Elaine Marie Debono shares her volunteering experience in Reaching Cambodia

There is no definite reply about why I decided to embark in this volunteering journey, but almost a year ago, I felt that I wanted to do something more. I was skimming through the social media pages of various voluntary organizations and after seeing some lovely shots on Reaching Cambodia’s facebook page, I submitted my application for a two-week placement. I had to commit myself to the dates for this two week experience, which proved to be quite a challenge considering the number of tax deadlines during the year and other lecturing commitments. Consequently I had no other choice than opting for the Christmas period. This not only meant stepping outside my comfort zone but also spending the festive season away from my family.

The experience started off with various meetings led by two very humble yet very inspirational individuals, the founders Denise and Silvan. These meetings included sessions with a historian, a teacher, a doctor and a psychologist, who provided me with information about our work in Cambodia, and other useful tips about how to prepare ourselves both physically and emotionally. This included information giving details of the fund raising activities supporting the projects of Reaching Cambodia. Reaching Cambodia is a residential centre providing shelter to approximately 60 children living at the orphanage ranging in age from newly born to 24 years of age, to enable orphans and vulnerable children to grow up in a healthy environment and improve their education.

Reaching Cambodia

The first day of placement at Reaching Cambodia was Christmas Day. I was particularly excited to meet the children. Slightly emotional too as I did not know what to expect. Nonetheless it was a Christmas which I will never forget. After a couple of hours, it was evident that the children were at ease. All volunteers are required to wear the turquoise ‘Reaching Cambodia’ T-shirt. This uniform identifies all Maltese volunteers as family and as soon as we arrived the children called out to us… “Reaching, reaching!” Our experience started with a Christmas party for the children at the residential centre.

The following days involved several activities. The children were given lessons in Maths and Science but were also involved in a number of educational games. All the children attend free schooling provided by the local Government starting from the age of six whereas additional schooling is provided at the residential centre. Reaching Cambodia also sponsor the children’s uniforms, stationery, school books, bags and anything else which could be required.

Apart from helping at the Residential Centre, we were also required to assist in Reaching Cambodia’s XEMX project. This project’s aim is to help youths and families to learn the tailoring trade. Items are designed and produced by hand using materials from Cambodia. Our work involved giving basic English lessons to the students to enable them to communicate with their future potential international customers.

Reaching Cambodia

The background of some of the children seeking help is unfortunate. Nonetheless they seemed to be grateful and happy. Of course, my experience was a minor insight of the poverty in Cambodia, which helps you appreciate how fortunate we are.

The last day arrived too quickly. I brought with me a number of papers with the words “I love you Elaine”, handmade woollen bracelets and many memories which I knew I would keep in my heart forever. Most importantly I learnt a lot of lessons, about myself, about the world and about life.

Coming back to Malta was not easy, as I missed the children. However I felt reassured as within two weeks following our departure, another Reaching Cambodia Group was on its way. The kids would once again be getting the love and affection from their Maltese friends. My two weeks in Cambodia were only a part of a bigger, long term project. I was part of the tenth group for 2017 of the Reaching Cambodia placements. Eight other groups are planned for 2018, some of which are fully booked. Another initiative of Reaching Cambodia is the launch of a medical project in January 2018.

Over three months have passed since my return to Malta. My minor contribution was minimal compared to the wealth I received. The children of Cambodia taught me to appreciate the little things in life, and sometimes during stressful busy days, I just recall the resilience of these children.

For more information about Reaching Cambodia and how you could volunteer or donate, please visit http://reaching-cambodia.com

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