So, jet lag is a real thing...
Updated: May 4, 2020
I am now into my second week in Cambodia. When me, Kate and Alice arrived in Phnom Penh we met a few of the VSO Cambodia team and Matt, a team leader from the previous group who is staying on to be team leader again. Before I write about my experience so far it might be good to actually write a little bit about what it is I am doing over here. I am here with the International Citizens Service (ICS) working with the Voluntary Service Overseas organisation (VSO). I fundraised over £800 to be here, this money did not go towards my fights or time here, it goes into a pot which is spread across all ICS projects to help them run safely and successfully year. The rest of the costs are covered by the Department for International Development. There are 4 UK team leaders and 4 Cambodian (Khmer) team leaders working in 4 different communities in two provinces. My province is Kampong Thom and my community is Prasat Sambour (I originally googled the wrong Prasat Sambour and thought I was going to be seeing the rare river dolphins in the Mekong River, I won't be but there is a world heritage temple where I will be so I can't complain). Me and my partner team leader Theavy (pronounced Tiawee) will be working with approx. 10 UK volunteers and 10 Khmer volunteers on a project called 'livelihoods'. The project aims at enabling the local youth to create sustainable volunteering, entrepreneurship and employment opportunities by developing the relevant skills needed and passing this knowledge on. We will be working in 3 local schools and creating local youth clubs in order to teach them about the Sustainable Development Goals and how they can improve their community and create a voice for themselves. One aspect which has already been started in a few local schools is raising awareness about the use of plastic, so I hope we can continue this as we will be going to 2 new schools this time round. We can use what the previous two groups have done to continue to spread the knowledge, we are now the third group (cycle) in Prasat Sambour.
Ok, so that's what I'll be doing in a nutshell, hopefully it makes sense, if not oh well, I know what I mean (I think...). We spent the first 5 days in Cambodia doing our 'In Country Orientation' (ICO), which is very similar to the training weekend I did in August in London, but from a local perspective. It was a very long week but super important because we have to deliver some of the ICO to ALL the volunteers when they arrive at the beginning of October. Because we arrived at midday, we showered and then went and explored a bit of Phnom Pehn - the Palace by the riverside and the central market before our first taste of Cambodian food. I had beef fried rice and it was very good, so I am not worried about being fed well while I am here. I can now admit this was the first time I have ever had jet lag. I didn't really believe it was big thing, because on all previous trips through different time zones I have generally arrived late afternoon/evening, or I have only been relaxing when I have arrived, I have never had a schedule or an early wake up so I've always caught up on my sleep and have never experienced jet lag. This time I was waking up 2 or 3 times a night for the first 6 days and was knackered the entire time. My body clock has finally got used to it now thank god.
I spent my first weekend in Cambodia with Theavy, Matt, Kakada and Santana and Makara, who are our Provincial Coordinator and Officer, visiting the two communities in Kampong Thom and seeing the host homes which is where we will all stay for the duration of the project. Santana will be in the office with me and Theavy in Prasat Sambour and will be our point of contact for everything, thank GOD. This was when the realty of the project really hit me, and I won't lie it was the biggest culture shock I have ever experienced. Yes I have volunteered before and yes I have been to The Philippines, but none of it fully prepared me for the reality of a rural Cambodian community until I actually saw it in real life. I knew this was going to be a challenge but now I think that it will be the hardest thing I will have ever done - not just because at this point I had only had 1 diet coke in a week which was probably making me more emotional than usual, and for those of you who know me well, will know how much of a struggle this small factor is, let alone all the other differences I will need to adapt to to make the most of this experience. I had only been away a week and I was already missing home more than I did the whole time I was away last year so at least I am prepared for how the UK volunteers will be feeling once they arrive!
Next we meet the Khmer and UK volunteers and do some more training with them before we are all ready to move to the community and meet our host families. There is a national holiday in Cambodia at the moment called Pchum Ben. The VSO office closes on Friday for a week and most people leave the city and go to be with their family to respect their ancestors. They visit their Pagoda (temple) and offer sticky rice balls to the spirits of their relatives - they even make small and large rice balls so that small and large mouths can eat them, and they do this before dawn so that even the bad spirits can eat before sunrise as they don't know whether all of their ancestors went to heaven or hell. This means us UK team leaders get a week off which we usually would not have. We are going to plan some travels to see some special parts of country before the real hard work begins!