Siem Reap is no longer a place for just visiting. Over the past years, somehow it has transformed itself into a more popular destination for volunteering. Many charitable projects, both newly founded and well established, always leave a space for volunteers to fill in. If you are a long(-ish)-term volunteer, you will find yourself in one of these situations below.
A Begging Child
If you find yourself facing a boy begging in the street and asking you for money, what would you do? It’s quite natural that you would want to hand him some of your pocket money, hoping this would somehow make his day. It is a very generous gesture, but wait a minute! Before doing so, please consider the possible outcome of your action. Firstly, in a tourist city like Siem Reap, it is quite possible that this child is a part of a bigger gang group controlled by an adult who, at the end of the day, your money ends up with. Secondly, the question is what will this child spend your money on? Good if it is food, but what if it’s sniffing glue? This means you are a source to their continued addiction, which I’m sure you no way want this to happen. Lastly, in many aspects, allowing this child to earn in the street means encouraging him to keep begging, dropping out of school and, even worse, staying in the street permanently. It is true that some children desperately need help and we do not suggest that you should not help but it is importance to be careful in the action you are taking. It has been recommended that the best way to get these children out of the street through a specialized NGO programme or the likes rather than giving directly to them.
A Milk Beggar Mother
Another situation you might face while in Siem Reap, is of a mother begging for milk for her child in front of a mini mart. She is not too shy to go straight to you to ask you to buy her a gallon of milk. There have been a good number of gallons of milk given to this woman and finally end up back in the mart shelves. It’s simple. You give her for free, and she sells it for a price. It is true that we should (or even must) help in such a situation (if it is genuine), but seeing a person exploiting your generosity is unacceptable. On the other hand, if it has been advised that you should support an adult business by purchasing his/her books or souvenir items.
Buying Supplies for a Floating Village School
If you plan to spend your weekend at the lake, make sure to choose the recommended trip organizer. There have been accounts of people being ripped off with a fake floating charitable school. They would take you to a school showing you around how the education system works and how needy the school is. Eventually, they would ask you to buy schools materials available onsite to donate to the children. And guess what? The books cost way more than they should. Once you realize you get stuck in this situation, you should politely refuse to do as requested or just buy as little as you can (in case you wish not to disappoint your host) as it is your liability to donate these items.
An Orphanage Visit
Getting involved with an orphanage is such a great story to share with friends and families. But please be considerable of this. Orphan children are children in need of special care and only genuine and lasting one would benefit their life. The practice of “just visiting to see,” is enough to be called “appalling” as this would degrade the children dignity to an attraction subject or live sad but entertaining story. Thinkchildsafe.org gives a well illustrated example of how this degradation is done!
There are many ways you can get involved to help improve the life of these orphan children, but none of them is visiting to see and donating $10 or so for that.
Getting Involved with a Charitable Project
As a Westerner, you are labeled as wealthy regardless of your real fortune. It is quite possible that you will find yourself being dragged by charm, friendliness and good intention into committing yourself financially and physically in a cause. Your gesture is wonderful and your local partner’s purpose is exceptional. However, it is always smarter to ask about the future of the project if you really want to make a difference, small or big alike, through your commitment. What does the project want to achieve? Who does it benefit? How can it achieve that? Is it a kind of just-do-it project? Or is it a serious one with a clear mission, objectives, actions and plans?
Not all projects make a huge difference but by defining a project mission, you know the efforts and money you put into the project is not wasted. Sometimes, you might just need to channel your resources to someone who knows what they do better to ensure the impact.
Joining a Religious Ceremony
Once you have made a few Cambodian friends at your school, they might invite you to a wedding or other religious ceremony. During these events, it is common the rituals include prayers recited by monks, during which Cambodians are religiously required to pray with their palms together and with their feet bent beneath. Although you are not a Buddhist, it would be a wonderful gesture to follow your local friends. Make sure to pray and sit appropriately like everyone else. Sitting cross- legged in front of monks or older people is regarded as a rude gesture. If you would like to take pictures, try not to interrupt the prayer by walking across the crowd, but instead find yourself a place away from the praying direction. If you do not want to join this part of the ceremony, take a short walk outside and come back when the blessing is finished.
Although you might encounter the above situations, there are still a lot more on the positive side, awaiting your exploring. Your decision to come to Cambodia could be a life-changing journey.