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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

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