Thursday, July 24, 2008

West Point Cadets Volunteer AIAD experience in Siem Reap - Neil

In the summer of 2008, I spent three weeks in Siem Reap with Journeys Within Our Community. Working as a member of an eight-person team, I volunteered with a number of JWOC projects, including the Clean Water Project, the Village Microfinance Fund, and the English Language schools provided by JWOC at Wat Thmei and Wat Chork. The Journeys Within Our Community program afforded me the opportunity to explore a foreign country, immerse in a culture far removed from my own, and meet an exciting and motivated group of people, while at the same time participating in a rewarding and productive volunteer project. During my time with JWOC, I participated in one of the most innovative and exciting projects I could have imagined, a complete immersion in the nearby Veal Village for a forty-eight hour period. Our group was split up into two groups of four, with my group assigned to Veal Village and the other group assigned to nearby Tropeangses Village. These villages exist on the extreme edge of sustainable poverty, they are truly struggling to survive and provide a better life for their children on a daily basis. Each group was synched with an interpreter, and provided with bottled water and a food resupply plan. Within the villages, each group was further split, with two to three person teams pairing up with a village family for two days. My family, a multi-generational family of five, was extremely accommodating and gave me new insight into the mindset of the local people.

While living in Veal Village, my group was tasked with conducting oral hygiene training, an extremely rewarding project as we distributed toothbrushes and toothpaste provided by another JWOC contributor, and taught the village children how to brush their teeth, hopefully instilling a beneficial life-long habit. In addition, with the help of our interpreters, we walked throughout the village, talking to dozens of families and almost one hundred school-age children. We conducted a survey designed to gauge interest in free English classes at the new JWOC Community Center, the classes being one of JWOC’s many exciting upcoming projects. The results of the survey allowed us to glimpse the importance of education for the village children, many want to attend classes, but currently cannot because of the costs associated with government schools and their responsibilities at home. By providing free classes nearby, Journeys Within Our Community will aid these children by helping them escape the cycle of poverty currently existing in Veal Village, and I felt like I really was helping JWOC help the kids succeed.

In addition to an interesting and rewarding volunteer experience, JWOC provided a great overall Cambodian experience. The staff and all of the personnel were extremely helpful, Jesse and Melissa were awesome to work with, providing direction and resources while still allowing the eight of us to work together to solve complex problems and work to improve the JWOC projects. The scholarship students, interpreters, and especially the monks at Wat Chork were all incredible, and working with all of them made the trip one of the best experiences I have had. I’m excited to see what is in store for JWOC in the future, with such a solid foundation I believe they will continue to be extremely successful in providing benefit to the local community and volunteers alike.

- Neil Mittel

July 2008

West Point Cadets Volunteer AIAD experience in Siem Reap - Sung-Yong David Kim

JWOC has provided me the opportunity to not only travel to Cambodia, but to help others in need. The experience has been both exciting and eye-opening. Everyday I would learn something new about the people or the culture of Cambodia. I came to Cambodia not knowing anything about the people or their history, but after the missions set out before me by JWOC, I was able to interact with the people and learn so much more than I expected.

Some of the missions I participated in was surveying young "recycle" children and to raise an interest in a free education program for these children. I spent the afternoons aiding local university students in teaching English at a local school. It was amazing to see how the students were always eager to learn more, even the university volunteers. To them English is a necessary tool for success as the need for English speaking Cambodians are never-ending. The best mission yet was to live and immerse myself amongst a squatter village. I spent 2 days with a host family, and spent the mornings and evenings surveying the village looking for ways to improve the living conditions and lifestyle of these people. It was definitely a challenge as I was not used to sleeping and living in such poor conditions. However, through that experience, I felt a stronger urge to help the people as most of them work from dawn till dusk yet they only make a total of 3-4 dollars a day. Their meals are very meager and the children play in sewage. One cannot help but feel sorry for the people. Yet, the people live their lives with such perseverance that they were inspiring.

However, JWOC also made arrangements for me to view the breathtaking temples and learn the history of Cambodia through very knowledgeable guides. The accommodations at the Bed and Breakfast was a little unexpected as it is very modern and in no ways uncomfortable. I was able to try the Khmer food and visit the local markets. My travel in Cambodia was at no point dull as there was always something to do and something new to experience.

West Point Cadets Volunteer AIAD experience in Siem Reap - Owen

I came to Cambodia through the summer academic trips program that West Point has. I knew that I wanted to do a service trip in a faraway foreign country. I would say that I was a little disappointed with the amount of work which we got to participate in, but some of the blame for that could be placed on my own lack of initiative.

One experience that I found very valuable was the 48 hours that we spent in a poor local village. It was interesting to be able to catch a greater glimpse of the life of the people in this village, who do not even have a right to the own land on which they build their homes. I was inspired by the level of dignity and grace that some of the families brought to what appeared to us a desperate situation. Getting to know those families has been my best experience in Cambodia.

I also enjoyed teaching at the language school. The dedication of the students to learn English and improve their lives was impressive, the grace and cheer with which they went about it was inspiring for me.

This is the fifth time that I have had a voluntourism type experience, and I love it every time. I think that the people of Cambodia are the most genuinely kind people of a country that I have ever met. JWOC really seems to be making an impact on the local community, but what is more important is that despite having found ways to help people on a large scale, they still have a touching personal feeling for individual hardships that individuals and families go through, and do their best to help people live joyful lives.

West Point Cadets Volunteer AIAD experience in Siem Reap - Andrew

I came to JWOC with very little understanding of Cambodia as a whole, what the situation was like in Siem Reap, or what to expect from the volunteer program here. After spending more than two weeks working with JWOC and its various programs, I will say that it is one of the most interesting and valuable experiences I’ve ever had. Coming from a military background, I didn’t quite understand how an NGO did business or how one could impact a community in need. Teaching English classes at Wat Chork, seeing micro finance in action, and embedding into the Weal squatter village for 48 hours broadened my horizons and afforded me a greater well of experiences on which to fall back.

Journeys Within Our Community is a very effective organization that is continually expanding its outreach into Siem Reap and other Southeast Asian countries. I was impressed with both the permanent staff and the corps of volunteer scholarship students that aid the programs. The amount of difference that a small donation to JWOC can make in Cambodia is astounding. Resources used effectively are allowing many Cambodians crammed into the edges of emerging tourist destination Siem Reap to break out of the cycle of poverty that gripes the majority of the populace here. I honestly feel that my time helping with JWOC’s programs has made a difference in many people’s lives and that JWOC as an organization will continue to do so in the future.

West Point Cadets Volunteer AIAD experience in Siem Reap - Jackie

Honestly, my trip to Cambodia would have never happened if it weren’t for Angelina Jolie. I have been her biggest fan for as long as I can remember and learned of her many trips to the country. I made my first trip to Cambodia a volunteer vacation through JWOC and absolutely loved every part of the trip. I couldn’t believe just how beautiful the people and the country were.

I would have to say the best part of my trip was having the opportunity to be fully immersed in the Cambodian lifestyle. For three days and two nights, I lived with a single mother and her two daughters in a poor village. Besides immediately becoming attached to the family, I also fell in love with the rest of the community. Every single person was welcoming and their actions during my stay were all so genuine. Starting from five in the morning, everybody was awake and smiling; children were running around ready to get on with their daily lives. It was such an interesting glimpse of how different their lives were compared to my own and I was completely shocked to see the degree of motivation and dignity within each family. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

The numerous activities JWOC arranged ranged from visiting the infamous Angkor Wat to teaching English classes. Although living with Cambodians who were just struggling to get by day-by-day was only a minor part of my travel, it had the biggest impact on me. This trip made me realize just how big of an impact little actions can make on people’s lives. Overall, my travel to Cambodia is definitely one of the few trips that I would like to experience again. I love it!


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