Travel Confessions: Volunteer Kelsey Forrest in Cambodia
Kelsey Forrest is a volunteer veteran. She’s been to Cambodia, South Africa and Zambia on different volunteer programs and she enjoyed it so much, she went back to Cambodia and has plans to visit Africa again too. A big fan of the Phnom Penh Childcare program, Student Flights customer Kelsey volunteers with i-to-i Volunteering, which she found great both within the program and to meet other volunteers. Kelsey tells us more about her gap year experience as a volunteer in Cambodia.
Why did you choose to volunteer instead of, say, working in a pub in London for a gap year experience? I have always had a strong interest and passion for humanitarian aid work and thought volunteering would be an amazing opportunity to experience firsthand how these poor communities live their day-to-day lives. All through high school I learnt about third-world countries and, to me, it just seemed like the right experience for me. Don't get me wrong - I would absolutely love to work in a backpackers' or pub, especially in Ireland, but I think I need to go an experience all these other amazing places and people around the world before that. How do you think these experiences have changed you for the better? It has just offered me firsthand experiences and that has made me feel stronger about wanting to make change. It would be an absolute dream come true to work for i-to-i. The team who helped me out there were absolutely fabulous. I’d love to work for their in-house team in Cambodia, taking volunteers on orientations and things like that. I’m about to start my TESOL course as well, which means I could acquire a job teaching overseas, which is a little bit exciting.
As a volunteering veteran yourself, how is booking through i-to-i easier than going solo? I have booked all of my trips through my friendly travel consultant, Frances, at Student Flights in Adelaide, so she has been amazing and so helpful. Booking the i-to-i program means everything is taken care of; accommodation is pleasant, airport pick-up is sorted, there’s group orientation, and the local people go well and truly out of their way to help you out. I found this program absolutely amazing, the way it was run and the processes we went through over there are extremely helpful, not to mention the in-home team whom were all fantastic to work with. I learnt heaps about the local customs on my volunteer orientation and we also had group dinners, which gave us opportunities to meet and socialise with all the other volunteers.
What type of work/activities did you do during volunteering? I was based in the childcare centre, which meant I was working with children from three to six years of age. We played a lot of games and sung a lot of songs, face-painted, and did drawing and colouring in. I would recommend anything art and crafty for activities, and the children absolutely love seeing their reflections in mirrors, cameras and photos! A favourite memory from your time volunteering? There are so many fond memories, but my favourite would have to be when I was in the childcare centre and one of my favourite kids, Daro, said to me that I was like his mum and he loves me - my heart melted! I know you’re not meant to have favourites, but if you met this little man you would understand.
Did you enjoy the local food? Was there ever a time you had to politely decline something you couldn't stomach? I absolutely loved the local food - so much flavour and colour. Most people on my volunteer group stayed away from the ‘local-local’ foods, which are the street market stalls. However I ate a lot of those foods and I must say, I’ve never tried anything more amazing in my life. I did, however, stay away from the 'special' meat as I just cannot eat animals that are house pets and I also shied away from eating tarantula (!) however I feel I should try the apparently delicious spider on my next trip.
What's the one item you brought with you from home you couldn't live without? I guess the obvious choice would be my phone so I could communicate with my friends and family. There is wi-fi absolutely everywhere in Cambodia – it’s crazy! What's the best advice you can offer to someone looking to do some volunteer work abroad? The only advice I could give is do it! Just remember you are on holidays, so make sure you go out and experience the culture in your spare time.