A recap of the January Group’s first week in Cambodia:
The group arrived in Cambodia on Sunday, Jan. 7. Once everyone was settled in the hotel, which all volunteer’s stay at for orientation, they enjoyed a Welcome dinner with Sophak, our In-Country Coordinator.
The next day marked the official start of the program. Sophak went over health and safety concerns and taught the volunteers some basic Khmer words. The next few days of orientation included additional basic language lessons, after which the group explored the markets, visited the King’s palace and Phnom Wat temple in Phnom Penh, and other important cultural sites.
One highlight was the visit to a local university where they listened to a presentation about a Buddhist approach in compassion and civil society in Cambodia as this country continues to rebuild after the Khmer Rouge regime. Every one enjoyed the lecture by Cham Bunthet, head of Pannasastra University’s Institute of Leadership, and the unique insight it gave them. For more information about the impact of the Khmer Rouge and why GSC is working in Cambodia, click on the Why Cambodia link.
The next day the group went to one of the “Killing Fields”, which is always a sobering experience for volunteers. The “Killing Fields” are sites where the brutal Khmer Rouge regime brought prisoners to be tortured and killed. While this can be an intense experience, it’s important for volunteers to learn about because the history of the Khmer Rouge regime informs certain aspects of modern Cambodia.
After the Killing Fields, the volunteers returned to Phnom Penh where they were able to attend a leadership awards ceremony for Cambodian youth with one of GSC’s partners. The juxtaposition visiting the killing fields and the upbeat celebration made for a great cultural immersion experience. Rick Lathrop, GSC’s Executive Director, was among those presenting at this ceremony.
Read on for some of the volunteer’s first impressions and insights of their first week in Cambodia:
- From Marnie B. about the cultural tour aspect of orientation: “I appreciate being given the chance to see the important monuments and sites and think those visits served to provide a fair amount of background information for my work and understanding of the culture.”
- About the guest speakers: “The guest speaker on the topic of leadership was EXCELLENT and painted an astounding picture of the …[current] situation in Cambodia.”
- First impression takeaway/advice: “The words “be flexible”, which were mentioned in the [GSC] manual and at orientation, have come to mind many times.”
- Lila B. on guest speaker: “I thoroughly appreciated Professor Cham Bunthet’s lecture, as it contextualized a part of a culture I couldn’t have ever understood as a foreigner and gave me invaluable insight into the collective conscious of the Cambodian people. It was definitely one of the highlights of the orientation if not my time here in Cambodia so far.”
- Emilie B. on orientation and getting to know the other volunteers: “The days of orientation and training were a good general introduction and I loved being able to spend time with other volunteers and learn about their backgrounds and intended placements.”
Make sure and check back next week for a recap of week two!