As I began planning my travels, I knew I wanted to do three things: grow as a person, explore the unknown, and give back to the world. I knew I wanted to volunteer; I just didn’t know what or where. So how did I decide?
One day I was on Facebook endlessly scrolling; past the updates of distant friends and personality quizzes to see what kind of high heel shoe you’d be. I saw an article by Forbes.com titled, “23 Companies that will help you travel the world for free.” Enticed, I clicked the link:
“Are you willing to put in a little sweat equity on your next vacation in exchange for free meals and accommodations? The sharing economy has resulted in innovative resources for work-exchange programs. Workaway connects travelers with locals around the globe looking for volunteer help. You could find yourself working for people like Alex and Allie, who own an eco-lodge in the Northern Thai mountains near Chiang Mai where they rescue elephants and support human rights. Or Pamela, who has a house in Provence and wants assistance gardening and cooking. Or there's Rick and Lindy, a couple who needs workers for their cattle farm in New Zealand. Generally, volunteers work four or five hours a day, five days a week, then have the rest of the time to themselves. It's a great way to affordably see a new place and live like a local.”
Yes. Just Yes! After registering myself on workaway and skimming through the hundreds of thousands of volunteer opportunities in every country imaginable, I reached out to a few different hosts that intrigued me. Some would reply that they were full and not accepting further volunteers; others just didn’t reply at all. A few hours after I sent my email to Savannarith, he had replied that I have been accepted to spend some time teaching the kids of Lolei village English as a second language at Angkor Legacy Academy. Sweet!
Anxious and excited, I arrived in Lolei village on March 9, 2017. Savannarith was out front waiting to greet me for my arrival. Dirt roads, outdoor classrooms, and the sound of kids playing just like I remember from 10 o’clock recess back when I was eight years old.
I had a quick glimpse of the school yard before we headed to the house so I can drop my things off and relax a bit before throwing me out to the jungle. A quick two-minute walk behind the school, and we arrived. I met the five other volunteers and relaxed until our afternoon classes.
2:30pm and we hit our two-minute walk to school. Kids running around speaking in Khmer; more kids yelling “Teacher teacher” as they saw us turn the corner. Class started and the kids continued to talk. That’s when I knew this was not going to be a walk in the park. I quickly learned that the biggest challenge was not only what lesson to teach and hoping they’d understand, but trying to keep their attention longer than a millisecond!
15 days in Lolei have passed by and it is bittersweet to say that today was my last day with my kids. It definitely was not easy, but it sure was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever experienced.
Yesterday, I was in my 2:30pm class with my 11/12 year old girls who I’ve been with since day one and I told them that tomorrow is my last day. They were chit chatting away then as soon as I said “last day”, they looked at me with disbelief as if I was leaving forever (which technically, I guess, is true). Starting off as just another “teacher” that comes and goes and comes and goes, I was different. I spent time to learn each of their names, I taught them real world life lessons, I played games with them, I came to class early and surprised them with ice cream. It is sad to think that I may never see them again, but it is also humbling to know that I may have made a bigger impact in their lives, more than I ever will know.
This whole experience is something I will never forget. From the home cooked meals prepared by Savannarith’s wife, to the snotty booger hands that I chose to high-five 1,486 times a day.
If you are traveling for long periods of time (since most hosts request minimum of two weeks while some request two months), not only are Workaway volunteer opportunities a great way to enrich your travel experience; it also allows you to save money, do you part to give back, and learn more about yourself than you ever thought possible. You can discover more about workaway at https://www.workaway.info. If you’d like to volunteer at Angkor Legacy Academy, you’ll find them on Workaway by searching locations near Siem Reap, Cambodia. You can also find more information at ala-lolei.org. Enjoy!