Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bouakham talks about the difference his JWOC scholarship made

When I was at year 4 and5, I was lucky to get the scholarship from JWOC in order to continuing my education. I was very lucky and happy at that time. I am now graduating in August and I am going to find a job as a teacher in Luangprabang first. If I could not get a job here, I will return my hometown and work there. This is one of the problems I am thinking and deciding in order to get a good job.

As parts of my volunteer works at JWOC throughout two years, I could learn many new things as well. I could learn a lot about working, teaching and learning styles. It’s worth and valuable for me. I gained lots of new experiences from JWOC. Yes, I was lucky to have such a great opportunity to learn and develop myself. My learning-teaching improve as well as thinking because of JWOC. I compared everything in the old days and now. Everything changed. 

Furthermore, my English also improved while I was volunteering at JWOC. I could meet and make new friends as well. JWOC supported me with great assistances especially the financial aids. From that time, JWOC is there for me throughout two years. Of course, JWOC is not only help me with financial aids, but also trained, taught me many new things that I never study before. I will never forget these things. Everything I got from JWOC is very useful and valuable for me. 

Yes, I love my volunteer work very much even I had a tough time or work to do, but I never give up until the present time.  I led the students to play games and we did arts and crafts differently each week. I also taught them Basic English as well. Of course, students like it very much. They are very motivated about learning. They are also curious to learn new things. I also went to the Big Brother Mouse organisation to study and develop myself . It’s good place to practice English face to face with English native speakers. 

This weekend we are celebrating all of the JWOC scholarship students’ successes. I could have a great time and enjoy my last time meeting with everyone at JWOC. I am also sad to leave JWOC as well. I wish to express my true feeling to JWOC, sponsor and Lao Managing Director as well.

 I would like to express my thanks, gratitude to JWOC that offered me a great opportunity, assistance and suggestions to me. I am very impressed about that.

I also would like to extend my sincere thanks, gratitude, and appreciation to my sponsors, Todd and Shiela for financial aids, suggestions, encouragement, support and sharing ideas and experiences in the email with me.I am deeply indebted to Nicole, the Lao Managing Director, who is supported, trained, taught me a lot of new things and great suggestions. I wish to express my thanks, gratitude to her that always encourage, motivate, and advise me throughout the time.

I think I would not be successful and graduate my education without your help mentioned above. I also hope I could not find these people anywhere else besides JWOC. I am very very happy!!! I am the one who is Lucky! I will never forget your generosity. 

If you would like to change a life and sponsor a student, please take a look here to find out more. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

A rewarding experience...

Students from West Point recently came to volunteer at JWOC. In their blog posts they explain about what they did and what they learned...

I have done a lot of community service project before in the past, especially in foreign countries. However, I have never traveled to Asia. All of my projects have been in Central and South America. I was a little nervous before this trip because I just didn’t know what to expect. However, I had a blast running our self defense class and helping out in conversational English classes.

 It was an interesting challenge to overcome the language barrier during these activities. This was especially true during the conversational English classes we helped out with. I often found myself relying on my body language or simplified English to help them learn. This challenge was not only beneficial for the student learning English but it was a lot of fun for me to think of different ways to express what I wanted to say.

I also had an especially fun time during our self defense classes. I can say with confidence that the participants all learned something from the class. Some may have learned more than others but if nothing else everyone including myself had a great time. In addition to interacting with the kids who participated in our self defense class, I also had an amazing time playing with the kids between classes.

Through all of my experiences I have always found it amazing how happy all the kids are despite the poverty they live in. I am truly envious of these children’s ability to live a happy life without the worldly possessions that we often take for granted. I always felt so welcome and everyone I encountered, staff and students, were always energetic and polite. All in all this was a truly rewarding experience.

The challenges and rewards of volunteering in Cambodia

Students from West Point recently came to volunteer at JWOC. In their blog posts they explain about what they did and what they learned...

Before this summer, when I thought of vacations what came to mind was usually drinks on the beach or camping in the wilderness. However, this summer I had to opportunity to visit Cambodia for 3 weeks with a few of my classmates from West Point. During our vacation, we did the typical “touristy” things such as visiting the ancient temples and trying out our bargaining skills in the market. But what set this vacation apart from others that I have taken is that our group had the opportunity to work with the non-profit organization, Journeys Within Our Community (JWOC). While at JWOC, we were able to participate in many of the different areas of the organization.
                The first thing we did when we arrived at JWOC was to take a walk into one of the local villages right behind JWOC to see some of the people that JWOC supports. Visiting this village really put into perspective JWOC’s motto of “See a problem, Solve a problem.” I had never been exposed to how the poor live in third world countries, and JWOC’s mission to support these villages to give them opportunities that they usually do not get definitely goes a long way.

                Most of the work that we were involved with while at JWOC were the free classes offered. We spent most of our time with the conversation English class. Here we got to help the students practice speaking English with native English speakers, something they are unable to do very often. This was a lot of fun because all of the students are so eager to improve their English so they can do well in the universities or career fields. I had a blast getting to know the students that we worked with in that class. Sometimes I felt bad for the teacher because the students just wanted to talk with the foreigners instead of listening to the lesson. We also joined a children’s English class a few times, which was a little harder for me but still just as much fun. The kids don’t really care who we are, they just want someone to play with and love anyone who does. 

We also joined an art class, which involved much younger children than we had worked with previously. Most of them spoke very little English so trying to communicate a craft was a challenge but I think I had about as much fun as the kids making spider webs with them.

                We also had the task of teaching Self Defense classes for anyone who was interested. We had all taken self defense classes at West Point and knew it pretty well, but trying to explain it in a way that the class would understand and could be easily translatable proved to be the real challenge. I was definitely nervous heading into our first class, but it turned out great. The class even demonstrated every move in order at the end of the class, which showed us that they understood it all. There was never a moment in any of the classes where there was not laughter or smiling. That was rewarding in itself to see them all having a great time. And I have loved walking into JWOC since then and having one of the students run up to me to practice their moves some more.  
                We joined the Clean Water Project on a Saturday to follow them to some schools and see the wells that have been installed or maintained by JWOC. Being an environmental science major, I loved this part of the trip. We went to three rural schools and checked on the wells as well as interviewed a teacher and student on how the well works and hygiene. The best part about the Clean Water Project is that it is run by the students that JWOC has given university scholarships to, as a way to pay back to JWOC and the community.
                Overall, my experience working with Journeys Within Our Community has been amazing. It is hard to forget the children’s laughter as we play monkey in the middle, a child that won’t let go of my hand during arts and crafts, or the smiles that greet us every time we walk into a conversation English class. I have had an awesome time on my trip to Cambodia and I know it will stay with me when I go back to the United States.  
-Susan Kiernan

Justin looks back at his JWOC activities

Students from West Point recently came to volunteer at JWOC. In their blog posts they explain about what they did and what they learned...

From the moment I was told I would have the opportunity to go to Cambodia I was excited. The prospects of a new culture, new people, different food, and a different language had me thrilled. However it wasn’t until I got to Cambodia and started working with Journeys Within Our Community ( JWOC) that I realized just how rewarding this adventure would be.
            It was awesome participating in the normal tourist activities, but what I really looked forward to each day was my time working with the children and young adults in the Journeys Within Our Community. The conversational English classes were so much fun. I learned as much from the students in the class as they learned from me. I learned about the customs and traditions of the Cambodian people and at the same time was able to share my own customs and traditions with them. The students were capable of asking a seemingly endless amount of questions, and helping them with their English while answering their questions was more fun then you could imagine. We also painted a very colorful mural in order to teach the children the English alphabet. Painting the mural was fun in and of itself, but the crowd of children that surrounded us and were already putting the mural to use was awesome.
Though the classes were fun, the greatest reward came from teaching the self defense classes at a local high school and at JWOC. Though we prepared in advance, it was interesting speaking to the students through a translator and using more body language than spoken language to teach the lesson. Before the classes started I never could have imagined how excited the kids would be. They seemed genuinely excited, and tried to learn everything we could teach them and more. On top of this, it was amazing to see the looks of accomplishment on their faces. Most of the children had never learned anything about self defense, and the confidence that the classes gave them was the highlight of the trip.

The importance of murals and self defense....

Students from West Point recently came to volunteer at JWOC. In their blog posts they explain about what they did and what they learned...

I had a great time while at JWOC. It was an amazing experience to be able to come around the world and help kids that are less privileged than me. While we were here we got to interact with the kids and really make an impact on their lives whether it was when we were sitting in on an English class and helping students learn the language or when we were teaching self defense courses. Either way I always felt that what I was doing was important and seeing the kids faces after talking to me in English class, even if they could understand me or not, was worth a whole lifetimes worth of happiness.  I felt best during the self defense classes that we taught at the school. Seeing the kids start the beginning of the class with no self defense experience at all and through the whole class seeing the kids progress is an amazing feeling. I know that I have truly made a difference on some kids in the community whether this class helped the kids in the class or a kid that was impacted on a second hand basis I know that I have made an impact and may have saved a child’s life. 

                The kids in this area are amazing. They are always willing and ready to learn about anything you will talk to them about.  They are shy to begin with, but they warm up to you fast and now it is easy to go up to any kid at the school and start a conversation.  It is a great feeling to have the kids run up to you in the morning when you get to school and start playing with you and calling for you by name.  This is an experience I will never forget.  We left a lasting impression on the school by painting a mural on the wall of the school of the alphabet.  It was a fun project that we got to be creative with and it will definitely be useful in the future. However the best part is that the kids really got involved and loved watching us make the mural.  The kids would always come up and play with the paint and play with us as well as ask about the painting.  Like I said the experience was amazing because of the kids and the teachers around the school.  I could not have asked for a better team of people to work with and I will never forget the things I learned or the encounters I have had while I have been at JWOC.

Brian reflects on his time with JWOC in Cambodia

Students from West Point recently came to volunteer at JWOC. In this blog posts group leader Brian explain about what they did and what they learned...
Our group had the opportunity to visit Cambodia as part of a cultural immersion program with West Point’s Center for Conflict and Human Security Studies. Journeys Within organized our trip throughout Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand; however, the central activity in our travels was working with JWOC in Siem Reap. Our group consisted of five West Point cadets, and myself, who is a member of the faculty in West Point’s Social Science Department and Major in the United States Army.

                We spent many of our 11 days in Siem Reap working with the children and young adults in several of JWOC’s English language classes. Most of the classes consisted of our group simply having conversations with the various students enrolled in the school. The students were extremely happy to have native speakers to converse with and to learn about our various backgrounds and experiences. In fact, we probably learned as much about Cambodian culture and daily life from these classes as we did from any of the other cultural immersion activities that we were part of our travels. The students and instructors of the classes where all extremely gracious for allowing us to be part of their English classes and working with them was a tremendous amount of fun for our group.

                One of the most interesting parts of my experience with JWOC was the numerous interactions we had with their scholarship students. JWOC selects these students from numerous applicants while they are in high school or early years of the college. The program provides funding for college tuition and books for these students in exchange for their service teaching at the JWOC school, working with JWOC’s microfinance project, and JWOC’s clean water project. In addition to getting the necessary labor to help run these other programs, the scholarship students gain important work skills that will help them obtain future employment. Journeys Within Hotel and Tour Company and JWOC have hired several of these scholarship students to stay on as permanent staff and many of the NGOs who are operating in the area have also hired them for their English proficiency and skills learned while serving in the program.

                While job skills and education are ultimately the outcome that most scholarship students join the program to obtain, the local community gains something far more important than simply another educated worker or even the actual well or business loan that  JWOC provided. These scholarship students serve as invaluable role models for the young children enrolled in JWOC schools and living in the local communities that they reach. Many young people in the local villages know very few educated and successful people who began life under similar circumstances, and these scholarship students show them that life beyond subsistence farming is possible. Cambodian society has almost no interaction between the wealthy and the exceedingly poor citizens, and therefore most young people grow up without knowing many educated adults.  It seems that very few paths lead to social mobility in Cambodia, and JWOC’s scholarship program is one of those few avenues. The scholarship program is a critical component to ensuring that both JWOC continues to have a skilled labor pool and ensuring that average Cambodians can have a life beyond their village.  

                We had several opportunities to work with and talk to these scholarship students throughout our time in Siem Reap. These occasions occurred during both planned interactions with the students and as we worked with them throughout JWOC’s various social programs. These students were very eager to learn about other cultures and life beyond their world in Siem Reap. Most have never traveled beyond their province and none we met had ever left Cambodia. Often times, conversations would lead to how government, schools, businesses, and every day people interact within American society. Honest discussions about their own government rarely occur and mostly they are only exposed to the local version of the news that they received from state owned news outlets. The students seemed eager to hear our opinions of our own country’s successes and failures in subjects like foreign and social policy. More than what we were saying on any particular subject, they were intrigued by our frankness and willingness to disagree with US government’s decisions. Again, many of these college students rarely have the opportunity to have open discussions with educated people or people outside of their immediate communities. These casual discussions were the most fulfilling part of my travels in Cambodia.

                All said, JWOC is providing needed community services, leadership opportunities, and free educational services in a country where quality education generally comes only to those with enough money to attend the best private schools. Given time and enough students, those they serve will become the driver of social progress in Siem Reap province. The organization was gracious enough to allow our group of 5 students and myself to be a part of their daily work and for that we are very grateful. Thank you Nicola, Alex, and the multitude of scholarship students who we were able to work with over the past few weeks. 

Alex talks about his JWOC experience

Students from West Point recently came to volunteer at JWOC. In their blog posts they explain about what they did and what they learned...

I came to Cambodia having no prior experience in Asia, and didn't know what to
expect upon arrival.  The only thing I did know was that we were scheduled to
work with a small school, run by Journeys Within Our Community (JWOC).   Having
just concluded my time with their team, I could not have been more pleased.

The element that makes their endeavors successful is hope.  Cambodia may be one
of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, yet their future is full of promise.
On hand at JWOC, I could see the stages of youth development through
the examples of the students.

I participated in a small conversational English class for about a week with
some of the older students. Each had high aspirations- to be a doctor, a banker,
or a teacher.  And with JWOC's scholarship program for undergraduate studies,
these dreams were all distinct possibilities.  And each of the scholarship
students then in turn were working at the school, clean water project, or
financing project.  The positive leadership roles that they took gave them in
addition to their education, the vital experience that will allow them to lead
their communities in the future.

I also helped to create a mural of the English Alphabet for the younger students
on a wall just outside the classroom.  The children are an active and cheery
bunch, with backpacks over half as big as they are.  As we progressed with it,
we could watch their excitement brewing as the vibrant colors splashed upon the
wall. I watched them slowly sound their way through words we painted onto the
wall as examples, and knew that I had, in some small way, helped in their
education and of all the students to come.

Looking at the wall, it evidences the efforts of our group and many before us,
and the blank stretches show the ample room left for those left to come.  The
numerous wells built in the villages in addition to the one built within JWOC
also stand as a physical testament to the good will and efforts of supporters
and volunteers.

Having spent the hours between classes playing games in the yard, we were joined
by students of all ages, who were extremely inclusive. It is all smiles, and
with the help of the health education and support, they are healthy and teeming
with energy. They have a community of their own within this upcoming generation,
and it is clear that they are equipped with the help of organizations like
Journeys Within Our Community to dream a bigger future.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Vantha and the importance of scholarships

In this post Scholarship Programme Coordinator Vantha writes about the the difference he sees JWOC scholarships making. If you would like to know more about the Scholarship Programme please take a look here

As we all know human resources are very important tools to build up and be able to help people living in a community and society.
Currently in Cambodia there are many students graduate from high school every year. Some students continue their study at university with families support but some cannot and they have to find the job for earning money to support other siblings or stay at home to help family. Most of them really want to continue but the effect of family living in poor condition makes it so difficult to attend university even though they are smart students and have a commitment with studying. That is why a JWOC Scholarship is the best step to help them start to achieve their goals and also build capacity of human resources in Cambodia. 

Grade twelve students waiting outside of the classroom before final exam starts .
How does the scholarship programme change students ?

Pharin trains villagers in Antangkun Village about hand washing.
JWOC’s Scholarship Programme makes students change a lot. For example one of our current scholarship students, Pharin, has improved and changed a lot of her knowledge and abilities. We noticed during doing interview with her she was so nervous and quiet and shy but now she is so strong and confident. Right now she is studying in year four semester one and also volunteers in Clean Water project as a project officer. The impact of her working hard and studying hard is that she got a good grades from her academic studies and also she is able to successfully trains people in rural village to use clean water and improved their living with good hygiene. It is just the short story one of our scholarship student who gets benefit from JWOC Scholarship Programme.

Support the programme

Confident university students after their morning class
JWOC Scholarship Programme can only succeed its goal and help the other JWOC projects keep going with  supporters wanting to incorporate in our project and stay supporting us.
We are hoping this year the Scholarship Programme are going to get 27 new supporters for students who don’t have opportunity to continue their study and lead them to become the skilled human recourses for their country.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The difference a JWOC scholarship can make

In this post 2nd Year student Borey talks about his experience as a JWOC Scholarship Student and the difference his scholarship has made to his life. If you would like to help change a life this year please take a look at our FAQs page to find out more.

In 2007 I graduated the high school at Svay Rieng province and I came to Siem Reap to get a new job here. I hoped to study at the university because I didn't want to stop studying, but that time I had no money for study fee so I really needed  help. In 2010 I found Journeys Within Our Community (JWOC) and I applied to be a scholarship student the first time in my life. The amount of applicants was over than 300, so I had no hopefulness I can get a scholarship. But I got a scholarship! I promised myself I must study hard and do everything to return JWOC and my sponsor.

In the foundation year, I knew the university and working as a volunteer at JWOC in Clean Water Project. I need to get all grade C up in order to get the scholarship. Fortunately, for Semester 1 I got all grade A and semester 2 I got A four and a B+ in five subject. My sponsor were very happy for that result because they knew that what they gave me is not useless.

During nearly two year in the Clean Water project I receive so much knowledge and experiences. I know how to work with people, how to communicate, group working, and I can share my knowledge got from JWOC to other people in my community and to the other people who do not or not yet getting to know.

JWOC told me about how to use the internet as before I do not know what is internet and what is email. JWOC changed me so much, at first I was a person with lack of skill or even can say no skill that cannot do anything for community or society, but now I become a new person that have everything - knowledge and experience from the university and from JWOC. I am very very happy when I can see the smiling of my parents because they do not have enough money for me to study at university. I would like to say "Thanks" to my sponsor and JWOC also that chose me to get a scholarship and give me what I need the most in my life. I am so happy!!!

To hear more from our students take a look here and here

To learn more and to donate take a look here

What our scholarship students write about....

Every month our scholarship students write to their sponsors to update them on what they have been doing in their studying, jobs, family and volunteering. For the students' sponsors it is a lovely way for them to learn more about their student's life and country.
In this post we share some excerpts from their emails so you can also learn more about our Scholarship Programme and the students we support.

Bouakham- "In my English class, I always use games which I have learnt from JWOC in my teaching. Students love them very much because it helps them to relax and not stress when they are learning English. Therefore, it helps them to learn English well especially English vocabulary. Using my new skills I have opened a small English class and taught English for free for students."

Mengty-   "Last month after I finished my final exam at university, I went to my homeland with my friends to meet my family. I was feelings very happy when I met them, because I didn’t meet them many months ago. They asked me a lot about my living in Siem Reap and my studying at here also, especially my mother. She always told me that “you must study hard to get a bright future”, and motivated me to put effort to studying."

Bopha-"My most joyful time this month is working at Art Class. The children are great. They are likely coming to JWOC by themselves. That says that they really like Art Class activities and understand about its benefits. They dare express their ideas and their feeling to others. They learn to do things by themselves with less help. And the most important point I would like to share, they are more aware of their responsibilities on the environment. I am very appreciated of them. "

Savin- "JWOC have good workshop a lot. Yesterday I joined one-it is so good. I wish you good luck, good health, good happiness and get successful in your work. Sending love from Cambodia!"

Srey Ney - "This week I went to the old village for check the filter that we take to them a few months ago and asked them about the result before and after they used the filter. The answer from them is the good result because before they never understand about the important clean water and they always sick in their family because they never care about the hygiene and how they use the water. But after we went to the village and teach them about the hygiene and how to use and importance of the filter. Now they get the knowledge more than before about hygiene and activity they do every day. I’m so happy when I hear like this."

If you would like to sponsor a student you can donate online or by check, marking your donation ‘scholarship’. We ask you make a 4 year commitment to your student. If you are able to send sponsorship for the full four years that is wonderful, but don’t worry if not, you can donate for each year individually ( $500). Please make your donation before 31st August to make sure we can match you with a student for this coming academic year.

I look forward to welcoming you as a new sponsor and introducing you to your student in September! 

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Somath, our Librarian, is very busy. Here is his review of the children's activities taking place in the library at JWOC.

Since we have been running the Under Eight’s Program (English lessons for young children) more children come to the library every day. Even though they are able to read the books they also have chances to play and join all the activities in the library. We create different sessions for children to learn different skills. We welcome all kinds of people who are willing to read and play in our community library.

In the library there are many things to attract the children.  In the corner we set up the soft toys playing area which they can access easily. The children really like to play with the soft toys, they like cuddling and holding them. Soft toys are so popular with the young children and even some adults like to play with them.

During the paper folding time children gain more skills. Some children are really good at origami. For those who do not know how to make it they have to learn from each other especially, during the folding sessions they can build up their folding skills. I always make the skillful or older children teach the younger children. So in this session they can learn from each other, get to know each other and build  relationships in the library.


Children focusing on paper folding.

Over the last one and a half years our books have increased especially the bilingual books and Khmer books. Some of our books were donated by Room-To-Read and The Asia Foundation and other books donated by foreign visitors. So we think that it is a good time to encourage the students to borrow the books to read at home so that they can gain comprehensive reading skills. They are very excited to borrow the books and have plastic folders to protect the books from the rain or wrinkling. We have been lending the books since January. They always return the books on the due date. Now mostly they borrow Khmer written books and bilingual books but there are some students borrow English books. So we keep buying more books to meet their needs every month. We will also courage them to borrow more English books in order to make their English skills.

The children fill in the borrowing form to take the books out.

The building blocks are very popular. They like to build houses, bridges, robots etc. They like creating things. Besides the blocks we have more toys for them to play in each session every day. We also run writing competitions so the kids can learn how to write, trace, and color. We have had some books and toys donated by visitors which have really helped to improve the library.

This little boy really concentrated on tracing letters. 

These boys had great fun using their imaginations playing with the blocks.

Outside games or activities are so welcoming to the children waiting for class to start. It is good to do painting outside the library such as sponge painting, hand printing because it is easier to control the mess. The children get very excited when they paint as they don’t do this at school.  The children also play outside games like Octopus, Duck Duck Goose, Simon Says etc. Through the games and activities they can build their confidence for joining in their communities.

Children painting using sponges outside the library

I am very happy to see all the children have fun and come to the library. The library is a good place for all children and adults who want to learn and share ideas or knowledge with each other. I will continue to find books and activities to let them have fun. 

Monday, July 02, 2012

The sad side of voluntourism in Cambodia

JWOC believes in volunteering. At any one time we have over 70 local volunteers working with us to make our projects successful. However, as this article from Al Jazeera English explains there can be a sadder side to volunteering. If you are thinking about volunteering in Cambodia please do research the company you travel with and the organisation you are placed with. 

Cambodia's Orphanage Business

Susan Rosas is a young American social worker based in Cambodia. When I met her at the Harvard University Global Mental Health Program last year she told me about a surprising phenomenon: in spite of the fact that Cambodia had managed to overcome decades of conflict, famine and an AIDS epidemic, the number of orphanages around the country had doubled over the past decade. This, she said, was not based on the needs of the children but the growth of the global volunteering industry, which was hungry for placements.
Over 70% of the Cambodian "orphans" have at least one living parent, Susan said, but families were lured into giving up their children by the promise of Western education.
I started to research. "Voluntourism" has been described as the fastest growing sector of one of the fastest growing industries in the world. According to David Clemmons, founder of, an estimated 11 million people traveled to volunteer in 2011 alone, proving that voluntourism has become a "multi-billion dollar expression of travelers' desires to find meaning and to make the world a better place."
Five months later I met Susan again. I had come to Cambodia with a colleague to investigate a darker side of voluntourism for Al Jazeera's People & Power current affairs programme. One of the first people we met was an Australian called Demi Giakoumis who has volunteered in Cambodian orphanages with three of the largest global commercial volunteering companies and grown increasingly disillusioned with the experience. From her we heard that commercial organizations, such as the UK based Projects Abroad, were charging volunteers up to $3,000.00 dollars a month whilst her orphanage director told her he only received $9.00 per volunteer, per week. Demi also claimed that orphanages were keeping children in deliberate poverty to attract more donations.
At Lighthouse Orphanage, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, we first encountered 'orphanage tourism' in action. We met a group of young Canadian high school students who had spent a week in the orphanage painting beds and digging up the vegetable garden until they got sunstroke. On their last day we witnessed how busy Cambodian orphans can get entertaining foreign visitors: after a traditional dance performance for the Canadians, lunch was scheduled with a group from South Korea and a group from Hong Kong was rotated through later in the day.
Whilst specialized voluntourism operators based outside Cambodia may make large profits through arranging visits, it soon became clear that there is plenty of money for the local orphanages, too. One of the Canadian teachers told us that thousands of dollars had been sent to the orphanage prior to the students' arrival to buy building material and other goods. The students told us they had raised yet more money through bake-sales and fund-raisers. Frequently volunteers become so attached to the children that they continue to send money long after they have departed.
Unsurprisingly, accountability of Cambodian orphanages is a thorny issue. No qualifications are needed to set up care homes for children and during our stay we met orphanage directors who had been a bodyguard, an actress and a business woman. Worse still, out of an estimated 500 orphanages in Cambodia, only half are registered with the government.
It was when we met the investigative NGO SISHA that things began to look much more serious. SISHA had been contacted by volunteers who were concerned about the way the Children's Umbrella Centre Organization (CUCO) was run. The volunteers complained about the living and sleeping facilities for the children, including an open sewer right in the centre of the compound, the director's constant request for inflated donations and worst of all -- his offer to give up children for adoption. (Adoption is illegal in Cambodia). After sending in their own undercover investigator, SISHA alerted the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, which carried out two inspections and found that on both occasions the orphanage was failing to comply with their minimum standards.
So my colleague and I decided to go undercover. Equipped with hidden cameras we went to CUCO hoping that things had changed -- but found the conditions the same. On our arrival director Sineth Sok explained CUCO's financial difficulties and asked for a donation so we bought some food for the children. Without ever asking for any identification he put us in front of a class of children to teach. At times we were completely abandoned with more than twenty children and nobody to translate. We -- and the children -- were left to our own devices.
When we returned to follow up on the most serious allegation -- that some children had gone missing -- we found a new volunteer, a young Dutchman, at CUCO. To our surprise he told us he had been sent by Projects Abroad, the organization whose volunteers had first raised alarm bells about what was going on at the orphanage and whose complaints had triggered SISHA's and the government's inspections. Yet Projects Abroad was still sending people on placements at CUCO.
To test how serious the director Sineth was about looking after his children we asked him if we could take some of them out of the orphanage. We had brought a Cambodian social worker with us, but told Sineth she was a friend and interpreter. He lined the children up against a wall for us to pick our favorites -- and a few minutes later we were allowed to drive off with four of them. Never once had we been asked for identification, never once had our credentials been checked. It was deeply shocking, not least because Cambodia is one of the world's sex offender's hotspots and children are especially at risk.
Back in the UK we checked the most recent Projects Abroad company accounts and found them to have an annual turnover of $24 million for 2010 with $3 million profits. When we contacted them they pointed out that CUCO receives $50 per volunteer per month and that they believe it is better to have volunteers in orphanages than leaving them unmonitored. They also explained to us that the Dutch volunteer (who was in his twenties) had not been asked for a background check because this was only required for volunteers over thirty, whereas young volunteers could bring school or other references instead.
David Clemmons predicts that as voluntourism matures as an industry it will receive greater scrutiny. The hope is that as a result commercial volunteering companies will become more rigorous in implementing some basic standards such as conducting criminal background checks and sending young volunteers into orphanages where they are supervised by qualified staff.
But for many that is not enough. They question the very idea of traveling volunteers working with vulnerable children -- after all -- it is something few of us would accept in our own countries ...
"Cambodia's Orphan Business" was produced by Matt Haan and reported by Juliana Ruhfus for Al Jazeera English.

To learn more about responsible voluntourism you can take a look here- and here- . 


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