As my role is predominantly fundraising, my blogs normally revolve around introducing our fundraising Friday stars. Whilst I thoroughly enjoy trying to incorporate some kind of really bad joke or pun into my short introductions, it is refreshing to be given the opportunity to write about something a little bit different.
As some of you may already know, I was lucky enough to be asked to travel to Cambodia over October half term, in order to visit our camps and project sites and to gain a better understanding of our expeditions. Having been on expedition with Camps 9 years ago, I was eager to see how Camps have evolved in that time and extremely excited to be setting off on a new adventure.
Rather than spill the beans on what antics to expect during expedition, I thought I’d instead say a bit about what I learnt during the week, as well as saying a massive thank you to everyone who made it so enjoyable, I had the most amazing time! Here’s what my week away taught me!
Visiting a country as a volunteer is a completely different experience than visiting as a tourist.
As a tourist, you are essentially a source of income to the country you are visiting and opportunities to immerse yourself in a new culture will depend largely on how much spending money you have! In comparison, as a volunteer you are welcomed into a community, generating opportunities for cultural exchange. This in turn promotes greater understanding and appreciation for the country you are visiting and gives more meaning to the project work you are carrying out. Sleeping in longhouses and using bucket showers is a world away from staying in a hostel with warm water and a wifi connection!
You are always vulnerable to culture shock no matter how many times you experience a new culture.
As a westerner, travelling to a developing country and seeing the conditions people live in will most likely evoke a rollercoaster of emotions, leaving your mind racing. On the flipside, such experiences will inevitably have a lasting impact on the way you perceive and conduct your personal life, teaching you to better appreciate what you have. There is a huge difference in reading something in the news, or seeing it on TV and actually having a first hand sensory experience. Subtle changes such as turning the tap off when you clean your teeth will stay with you forever!
There is such a thing as responsible business.
During my short time in Cambodia I was able to gain a better understanding of how some of the company’s money is spent. Having ownership of camps means having complete control over how they are run; the main prerogative being that we employ locally and pay fairly. I was pleased to learn, for example, that a local member of staff at camp Beng Melea is currently on maternity leave and is still being paid during this time. What was also impressive was the obvious permanence of our projects; employing locals to maintain our camps and projects year round means that projects are sustainable and not simply tourist attractions. It may cost more to operate in this way but the benefits of doing so outweigh the additional costs; it was an absolute pleasure talking through long-term project goals with Hanh, one of the camp managers, whose passion and conviction was a true inspiration. It was clear to see that the work that is carried out is done with a view to promote long-term positive change, not simply to make money.
There are also political reasons behind Camps International operating as a business.
Despite having done a little background research on Cambodia before setting off, the reality of the Khmer Rouge rule was still extremely hard hitting; I found it particularly difficult to grasp how the nation continues to be effected by the repercussions thirty years later, namely through corruption and venality within the government. For me, this insight gave a whole new dimension to the reasoning behind why Camps International do not operate as a charity or a non-government organisation. I learnt how recently, Cambodia’s Senate passed a controversial law to regulate the country’s nonprofit sector, despite wide criticism from civil society and the international community, who viewed this as a deliberate effort by the government to oppress its critiques, particularly those calling in to question issues of human rights. As well as the practical reasons behind operating as a business, (providing flights and insurance, ATOL protection) there are also the political implications to consider; being a business allows Camps International to retain autonomy, which is particularly valuable in countries such as Cambodia, where corruption is rife.
And last but not least coconut milk is the most delicious thing ever!
Seriously, try the coconut milk, it’ll blow your mind!