land Law, but without prior meaningful consultation, they are forced or offered meaningless compensation for their land. I hope enough pressure will build up locally and from abroad to convinced the local governments to end this human rights violation.

#31 Deadpoets has been a member since 31/8/2009. Posts: 14

Posted by mattocmd on 12/9/2009 at 14:30

Any yet again I can reiterate my original point. As finola55 and madmac have described, it is totally pointless to pay to volunteer.

There are enough organizations and people who need help that the purpose of whiteys working to "place volunteers" and receiving a salary for doing so is unnecessary. Twenty minutes of online research is enough to find somewhere to volunteer. Otherwise you just pay for fancy offices and salaries many times those of the locals.

Trust me, I could go to Phnom Penh and find someone who speaks perfect English to place volunteers - for a very tiny fraction of the price.

I am sure many white folk are doing it for free in Cambodia but those who are getting large salaries, its a total waste and its a shame that the donors dont know how their donations are really spent.

Travel 2 teach - 550 euros for 4 weeks, what a joke.

#32 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 368

Posted by marigeri on 15/9/2009 at 03:46

I really agree with you,
i really don't think we should pay for volunteer, you should go somewhere they need you and not use your heart to raise money. it s a business in here, you should be aware of that.
children learn english anywhere in cambodia is it so helpful..? some can even not write in khmer, but they write in english,
it s a big joke but i am really not sure it s really what this country need; i think like you; you should spend your money helping people try to create some business: by travelling and spending money to discover this beautiful country;
but off course; if you pay for volunteer you will come with wonderful picture of smiling children; cambodian are the friendliest people ever; but do you only know what these fluently english smiling children will become when they will be old enough that nobody volunteer for them anymore:

#33 marigeri has been a member since 25/6/2006. Posts: 23

Posted by mattocmd on 15/9/2009 at 08:44

marigeri - you raised some interesting points. During a recent trip to Cambodia, I was amazed by the English ability that many of the children had. Here in Korea parents spend a fortune on private English schools and yet most of the children speak English very poorly.

A university professor once told me that for a country to be sucessfully financially there must be rule of law. Otherwise you never have the investors, both domestic and foreign, to create the jobs, generate tax revenue, etc. As you can see when in Cambodia there is no rule of law. It is lawless and a small amount of money can bribe anyone.

A good example of this was an article I saw in the English newspaper in Phnom Pehn. A guy broke into a girl's house and raped her. He was set free after paying something like $800. The article even indicated that the police took half for their services.

The current situation of military generals riding around in Land Rovers and the ability/expectation to bribe officials is what stunts the country/GDP from organically growing.

What is the solution? Do we stop throwing money at the problem and let many people starve? I wish I knew the answer, but as long as there is no rule of law, change can not come.

#34 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 368

Posted by wanderingcat on 15/9/2009 at 09:35

some can even not write in khmer, but they write in english,
it s a big joke but i am really not sure it s really what this country need

do you only know what these fluently english smiling children will become when they will be old enough that nobody volunteer for them anymore

well said :)

#35 wanderingcat has been a member since 21/10/2006. Posts: 730

Posted by marigeri on 16/9/2009 at 23:27

off course, we wonder what can we do to help;
corruption is a big joke in here;
i believe everyone is afraid to donate to big ngo; but in fact they have real hability in their area; they are use to deal with the kind of problem, like corruption, good staff;;;
here in siem reap; i see pregnant girl going to the children hospital when you see some dispensary around in the country side you just can be amaze they can be control for free in children hospital:
small corruption make it worth
i had a friend; he tried to help a village all by himself; he opened a school averthere and hire a teacher; when he came back he heard the teacher almost never go to teach in the school even if he have a salary:
and another one of my friend in another village gave books and note book en the village; the teacher sold back the book and everything to get the money:

but when i spoke to a genitor in la paix hotel( cheap price after 8pm)
his salary is more than the normal waitress anywhere and he comes from sala bai school; this place really changed his life: sala bai is helping people from the poorest background: so if you notice a poor familly and want to help try to get them to go to this school they must be less than 25 years old or something and it s free: and try to go and have lunch over there it s nothing but at least you help and eat;

there is some solutions to help;
and as you said before try to go aver there and inject some money in the system by staying in hostel and eating/// some organisations seems to be very efficient here in siem reap krousar thmey; children hospital the artisan of angkor...

If you want to volunteer try to take your time to find a good place; ask around if they really need you; try to see if you have skills to teach; ...

#36 marigeri has been a member since 25/6/2006. Posts: 23

Posted by DuncanStuart on 22/9/2009 at 10:20

I think some of the views above are rather extreme - or take too binary a view of things. I think some of the writers need to recognise that there are different business models at work - and some are along the lines of saying, "look, we Do need funds, and if we can provide value to to the volunteer (a great experience) in return for their skills and energy, then it's win, win." I have no beef with that.

I'm involved with a school in Siem Reap for which I've been the main, but by no means only sponsor. We have short-stay volunteers, and yes, we'll ask for a comfortable donation - it may be $US40. (After all, many of our visitors are backpackers and are not exactly wealthy.) Our business model happens to be to rely on benefactors and supporters overseas, rather than to mix the role of sponsor and volunteer. But there are pros and cons either way. And either way, no organisation wants volunteers who are there solely for the Madonna photo-op: "Look, there's me saving the world."

The real issue is to make sure that the students, or orphans or whomever is getting assisted through the organisation really are the focal point of the organisation's spending. Transparency is important.

But on reading this discussion board I'm a bit worried when people like MattoCMD or BruceMoon make big wide sweeping statements based on a few examples that they might have seen or heard about: (I don't doubt their veracity) but I'm a bit worried when this kind of argument is used to tar the whole sector.

The fact is, there are dozens and dozens of really excellent, committed, visionary organisations, big and small that are working honestly, and with too few resources to help the many children in need in Cambodia. Some of these happen to ask volunteers to pay up front, others happen to ask overseas supporters instead.

Be careful not to slag everyone in the course of demonstrating your cynicism and knowledge.

#37 DuncanStuart has been a member since 22/9/2009. Posts: 32

Posted by DuncanStuart on 22/9/2009 at 10:27

Sorry - I withdraw that. It wasn't Bruce who was making big wide sweeping statements. He was questionning these!

#38 DuncanStuart has been a member since 22/9/2009. Posts: 32

Posted by mattocmd on 22/9/2009 at 11:24

I definately wasn't bashing everyone, as God knows they need all the help they can get. Did you read all of my posts?

What I speak out against are the people who are cashing in on the desire to help out by others (both foreign and Khmer). Which, you're right I have seen personally. The foreigners who are there making huge salaries are only diverting much needed funds from what they were intended for.

Transparency is important.

Couldn't agree what that more! Perhaps if all of the organizations had the transparency that yours did, the whole system wouldn't be a mess!

Be careful not to slag everyone in the course of demonstrating your cynicism and knowledge.

On post #32 I stated how I felt that 550 euros for four weeks of volunteer work is ridiculous. I'm suprised that you don't agree with me considering that your organization is only asking for $40.

#39 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 368

Posted by DuncanStuart on 22/9/2009 at 11:33

Yes, I read all your posts very carefully, so my response was quite measured rather than reflexive.

All I'm saying is that for some organisations 550 Euros from their volunteers may simply be their business model, and that if they're providing good results for the children in their care, and good value experience to the volunteer, then don't knock it.

Okay, so it isn't good value to you. But don't knock them - and don't confuse the practice with other issues such as corruption, or misdirection of fuinds. That's a whole separate subject, and you won't find anyone who isn't disgusted by corruption. But with respect, I think your comments have had the effect of tarring a whole sector - to the point where I found this discussion via Phnom Penh Post in an article about travel blogs.

Other posters and myself are just asking you not to poison the whole well by mixing discussion of corruption etc, with the real topic of the first post: about whether or not paying to volunteer is a worthwhile practice.


#40 DuncanStuart has been a member since 22/9/2009. Posts: 32

Posted by somtam2000 on 22/9/2009 at 11:39 admin

I reckon a good start would be for all "volunteer organisations" that involve children to charge an upfront fee of US$500 to pay for the comprehensive background check that will be done on the volunteer before they get anywhere near the kids.

You pay up and can come back in a couple of week's time once the check has been done and you're given the all clear.

If an orphanage or other org is working with kids but not screening the volunteers, then it is extremely problematic in my opinion.

I realise that common reply to the above is along the lines of "well volunteers are never left alone with the kids" but I think that is a bit of a cop out.

#41 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 8,090

Posted by somtam2000 on 22/9/2009 at 11:42 admin

Sorry, but meant to say, I do agree with Duncan that there are good and, well, not so good organisations that charge to volunteer, and probably a mistake to hit them all with the same brush. But, as I said above, I believe they should all be charging for a uniform background check.

#42 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 8,090

Posted by DuncanStuart on 22/9/2009 at 11:54

There are plenty of things that care organisations need to do right - and many of these things are about the volunteer where, if there is an up-front fee, there is a implied contract.

1) Ensure screening takes place. This isn'[t just about screening paedophiles! This is also about ensuring individuals are emotionally ready, physically fit and really committed and prepared.
2) Ensure that volunteers get adequate preparation before they arrive. Education nights, literature etc. I know of an Australian organisation that does this very, very well.
3) Ensure that the volunteer is adequately supported while volunteering. Yes, there have been cases of 'set and forget' with inadequate support during the tenure.
4) Ensure each volunteer has assistance if they need it - a contact number in case things don't pan out, or they full sick etc. A heap of things can go wrong, even down to simple interpersonal problems. There needs to be a means of resolving these issues respectfully for all parties.

By contrast those organisations that don't charge up front, don't have such a 'contract' and there are downsides to that as well. We can't provide support for short term, volunteers, we don't have the infrastructure if a volunteer falls sick and needs flying to BKK for hospital treatment, etc etc.

As I say, in terms of providing value for the volunteer, both systems have their strong points and weak points, have quite different structures and require quite different business models.

No doubt you can have really good and really bad examples of either type.

#43 DuncanStuart has been a member since 22/9/2009. Posts: 32

Posted by mattocmd on 22/9/2009 at 12:56

Stuart you brought up a great point. I am curious how many of these pay-for-volunteer organizations do the necessary screening.

Having been through the background checks myself, so that I can work with children, I can say from experience that it can be done cheaply. It seems that with what many of these groups are charging, surely they can find it within their budget to perform them.

Wow, so I just searched google for volunteering in Cambodia. Loooong list of pay for volunteer organizations. Looks like big business to me! I am curious about who regulates these groups, if anyone? Sorry if I am so cynical and assume that many of these "non-profits" have people skimming off the top.

#44 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 368

Posted by DuncanStuart on 22/9/2009 at 14:18

Don't be too quick to judge! Perhaps you've seen a Humvee too many, or a Black lexus 4WD with NGO plates, or perhaps you've met a bona fide scam artist - so I don't know what evidence you're using to cast such wide aspersions - but in you're own words you're assuming not just "some" non profits, but "many" are skimming off the top. In so doing you're insulting a lot of good organisations and a heap of fine workers most of them, by the nature of the work they do, flying well below the radar of cynicism.

Can I suggest you look up the writing of Robert Axelrod who models human behaviour, game theory and things. Brilliant guy. He challenged fellow social theoreticians to a kind of conceptual "robot wars" whereby each came up with different strategies to "win" the game. Some of these strategies included programmed cycnicism, others consisted of systematic cheating, other strategies were somewhat lovey dovey. Anyhow, the winnings trategy was really simple. Axelrod called it "Tit for tat" and how it goes is: assume the other guy is honest, treat them fairly. If, and only if, they hurt you, then and only then do you hurt back.

He has modelled it over many years and the suggestion is that it is the optimum strategy for a successful society. More people win if we collectively adopt with tit for tat.

Why I raise it is; you seem to have adopted the anti-version. You assume (before the facts are in) that others are out to cheat, and you jump on them before they have time to move.

I can tell you, thousands of simulations later, it isn't a particularly successful strategy.

Now back to Cambodia. Assume that the volunteer organisations are actually in existence to help people. Treat them with due respect for the work they do. If a rotten apple emerges, by all means, jump on it. But don't throw out the whole barrel.

#45 DuncanStuart has been a member since 22/9/2009. Posts: 32

Posted by mattocmd on 22/9/2009 at 19:21

Don't be too quick to judge!

Who says I was quick to judge? I traveled extensively throughout Cambodia and base my opinion on conversations with local expats, guesthouse owners, etc. I posted this six months ago. Nothing was quick.

but in you're own words you're assuming not just "some" non profits, but "many" are skimming off the top

This one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Number 12 according to Forbes (link is on the bottom of the post).

Consider the following:
International aid donors including USAID under the Donor Coordination Group of Cambodia have warned of diversion of large chunks of the $500 million or more in international aid provided to this nation where two-thirds earn less than $2 a month.

In my opinion you are being very naive. Considering everything it is extremely naive to paint a rosy picture on the "volunteer industry" that now exists. Note: I didn't say "most" but many. And I stand behind that because many are putting the wrong interests first. The Forbes quote above states that large chunks of the $500 million of international aid is diverted away from those in need. Do you think only the Khmers are only stealing/misusing it? "Large chunks" of $500 million dollars being diverted qualifies the use of the word "many" with all due respect.

I don't now or ever bash the volunteers that are there and genuinely care about the people. But what I will speak my opnion on are the whiteys there who are making large salaries. Show me a whitey who is there making a couple of grand per month "organizing pay-for-volunteer" volunteers and I will show you an able Khmer who will gladly do the same job for a couple of hundred per month.

I think some of the writers need to recognise that there are different business models at work

Now thats ridiculous. This isn't (or shouldn't be) a business. If people want to help than they should simply be able to help. The organization should be structured with those in need at the center of everything. If the business model requires a couple of hundred Euros/dollars per week than the "business model" is severly flawed. Especially in a country where the locals I met made between $50 and $75 a month.

Again, I don't bash the legitimate volunteers. I actually hope to join you soon.

I think I have made my point so I will move on and do my best not to respond to this anymore. If you have any further questions or concerns please feel free to email me.

Forbes link

#46 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 368

Posted by KoalaDundee on 12/10/2009 at 19:23

Really irresponsible post considering that people thinking about volunteering may decide not to based on your advice. Get off your high horse and come back to earth, there are poor families and children that depend on volunteer dollars to put food in their rice bowl and teach the kids how to speak English so they have some marketable skills to offer an employer so they don't end up working on the streets selling their bodies to paedophiles. Unbelievable.

#47 KoalaDundee has been a member since 5/10/2009. Posts: 1

Posted by mattocmd on 12/10/2009 at 19:58

Actually it's the expensive pay-for-volunteer agencies that deter people from coming to Cambodia to volunteer....

If anyone is looking to volunteer in Cambodia and not pay please contact me via this thread. I started to compile a list of organizations in need of volunteers that don't charge you to work for them.


#48 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 368

Posted by sammstones on 6/11/2009 at 15:10

I personally prefer not to pay for volunteering, I have a very limited budget and cannot afford to pay 1000 of $$$$$ to feel i am doing a good service. I understand that to have uncommitted workers just flying through to be able to say i was "a volunteer" is not what u are looking for. There are people out there like myself that have plenty of skills, time on their hands and no agenda other than to share and make one child or more feel special, loved and able to live life with new eyes.I think like the children the volunteers also receive something very special .... something worth doing without the equation of money ......... talk about money generally changes the concept.. . . . fund raising is another department really, and some people are really good at this and possible they cannot teach painting ....

I am an Artist with many skills, a lot of fun .... a little crazy but in a good way and I would love to share my time helping creatively in a project in Siem Riep .....

check out ibiza sammstones on facebook ... leave a message, not a lot there but a little insight .... life is a work in progress and together we can all make a difference.


#49 sammstones has been a member since 6/11/2009. Posts: 4

Posted by DuncanStuart on 7/11/2009 at 04:18

Samm -there's tons of room for you in Siem Reap, inspiring children with your art, and encouraging them with their own self expression. Recent visitors from Australia to a school I'm involved with had massive success with ctreative exercises - photography, painting a mural, drawinng and painting - and it was fascinating to see how the students really took a shine to it. The local education is very heavy on formal teaching - and frankly, few state schools (or volunteer schools) have resources such as paper to draw on, paint, crayons etc - so visual arts just aren't integrated into any curriculum. So showing the students your talents, and then encouraging them to try theirs would be wonderful.

You know, I feel about the same with music. You're right, park the money question over to one side - if somebody could come in and play and teach guitar, it would enrich the lives of students. Cambodian education is not very strong on self-expression.

I recommend contacting Lori at the Ponheary Ly Foundation (they are a local organisation involved with several schools)or Savong at Savong School (www.savong.com) or the crew over at SOCPLSDO (http://www.socplsdo.org/ ). These are just three organisations - there are many more - but I can recommend them.

Samm - you'll love the experience, and the students will defnitely benefit.

#50 DuncanStuart has been a member since 22/9/2009. Posts: 32

Posted by mattocmd on 7/11/2009 at 21:31


You made some great points. Many of us have great skills to share but can't afford to pay hundreds (or thousands) of dollars to share them. Especially considering that the average monthly salary in Cambodia is under $100 a month (in most cases it's much less).

Many try to get in the way of people like you who try to help. They offer chances to help, but only if you pay large sums of money to support their fund raising efforts (and unreasonable salaries). Sadly too much of this money ends up in the wrong hands...

You are an inspiration and your heart is in the right place. Share your skills without being forced to pay!!!

#51 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 368

Posted by mattocmd on 7/11/2009 at 21:48

BTW Duncan, you seem to be well informed on this matter. I am thinking about coming over next year to do some volunteer work.

Would you mind sharing which groups you volunteer through? I am looking for some good ideas.

Do you pay to volunteer or do you work for an organization that doesn't require one to pay.


#52 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 368

Posted by nat888 on 16/11/2009 at 17:41

Its the volunteer 'agencies' that give paid placements a bad name. I booked a 3 week 'volunteer experience' that cost £700 and went to the NGO who said they get £90 of that money and that was to pay for everything - food, board everything. I thought this was unjustice and contacted the agency when I got back to be told its the administration fee. The NGO has since started started it own direct booking and its great. In Thailand though


#53 nat888 has been a member since 3/11/2009. Posts: 2

Posted by mattocmd on 16/11/2009 at 19:19

nat888 - Thanks for sharing your story.

Unfortunately this kind of scam is common practice in SE Asia. People are making a pretty penny profiting off of other's good intentions. It's despicable considering all of those in need in the area.

Would you share the name of the agency?

"Administration fee" is what they call it but I consider it theft.


#54 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 368

Posted by Puggles on 24/11/2009 at 10:18

After a recently returning from Vietnam and Cambodia, my husband and I have decided to return to Cambodia next year to volunteer.

While we were in Siem Reap we visited an orphanage/school and were taken by the children and the program they run, not only for those full time in their care but for the assistance programs they ran for local poor families.

We are currently communicating with the founders of the centre to arrange this. It is a paying volunteer prgroam. This does not concern me although the issues raised about corruption does.

In the interim, I would love to be able to contact the member who posted above known as DuncanStuart. Does anyone know how I do this??

On a side note, the use of the term 'whitey' by one member is offensive to me.

#55 Puggles has been a member since 31/8/2009. Location: Australia. Posts: 59

Posted by DuncanStuart on 24/11/2009 at 10:24

Duncan - duncan@kudos-dynamics.com (I work in NZ)

#56 DuncanStuart has been a member since 22/9/2009. Posts: 32

Posted by Puggles on 24/11/2009 at 10:30

Thanks. :) I will email you if this is ok.

#57 Puggles has been a member since 31/8/2009. Location: Australia. Posts: 59

Posted by DuncanStuart on 24/11/2009 at 10:31

No probs.

#58 DuncanStuart has been a member since 22/9/2009. Posts: 32

Posted by blackpepper14 on 1/12/2009 at 08:51

Wow...interesting thread. I am currently the educational advisor for a foundation in Bali. I live out of country, though will soon reloctae to live there. We are funded through donation. Any "overseas" volunteers, such as myself, are 100% volunteer. I find this discussion relevant regardless of the country being discussed, though obviously, there are specifics of every country, region, and particular organization.

On one hand I have found my expereince "simple". A group of like-minded people, both foreign and local, trying their best to help children and families caught in a poverty cycle.

I do think it is unfair to lump all groups together, regardless if they have "paying" volunteers or non-paying volunteers. For the record, we don't have paying volunteers. We are trying to navigate the volunteer question. We have decided to accept trained/experienced ESL/EFL teachers as our focus (though not only area) is education and specifically English education. Our goal is to train the local teachers and volunteers who will be better equiped on a long-term basis to help the children and families. We look for volunteers who can train as opposed to step in and do all the teaching, for example. The thoughts of posters about teaching a "skill" be it English or art or anything else, is a good idea IMHO. I would further this to emphasize the teaching of this skill to local teachers or volunteers who can carry-on, once the volunteer has left.

We also don't have "labour" type positions. Anything that requires physical labour is best done by local people not only because of their ability but because they can be paid to work - much needed. We get many inquiries from people who have a good heart and desire, but no specific skill set. We encourage them to visit our Center - as a visitor. We are working on a model where a visitor could give a talk or help with a lesson or be available for a Q & A session for older kids. It's all good. We want people to be invloved, but not at the disruption of the children, or organization. We don't parade our kids out for visitors, and try to deal with visits best we can. But it is SO true that unskilled volunteers who need training and hand-holding can be a serious drain on human resources. Current staff at our organization are severely "maxed out" all the time and it's a definite issue and valid point.

I previously said that it is "simple" on one hand but at the same time it is endlessly complicated. That's why I really think that someone would need to look specifically at each organization, before broadly suggesting all or most or many are the same. Therefore, obviously transparency is a requirement.

Sorry for the long post but a topic and concern close to my heart...

#59 blackpepper14 has been a member since 23/11/2009. Posts: 23

Posted by DuncanStuart on 2/12/2009 at 02:30

Blackpepper - yes its a complex issue. The school I'm involved with accepts volunteers on an unpaid basis, but I can see the advantage of arranging paid volunteers - and that's to secure a strong sense of commitment, a sense of contract even, over a sustained period rather than over a few days.

If there's no advance payment, then there's no explicit contract and the school has no specified relationship with the volunteers. It cannot priovide accommodation or meals, and these must be left to the devices of the volunteer. That may suit some but not others. Then, without a contract, the experience becomes something of a a collision of good intentions perhaps - and some volunteers come better prepared than others. So I can see some advantage in creating a firmer, more specific relationship - and this could easily suit longer-stay volunteers who would like to know where they're going to stay, how emals will be arranged etc.

Clearly one or two posters here believe that pre-pay equates to rip-off, and quite possibly more than a few organisations don't deliver either transparency (where does the money go - does it even get to the school?) or value. (A contract is a two-way thing after all.) But the issue is really about making sure paying volunteers are treated with due respect: communicating with them where the money goes, showing what they get in return.

I wholeheartedly agree about your comments about having a focus ultimately on the students, and to ensure that they're not just a photo-op for tourists. Again, this is where longer-stay volunteers are a real advantage. They can settle in to a teaching programme - less ad hoc - and meanwhile can share their knowledge, skills and techniques with local staff.

#60 DuncanStuart has been a member since 22/9/2009. Posts: 32

Posted by blackpepper14 on 2/12/2009 at 07:29

DuncanStuart: I think we seem like-minded on many issues. A lot of focus is on how money is spent and transparency, which is necessary.

At the same time, if a discussion was had as to where funds come from, it may be of value. We are funded by donation. Also, we have started a fee-based kindergarten at our Center which helps pay the overheads of the actual center. We wanted to be self-sufficient to a degree in case funds "dried up". This has been a double-edged sword for us. Some people may view it as a "business" without taking the time or effort to see how and why it is run. Many donors don't understand or want to understand that there are many valid, yet hidden expenses that make an oganization run. Electricity (utilities), internet, gas for vehicles, and salaries to name a few. There Have been many comments made about SUVs and inflated salaries for staff. Gosh, we are far from this! We have a highly dedicated team of staff (amazing people) who are UNDERPAID in the sense of what their skills could be bringing in on the open/private market. Overstaffed? Yikes to this, too. Our staff work LONG hours and do so many things. Obviously we could use more paid staff. So basically, we are at the mercy, so to speak, of donations, which is true, I suspect of many organizations. Key would be budgeting and not over-extending on projects.

The above was to bring my point around to what a donation is? If someone decided to donate 100$ for a "general purpose" use, would that be any different than a person "donating" 100$ as they have the experience of being within the organization? One could argue that it isn't a donation if it is required, I guess. But if one considers like you suggested (DuncanSturat) it is a contract, then it implies both sides are benefiting in an agreed upon manner.

One last point about staff and salaries. We have a dedicated team. They have good hearts and minds and are genuine people. Should they work for low wages? Should salaries be "competetive" to other workers (teachers) for example? Again, a double-edged sword because while with us, the staff are gaining top-notch skills in English, teaching, computer literacy, organizational and leadership skills etc...This makes them even MORE valuable in the private sector....Does an organization pay good salaries and be accused of spending too much on salaries? Train people to have them leave and have a revolving door of lower paid people but ones that wouldn't be as effective in the ultimate goal - helping the children? These questions are all part of the complexity, for me.

#61 blackpepper14 has been a member since 23/11/2009. Posts: 23

Posted by DuncanStuart on 2/12/2009 at 07:48

yes, an earlier poster sneered when i sued the term "business model" but all these things do need a business model. (And I don't mean rapacious profit driven model.) The biggest challenge is to provide a service that is sustainable rather than a hiss and a roar that dies out through lack of funding or continuous good governance. We've found that to mean a bit of inner conflict - discussion really - between wanting to grow the service, versus keeping it a manageable size.

On the salaries front, we pay the teachers a little higher than local salaries, and make sure we adjust for inflation when necessary. Nobody is going to get rich teaching at the school - but neither should anyone become poor through wishing to teach there. Always a fine balancing act. The truth is, every organisation needs more money - there's always more need than there are resources. I think it comes down, as ever, to showing everyone as much respect as possible, with whatever resources are available. Respect through deeds, through actions and through acknowledgement.

Your project sounds great. And you've obviously got that big-hearted Aussie quality - generous, practical, egalitarian - that has been of so much assistance with our little project in Cambodia.

#62 DuncanStuart has been a member since 22/9/2009. Posts: 32

Posted by Puggles on 2/12/2009 at 08:17

DuncanStuart said:
Nobody is going to get rich teaching at the school - but neither should anyone become poor through wishing to teach there.

No-one is going to get rich teaching in Australia either :)

Sorry, couldn't resist, just an 'in' joke on behalf of our poorly paid teachers.

Great discussion guys. I am learning a great deal and look forward to returning in 2010 to Cambdia to volunteer.

#63 Puggles has been a member since 31/8/2009. Location: Australia. Posts: 59

Posted by DuncanStuart on 2/12/2009 at 08:26

Nah nah! Funny. In NZ teachers always aspire to Australian teacher rates. My argument is that since they wish to peg their rates to somewhere offshore, then why not Cambodia. $US50 per month is common.

#64 DuncanStuart has been a member since 22/9/2009. Posts: 32

Posted by blackpepper14 on 2/12/2009 at 09:33

Big-hearted Canadian, transplanted to Japan and soon to be in Bali....though many(most)of our supporters are Aussies...

I TOTALLY can relate to issues of growth versus manageable quality. When in a situation where resources can't possibly equate to the need, the growth can get out of control. Slow, steady growth (when possible) while maintaining quality is really the way to go, but....

In relation to volunteers. One reason we chose to accept only qualified/experienced teaching volunteers is that we are still very much in the growth phase and the local teachers are not equipped to deal with or "direct" a non-skilled volunteer - regardless of the volunteers sincerity. They are still in "training" themselves. Once the local teachers gain more skill, perhaps we can invite a wider range of volunteer?

We HAVE had a small group of high school students come for a week as volunteers. They didn't fit our model, but from our point of view volunteerism is ALSO two-sided. There were a lot of negative comments on here about why people volunteer. Obviously there are many many reasons. Even if someone volunteered to say "look at me, I volunteered" does that necessarily take away from what they had to offer? AND, perhaps that attitude, if it existed, could be profoundly altered by the experience itself. I find that people who get involved often have a "life-changing" or a least a view-altering experience. So, regardless of the true reason for the student group to volunteer - be it good hearts, resume building, adventure or a combination, perhaps it altered their perception and life path in a good/meaningful way? I like to assume the good in people.

DuncanStuart - when you say you pay the teachers a bit higher than local salaries, do you mean higher than local public school teachers? What about health insurance and retirement benefits? Are you able to manage something for your teachers? Are you with a school? Community Center place? After-school service?

#65 blackpepper14 has been a member since 23/11/2009. Posts: 23

Posted by DuncanStuart on 2/12/2009 at 09:41

Local teachers get a range of salaries but the basic level is $50 a month. We pay $80 9all the teachers are local) because inflation keeps going. Still, you don't get rich in Cambodia on $80. There's no health insurance per se, but have undertaken to keep paying their salaries even if they fall sick - which is quite a high chance in that country. This also covers bereavement leave. We want an environment where the teachers feel secure, looked after, regularly paid, and not jumpy if personal situations (family, bereavement etc) cause them problems. Also, at least two teachers study at university now, and they have time off to do that. They get paid by auto payment into their bank acounts which we set up for them. Security is a big thing - so they can focus on their teaching rather than worry about the position being at risk due to the ups and downs of donations.

Canadian eh? I'm a Toronto kid myself, but born in NZ.

#66 DuncanStuart has been a member since 22/9/2009. Posts: 32

Posted by Puggles on 2/12/2009 at 10:12

I agree with the comments expressed by blackpepper14 regarding the reasons why people volunteer. I was going to comment on this issue earlier but didn't.

I own and run a canine rescue group (actually I am just winding it down after many years). As a non-profit group, I rely soley on volunteers to assist. The reason why people volunteer and assisted me over the years were many and varied but it all boiled down to one thing. It made them feel good. It gave them a sense of accomplishment. It made them feel they had made a difference to the life of a dog or dogs.

I want to volunteer in Cambodia along with my husband (coincidently, a Primary School Principal in Australia) because I believe I am in the position to help and it makes me feel good helping people. Is that wrong? Is that selfish?

I know I have skills, time and the good fortune to help others in this world, so why shouldn't I?

The only time volunteering for causes is not good is when the reason for volunteering begins to overtake the cause, and the focus shifts from those in need to the ego of those who help.

#67 Puggles has been a member since 31/8/2009. Location: Australia. Posts: 59

Posted by DuncanStuart on 2/12/2009 at 10:24

Wholeheartedly agree. Volunteers all seem to reflect on the paradox that that the more they put in, the more they get out of the experience. We see volunteers from many countries, young and old, and each at their own "moment" in life - but the common denominator is, they're there because they believe they have something to contribute and they want to assist. The students in particular make them feel welcome because - well its simple - because they ARE welcome. If the students felt their studies were in any way interrupted or upset by visiting volunteers then we'd have to seriously rethink everything. But as we had last weekend when a good group of young Singapore high scghoolers came to visit (and teach, and build and paint and play) when it came time to leave there were tears all round. And I don't think our little project is any different from dozens and dozens of others. When good people meet and make friendships and share what they've got - then that's pretty damned good.

#68 DuncanStuart has been a member since 22/9/2009. Posts: 32

Posted by blackpepper14 on 2/12/2009 at 10:42

Wow...I'm impressed by the salary you are able to provide - not for the number per se as I have no idea about cost of living etc, but for the fact that 80$ really is significantly higher than 50$ percentage-wise.

We started with university student/teachers. This meant that we paid the tuition and they "worked/trained" as teachers while the went to uni. Once graduated, we graduated them into salaried positions and so it goes. They are young, talented and enthusiastic. Yet, they are probably going to want to marry, raise a family, get a place etc...We really need to be able to help them or lose them, I'm afraid. They make a decent salary as young, single, recent graduates. They live or at least eat at our Center, so their expenses are low. They have no health insurance from us, but we help if they are sick or injured. Not the greatest system but the best we can do at the moment.

Not to completely lose the thread from the OP. I think this part of the discussion may help some people to understand the complexities of running a NPO.

For example, our Center helps economically disadvantaged children and families. Those within walking distance walk to our Center. We have a pick-up system to try to reach those who are too far to walk. We need vehicles, gas and staff to accomplish this. We fund this through donations.

we would like to be able to help more children - those even a bit further out (mountain/farming areas). So...I have been thinking about some sort of pay-to volunteer system. A volunteer team-teaching with a local teacher to go out to teach after-school community based lessons, for example. Back to money...how can this be afforded? Not the only way, but a fee-based volunteer system may be a solution? If transparent, not profit driven, and an upfront "contract"/agreement between the volunteer and the organization was in place....Do previous detractors still disagree, in principle?

#69 blackpepper14 has been a member since 23/11/2009. Posts: 23

Posted by DuncanStuart on 2/12/2009 at 10:53

The opinion of others does not matter too much - so long as you arrive at a sutainable, fair and beneficial mix. Clearly some people would rather not pay any up-front fees if they volunteer - that's their right. But some people DO prefer to pay up front - because it better meets their needs.

In your shoes I'd try testing the idea and see if it works.

#70 DuncanStuart has been a member since 22/9/2009. Posts: 32

Posted by blackpepper14 on 2/12/2009 at 11:04

True...with transparency, I think most projects can move forward. I also agree that some people would rather not participate in a fee-based volunteer activity - totally their right and choice.

Once I am there full-time, I will see about expanding our program....So many factors come into play.

#71 blackpepper14 has been a member since 23/11/2009. Posts: 23

Posted by rooron82 on 7/12/2009 at 18:57

Hi all,

I have read all of this thread, very interesting. We are a couple both 26 yrs old, been together 11 years who are looking to do some volunteer work in Asia. We have just returned from Europe where we spent a few months in Greece, Italy and France. As mattocmd says we have found it hard to find trusting companies, i would never pay 1000's $$$$ to volunteer, i would prefer to find some volunteer work with small fees to cover food and housing of course, that way any money i have spare i can give direct to the people that need it. Some of your posts do put me off a bit, yes i would feel good by volunteering and helping out, but isnt that the point. We have both recently been made redundent in the UK and rather than stay and waste our money in this country where not much work is available at the moment, we thought it would be a good time to go and help elsewhere. We are not looking for a holiday like 2 weeks helping out then going home feeling like we have changed the world, I am clever enough to realise my help wont do much to change the way of life there, but it will bring some happiness to a few individuals. Were looking to stay for a min of 2 months - 1 year, I've already checked visa applications and its quite straight forward to get a 1 year working visa, but i think you have to leave the border every 2 months and come back in not quite sure yet. We are not qualified teachers nor do we have a degree in anything of importance, but we feel we have a lot to offer, commitment being the most important. I dont think teaching English is the only thing you can do, i believe helping out in any way possible, manual labour, learning the children a skill we may take for granted in the UK or just arranging sport activities. We could also teach English if needed and would be willing to undertake local language lessons while there. We have done volunteer work here in the UK also, where we worked with difficult teenagers expelled from schools, we would teach them basic maths and english, take them on day trips and weekends and try to find out what they are interested in, we would bring kids in off the streets and try to get them involved in games and activities. We are planning to come out as early as Jan 2nd after the mad new year rush, we dont really want to backpack as we have just returned from a trip, we would prefer to have a placement. So if anyone of you knows or has any placements that you think we would be suitable and would like some more info on us or has any interesting sites, please email me at - chadderton1982@googlemail.com


Mark & Lisa

#72 rooron82 has been a member since 7/12/2009. Posts: 1

Posted by sammstones on 8/12/2009 at 13:52

Thank-you for the information Duncan Stuart .... I arrived a few days ago and once settled will follow your leads.....:)))) mattocmd, thanx for your comment ...it is good to get positive feed back...... will keep u all posted on what i'm up to ...yay!!!!!

"Actions speak louder than words...samm:)xx"

#73 sammstones has been a member since 6/11/2009. Posts: 4

Posted by blackpepper14 on 9/12/2009 at 20:21

Along the lines of what has been discussed in this thread...from a blog and more of a "warning" about some "volunteer companies"...


#74 blackpepper14 has been a member since 23/11/2009. Posts: 23

Posted by mattocmd on 9/12/2009 at 20:31


Thanks so much for sharing that!

Im going to sound cynical here, but lets face it, any organization in SE Asia that charge high sums of money so that others can "volunteer" is a group of scammers.

Trust me, most of what you will spend ends up in someone's pocket!


#75 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 368

Posted by blackpepper14 on 10/12/2009 at 06:46

Sorry mattomcd...It was totally not my point to post to suggest I am thinking as you have just posted. The article advises people to ask questions, check about transparency, and take care. Maybe some "younger" people (or us older) don't always have the background knowledge nor experience to know what they are getting into, but at the same time it is simply wrong/irresponsible to label all groups, organizations, and people who charge money for volunteering, as scammers.I'm not saying you haven't had a bad experience nor saying you haven't "seen" firsthand some instances....I'm not naive and I don't doubt there are some nasty companies out there. Again - ask questions, ask for transparency, and take care.

#76 blackpepper14 has been a member since 23/11/2009. Posts: 23

Posted by zebu on 15/12/2009 at 19:31

Hi everyone.
Seems like many people here are pretty familiar with southeast Asia, or at least Cambodia. I'm an undergrad from Singapore on my first trip to Cambodia(in Phnom Penh now).

I didn't make any plans to volunteer this time around because i was just thinking to have fun(and got seriously ripped off by my tuk tuk driver in the process). Didn't think i would end up wanting to volunteer or to be back but now i do and i have no idea where to start.

I have had a lot of volunteering experience in Singapore and am looking to get involved in a long term volunteer project for my next summer holidays(which is about 3 months from May to July). I don't have much cash to spare though. Wondering if anyone could point me in the right direction. Thanks :)

#77 zebu has been a member since 15/12/2009. Posts: 2

Posted by mattocmd on 15/12/2009 at 21:23


I am curious...how did your tuk tuk driver rip you off and how much did you lose???

#78 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 368

Posted by sammstones on 24/12/2009 at 10:02

Hello to all you guys out there .... I have some wonderful news to share I met a wonderful, inspiring young Canadian who is looking for creative volunteers ... NO PAY ... just your time , her name is Tammy (www.abc-rice.com) email her at abc_and_rice@yahoo.ca .... you are all welcome...

"be the change you hope to see in the world "


#79 sammstones has been a member since 6/11/2009. Posts: 4

Posted by zingiber on 3/1/2010 at 05:23

This discussion can be potentially amplified from the issue of money to that of morality. Transparency or corruption is a mere business act like all other industries have corruptions. The main issue is about mental health of the volunteer, as said above, the ego.

I have had a volunteering experience with significant payment, and I found that, almost every member associated has an unusual personality. They not only went there to offer help, but for their own mental health, the development of their ego.

The moral issue of volunteer is more severe, when there is a lack of paid job opportunities in developed countries under the credit crunch. When academic gap year students come across with paid volunteering chances, the original idea of volunteer is screwed. Losers in the our society go to find values of themselves in a much more vulnerable area of the world. How sad is that? Not even mention the corruption. The volunteers are vulnerable themselves. Internship students aren't get well-paid, so they turn to do volunteering project paying money to the organizing agency.


#80 zingiber has been a member since 3/1/2010. Posts: 5

Posted by zingiber on 3/1/2010 at 05:48

The moral issue reminds me of a motto, Servants in Heaven, Kings in Hell.
Heaven is the developed country, hell is the developing country. Those who volunteer is wanting to become the 'kings' in hell.

#81 zingiber has been a member since 3/1/2010. Posts: 5

Posted by EmjayReet on 30/1/2010 at 16:43

A fantastic organisation to support in Siem Reap is Pon Leary Foundation - it is associated with Seven Candles Guesthouse. They are always looking for people to help out short term... worth a look if you want to help out in a small way and have limited time!

#82 EmjayReet has been a member since 4/7/2006. Location: Australia. Posts: 156

Posted by EmjayReet on 30/1/2010 at 16:45

Sorry I meant to write Ponheary Ly Foundation! My bad! Brain dead today!

#83 EmjayReet has been a member since 4/7/2006. Location: Australia. Posts: 156

Posted by DuncanStuart on 2/2/2010 at 02:40

Emjay - for sure! The PLF is one of the many good organisations in Siem Reap. What I like about it is, it is run locally (with overseas support) and very efficiently - knocking over barriers that stand in the way between poor children and their ability to receive an education.

#84 DuncanStuart has been a member since 22/9/2009. Posts: 32

Posted by DuncanStuart on 2/2/2010 at 10:30

Dug this up on the web: http://www.goodtube.org/video.php?search=cambodia

A video documentary about PLF.

#85 DuncanStuart has been a member since 22/9/2009. Posts: 32

Posted by arrian on 6/2/2010 at 18:54

Hi my friend and I are currently volunteering for SAELAO Project in Vang Vieng , Laos. Its a great way to learn new skills, boost your confidence and really get involved in the local Laos community. No skills are needed. You just help wherever you can.

Below is an email we sent to Lonely Planet. If you need any more tips please let me know. Thanks, Arrian/ James. jamesdurkin66@yahoo.co.uk

If you'd like to contact the project organiser directly, his name is Sengkeo (Bob)
bobfrich@hotmail.com Mob. 0202 928 630

Dear Ms D,

I am writing to enquire as to the possibility of you and your associates within the Lonely Planet looking into a project in Vang Vieng Laos, concerned with sustaining the river, and jungle surrounding Vang Vieng. The project is aiming to build a community centre/school to both teach English and educate people about sustainable logging and farming techniques so that the area can be preserved for the future.

Sengkeo ( Bob) the director of the project was raised in Vang Vieng and lived in Canada for 12 years He has returned to the town to see a completely different place to the one he left He then spent some time working with the 'Organic Mulberry Farm' (see Lonley Planet for details) just to the north of the town and is still in frequent contact with Mr. Thi the owner of the farm. S.A.E LAO is based in Nathong a village 7km west of the town, 500m from the Blue Lagoon and Phoukham cave. The project is offering volunteering spaces where you can stay at the site in a communal style. You can eat traditional Laos food and learn tradditional building techniques and farming that are both sustainable and long lasting, you also have the opportunity to teach English to local children and the staff at the project in the evenings Monday through to Thursday.

Sengkeo also runs a guesthouse in Vang Vieng with his wife Kappet. It is away from the hustle and bustle of the town, yet 5mins walking distance from the centre. It is on the main road running through Vang Vieng, although rooms are set back in a tranquil garden setting. Rooms are immaculate with fresh linen and towels daily, with fans and en-suite bathrooms throughout. At 50,000 Kip/ night, we feel is one of the best value guesthouses in Vang Vieng. Money generated is used to support the S.A.E LAO project.

In recent weeks, whilst I have been involved on the project, progress has slowed due to a lack of volunteers and consequently funds, therefore the few of us left have come back into the town in order to find ways of raising more funds. We have teamed up with Z Bar and the owners Jac and Si have kindly let us organise fund-raising nights in return for management, advise and help from the volunteers. This relationship is one we hope to keep up as both sides are benefiting from the arrangement. We have managed to increase custom for the bar whilst raising money for the project.

#86 arrian has been a member since 6/2/2010. Posts: 5

Posted by choicecambodia on 8/2/2010 at 17:56

I am the Secretary of CHOICE Cambodia, we are a small group of mainly retired Expats all living in Cambodia, one of our Committee is Khmer. We do not recommend that you pay to Volunteer your services in Cambodia, in fact our organisation has been approached by one of these groups who offered to provide us with an endless stream of Volunteers (no money, they keep that) we declined. There are so many scams here funding them increases there numbers. Please do your homework, don't start something unless you are living full time in Cambodia, but by all means get involved. We can connect you with genuine Orphanages that we help, for Volunteer work and/or you can help us with our Village work. If you have not been to Cambodia we are happy to help you with anything you need to know for your visit. There are no fees, donations are always needed, our Committee and regular helpers donate regularily we pay the administration costs ourselves all donated monies are used for the most extremely disadvantaged and we are very transparent. Please feel free to contact us on our email, or join our facebook. Our Website is www.choice-cambodia.org

#87 choicecambodia has been a member since 8/2/2010. Posts: 2

Posted by reef829 on 9/2/2010 at 00:58

I'm a civil engineer and will be traveling in SEA for a few months. Does anyone know of any volunteer groups that focus on construction? Everything I've seen on the internet is expensive and based on the majority of these posts, I'd rather not pay large sums of money to donate my time. Thanks for any input.

#88 reef829 has been a member since 9/2/2010. Posts: 8

Posted by EmjayReet on 9/2/2010 at 06:56


Contact Lori Carlson at www.theplf.org - I have a feeling they are always looking for people to help out with construction type projects. She is really helpful and if she doesnt need your help I am sure she will point you in the right direction. Her charity focuses on schools so I think they are always looking for help in possibly constructing schools.


#89 EmjayReet has been a member since 4/7/2006. Location: Australia. Posts: 156

Posted by reef829 on 9/2/2010 at 09:12

Reet - Thanks. I've contacted Lori about any construction opportunities she may be aware of.

#90 reef829 has been a member since 9/2/2010. Posts: 8

Posted by christoph33 on 12/3/2010 at 13:45

Interesting thread... My thoughts:

I'm currently volunteering for MaD for Good in Siem Reap, through their vMaD Volunteering scheme (http://www.volunteer-cambodia.org/). I studied a masters degree in international development and have studied voluntourism in depth. I still chose to pay to volunteer, and through one of the most expensive volunteer schemes in Cambodia. This was for several reasons:

Firstly, I think its very arrogant on behalf of a volunteer that they think they will be contributing greatly to an NGO if you're only staying for a couple of weeks. As Somtam2000 said, looking after volunteers costs money to an NGO (transport, staffing etc) and its unfair to expect NGOs to accomodate you for free when they often actually have to divert resources and staff away from other projects to accomodate you. Fair enough if you're willing to stay for 6 months + and you have some skills to contribute to the NGO, but from my experience this only about 20% of the total number of people that volunteer from NGOs.

Secondly, I'm of the very strong opinion that NGOs should be doing what they can to decrease their reliance on grants/external funding, which have countless problems in terms of accountability and reliability. Developing a strong, decent paid volunteer program can be an exceedingly effective way to lessen the reliance on outside funding and at least become partially sufficient (whilst at the same time having the added bonus of getting extra pair of hands to contribute to your projects).

Finally, I think it's really great when you can pay to volunteer and actually see where you money is going. With vMaD I pay a set fee every week for all my food, drink, accomodation and transport and then paid a one of donation to the project I'm working on (a water pump refurbishment project in Bakong) as part of the total fee. It was really great when working on the project to see, first hand, all of the things that my donation was making possible. It's a much better feeling than just donating to an NGO IMO.

All in all I'm happy that I paid to volunteer here and I can definately vouch for MaD as a kosher, trustworthy and worthwhile NGO who are great to volunteer with. They are a little bit more expensive than the rest out there, but totally worth it: you get to stay in beautiful volunteer accomodation and get your meals cooked for you by the chef that works at their social enterprise restaurant (he is amazing!). The projects are great too: i particularly recommend doing the Rural Development one or the medical one if you have a medical professional.

However, I will say that if you are thinking of volunteering in Cambodia: DO YOUR RESEARCH BEFORE YOU LEAVE!! As other people have said in this thread, there are countless NGOs out there who just take money from volunteers and put it in their back pockets. The orphanages are the worst so be especially careful if you want to volunteer with one (I've seen this first hand. There's actually an NGO down the road from us who won't let MaD take their medical project to treat their kids because they want them looking scruffy so the volunteers they get feel extra sorry for them and givem them more money. Disgraceful...).

I would recommend checking out ConCERT's website (http://www.concertcambodia.org/siem_reap_org.aspx) if you are thinking of volunteering. They are really great: they act as a screening service for NGOs in Cambodia, only promoting NGOs who are 100% kosher and are doing a good job in making a positive difference of the lives of those less fortunate in Siem Reap. They regularly carry out inspections on the NGOs they support in order to ensure they meet the strict criteria that gaining their support entails.

Also, check out this website on how to make sure that you volunteering experience is as productive and worthwhile as possible:


Good luck to all if you're planning on volunteering. Just please do some research before you make your decision, you are perpetuating the problem of poverty here if you go with a corrupt NGO, and just a little bit of research online makes avoiding this very easy.

And if you have had a bad experience with an NGO, please post about it somewhere so other people can read about them and avoid them. Perhaps travelfish should set up a thread to warn people of this (although be careful of NGOs posting on there in order to slag off competitors, this is pretty common place here...)

#91 christoph33 has been a member since 17/11/2009. Posts: 5

Posted by DuncanStuart on 13/3/2010 at 04:03

Christoph33 - a really good posting thanks, and one that shows how the "up front fee" business model can work very well for a bona fide social services organisation.

The wider point that you raise is a very good one: that there is no real forum for discussing the various NGOs and services. In truth most services have their own websites, and focus on their own issues, while there is not a forum for bringing these organisations together to discuss shared challenges and solutions.

With the school and orphanage I help support we have taken some early steps to approach other similar organisations on the basis that one stick may break but a bundle of sticks is much stronger. But that's a one-at-a-time approach whereas a proper forum would be open to a lot more voices.

Certainly we've seen this particular thread act as a lightning rod for all kinds of views, needs and stories. You comments have kept the whole thingw ell grounded thanks.

#92 DuncanStuart has been a member since 22/9/2009. Posts: 32

Posted by christoph33 on 13/3/2010 at 09:07

I completely agree. One of the things that has really disappointed me about working in Cambodia is the complete lack of willingness on behalf of so many NGOs to work together. This is partly down the funding issues I raised in my last post: if one NGO is doing a good job they often don't want to share their 'winning' formula with others because it may mean that funding is diverted away from them to another NGO. Instead the result is countless NGOs bad mouthing each other and refusing to work together. Sad state of affairs really... I'm a strong believer that networking at national and international levels is the only way NGOs will be able to effectively address the root problems which they are trying to overcome. Just not really happening in Cambodia at this time...

Some positive steps have been taken to encourage networking though. ConCERT organises regular talks on topics where NGOs are invited to come and learn about successful development models and share their own ideas. But it's not nearly enough IMO. A forum like you mentioned could be a really great step: you could divide the forum into different sections (volunteering, rural development, chidlren's welfare, education, healthcare, income generation etc) and encourage both volunteers and NGOs to share experiences and best practices. The only problem would be that it would need some very careful, unbiased monitoring and moderating in order to make sure that a) you don't get NGOs unnecessarily badmouthing each other and b) that you don't get any corrupt NGOs using it as a platform through which to promote their activities.

I'd personally love to see a model like they have in the Phillippines working in Cambodia. They have a national network there called the Caucus of NGOs (CODE-NGO) where NGOs collectively decide areas of action, best practices and generally support each other to scale up and carry out good work. The approach has proven to be very effective and their unified voice has also proven to be much more effective at speaking out against corruption. Unfortunately I think that Cambodia is a long way away from doing something like this...

#93 christoph33 has been a member since 17/11/2009. Posts: 5

Posted by Evan1968 on 22/6/2010 at 23:08

How long are you planning on spending in Cambodia?? Are you staying in PP or Siem Reape? Do your research!! There is plenty of great free advice out there and you dont need to pay for it. Cambodia is amazing and very safe..but be smart, you would not walk in a back alley at home, so dont do it in Cambodia!
When people make suggestions like the post above, get a back-up reference to make sure they are legit. I will now 100% vouch for Choice Cambodia.
They are genuine and very nice guys!!
Good luck!

#94 Evan1968 has been a member since 22/6/2010. Posts: 2

Posted by Doniwarner on 29/6/2010 at 21:37

I worked with New Futures Orphanage in Takeo - they are under the umbrella of Camkids.org. The entire experience was amazing! They have 52 children and you can stay either at a volunteer center or a guest house about three blocks away. It cost me $7 (US) per day and included home cooked meals everyday. You are at your leisure as far as what you do for the children (teach English, play Volleyball, or just provide hugs) and they allow you to use the guest house as a base for travel in the area. I cannot praise them enough for what they are doing or for how easy it is to make arrangements with them - truly an amazing opportunity without a time requirement or a ton of cash to go to waste. You can put money into a rice account or sponsor a child but there is no pressure to do either - I also had the chance to teach English in a rural "jungle" school that has around 100 students and one unbelievable teacher. They have a website Newfuturesorganisation.com My only affiliation with them is that I stayed there (and plan to return)- do your homework and best of luck to anyone that chooses to do some good while traveling.

#95 Doniwarner has been a member since 12/2/2010. Posts: 19

Posted by raphicgn on 16/8/2010 at 01:48

I just wanna leave a comment here...

I was working (with no salary at all by the way) for one of the bigger organisations which prepare and support volunteers during their stay in Cambodia. And yes, you are paying for that.

First of all, slogans like "Do volunteer, don't pay" is no option at all, I think. If you really want to contribute something for the Cambodian or any developing society, you need preparation otherwise you would damage more than you help. In addition, volunteering needs to be coordinated, otherewise there wouldn't be a sustainability, which is important for the success of volunteer work.

Who is gonna pay for that? The children? The NGOs with no money?

Of course, 500 Dollars for volunteering seems quite much, but you'll get: accomodation (with food and Khmer hospitality), an orientation, basics in khmer language, a 24/7 coordinator who supports you, a donation for the orphanage to finance your work there and a contribution for office costs...
Volunteering is also a kind of education service for the volunteer himself, I even think he or she benefits the most.

I don't want to promote our volunteer program (that's why I don't mention the name here...) I just want to tell you, that a quality-based volunteer service, which contributes something to Cambodia and to you as a volunteer is expensive, and someone needs to pay it.

#96 raphicgn has been a member since 15/8/2010. Posts: 2

Posted by sammstones on 24/8/2010 at 22:36

I am a volunteer that has not paid but followed my heart and found the people and advise that i needed ..... In that process i created a book which is full of magic and called "SMiLE" NhoNhem :)))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))

Duncan Stuart and mattocmd
Thank you for the support and advise have a look :)))))))))))))))

#97 sammstones has been a member since 6/11/2009. Posts: 4

Posted by siddy on 16/10/2010 at 15:27

I think the problem is, its too hard to tell whats going on from back home on the internet. But the pay-to-volunteer programs always make you pay in advanced.

If i could organize to start volunteering for free, and then choose to stay and start paying i would definitely volunteer.

As it stands, im just going to keep my eyes open while im travelling if i can do something for free (or for the cost of basic accom + food) id definitely do it, and if it was good and i could see the community was benefiting i would happily stay and pay up to $100/day.

A page devoted to good volunteer places would be awesome.
So far ive found:
wwoof (international)

#98 siddy has been a member since 16/10/2010. Posts: 21

Posted by reef829 on 16/10/2010 at 21:22

Just returned from a trip to Cambodia and I ended up finding a good organization to volunteer with in Siem Reap for a reasonable price. Price was around $300/week and included your accommodation, breakfast, and pickup from the airport. I helped build a school, but there are other opportunities for those looking to teach or donate their medical skills. They are also in the process of creating a sustainable farm so there may be opportunities for those with agricultural knowledge. Check out http://www.voluntaryprojectsoverseas.org/cambodia/

I ended up just showing up in Siem Reap and asking around for volunteer opportunities. There are several organizations in town that can help pair you up with a volunteer outfit based on your skills and budget. If you're having doubts about pre-paying, I would just show up and ask around for volunteer opp's. You're bound to find something.

Good luck!

#99 reef829 has been a member since 9/2/2010. Posts: 8

Posted by Puggles on 20/10/2010 at 11:06

Wow, loads of replies since my last visit. :) I am soon off to Siem Reap and to experience volunteering first hand for a brief period.

After reading the comments on this thread I have decided to alter my original decision and volunteer for an organisation that doesn't charge volunteers. I am not against the charge, but I do think it is easier to possibly make the wrong choice if I went with an org that I had to pay to volunteer with (if that makes sense).

I hope to update this thread when I return in December. For interests sake, my husband and I, and two friends, have chosen to assist Savong's School and Orphanage.

#100 Puggles has been a member since 31/8/2009. Location: Australia. Posts: 59

Posted by Nola_Lee_Kelsey on 19/1/2011 at 07:58

Here is a good article on the subject: You Want Me to Pay to do What? Thoughts on paying thrid parties when volunteering.


In the end blanket statements against any aspect of voluntourism rarely apply. Every organization and every traveler is different. When others condemn all the good being done for a negative sound bite generate from bad programs it degrades the industry as a whole suffers. I’d prefer to have more people working to try and do the right thing, over more people in the insurance industry or on cruise ships anytime.

#101 Nola_Lee_Kelsey has been a member since 16/1/2011. Location: Thailand. Posts: 11

Posted by karensargent on 5/2/2015 at 04:04

After travelling in Asia for 18 months and finding really hard to find free volunteering opportunities we decided to set up a website featuring free volunteering opportunities (globalhelpswap.com). We thought we were doing the right thing.

As we learnt more about volunteering and heard horror stories, especially about children being exploited in Cambodia we took the hard decision to remove all orphanages from our site. There were two key reasons for this

1. We had no effective way to screen people who were visiting the orphanages and while at first we assumed that the orphanages would do this, we found that this doesn't always happen. Amanda I'm encouraged by your comments saying that you never leave the volunteers unsupervised with the children.

2. We discovered that many of the kids in the orphanages still had living parents - According to charity wearelumos.org there are 8000000 children in orgphanages around the world the world and 80% of them are not orphans! Amanda you mentioned that some of the children in your orphanage had parents were too poor to care for them. Our thinking is that instead of creating a situation where these children are separated from their parents, wouldn't it be more effective if we helped the parents instead. Charities like lumos are a great avenue.

I think that the huge majority of people who want to volunteer abroad do it with a positive intention. The danger is when people do it blindly without learning enough about it. I know we made a mistake when we set up our site and as we learnt more we made sure to only include opportunities that were not having a negative impact on the people or community involved.

#102 karensargent has been a member since 30/10/2014. Posts: 1

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