How to become a volunteer in Cambodia


Volunteers are not paidThere are many people interested in becoming a volunteer. Frankly, there are also many misconceptions about volunteering. You can find online guides of how to become a volunteer. There also well established and big organizations offering such opportunity in a very systematic process like the United Nations or middle organizations. I will not build here an online guide, but I will share my experience of years in a country like Cambodia, so famous for its several humanitarian organizations and volunteers.

Volunteers are not tourists

The first thing you have to think is why you want to become a volunteer. I have seen volunteers coming to Cambodia just to become visitors to the country. Some get interested in join a humanitarian organization in an exotic country like Cambodia not because they want to serve humanity, but to know a new country. These people become very often a disturbance to the organizations that host them. The so call volunteer spends few times in what they intended to do, while going around the provinces as any other tourist visitor. You have the right to be an international traveler. But don’t use the role of volunteer for being one.

We are not in the world of Cinderella

Other persons have a very romantic idea of volunteering. There is a tendency in many to think that poor people are beautiful, cute and kind as they are described in Hollywood movies and Mexican love-stories. To this kind of persons I would recommend to watch a movie like City of Joy (Roland Joffé, 1992). The movie is, actually, a good documentary of what we mean when we talk about volunteering.

Poor people are not beautiful or kind or cute as in Cinderella (Walt Disney, 1950.) Maybe children and young people can get to be a little like that due to their innocence or smarterness, but in general poor people are rude, impolite, vulgar and ungrateful. In a country like Cambodia, a foreign volunteer can be seen as a walking wallet, as any tourists, even from those persons you think you are serving. If you want to become a volunteer, you must be aware that maybe they will not say to you ‘thank you.’

Please do not fall in the mistake to approve loans for individuals. That smiling young man you are teaching English or that girl with so cute smile, coming to ask money from you for their desperate situation. Know this : you are already helping them. Second : real needed people do not know how to ask. Those who create stories are not poor, but clever. When you become an object of loans and they see you as a bank, please notify the administration of the organization. They will know very well the case and take it under consideration. If you want to donate money or resources, let it always in the hands of the administration.

Please, do not make promise to the poor. If you say things like I will bring you to my country, you are a bad volunteer. Just like that. Poor people can get illusions very easy, especially young people and children. Do what you came to do. You are not a rich to promise things. They will expect that you will fulfill your enthusiastic promises.

Your skills

Look for your skill, your profession, your likes. Look for organizations that share your talents. It is definitely the best way to feel you are really useful. If you are a chef, there are plenty of organizations that will appreciate your support. If you are a sportsman, young communities will welcome you. If you like to teach languages, a school is your place. If you are a mechanic, look for a technical school.

Don’t promise too much

Nobody is expecting that you are Mother Theresa of Calcutta or Gandhi. You are what you are. Your time is precious for you. Offer what you can offer. You live in Cambodia and you have your own business or you are enjoying your pension. You can offer two hours per week. Say it as it is. Say ‘I can give to your organizations two hours per week’ and it is good. In two hours you can share a lot. Don’t promise what you cannot fulfill. You will get disappointed people rather than get good friends.

Study well the organization you are going to apply

Don’t fall inside a hole. Study very well the organizations you want to apply as a volunteer. Stop for a moment and don’t get the enthusiastic feelings to dominate you and choose the first thing that appears. Many organizations can be just a facade.

There are organizations that have principles, ideologies or tendencies that maybe will not fit your own ideas and styles. If you enter into such organizations, you will finish into crushes. Read the mission and vision of the organization you want to apply and what others say about them. Get your idea before you apply.


Look, when you apply to become a volunteer, is technically the same as you apply to get a job. Maybe you will not get a salary, but you will get benefits such as experience and a future recommendations from that organization. Please apply in the same way you are applying to get a job. Do not abuse of your conditions saying that they need you. A mediocre organization or a group without experience, probably will accept the first guy knocking their doors, but a serious organizations cannot be bullied with sophism like you need me.

Present your CV, references and letters of request with the same seriousness to apply for a job. Be aware that some organizations will request a police record, especially if they work with children.

Request an introduction or training

Don’t start just as if you knew everything. The same as you come to a new job, ask an introduction to the organization, its rules, people, etc.

Respect the experience and talents of the organization. Don’t think that a country like Cambodia is a jungle of savage. Very often you will find Cambodians with a lot experience, wisdom and creativity. You are not superior to Cambodians just because you are European, US citizens, Canadian, Australian or Japanese. Cambodians have also their knowledge. They have survived centuries and they are descendants of a great civilization. Respect it.

To the end…!!!

As I suggested before, you will not come into a Walt Disney World. It is the City of Joy…!!! You will face troubles too. Maybe you will be bore sometimes. Maybe the language barrier will be difficult. Maybe the cultural crush will despair… Be brave! Show you are a real volunteer. Be at the side of the poor.

A temptation is to look for other foreigners and create ghettos. It is not good. Stay with the Cambodians you came to serve to.

Do not disturb!

You come to serve, to support. Don’t expect benefits from the organization like salaries, pocket money, travel expenses, bonus, gifts… You are doing a service to the poor, a humanitarian service. That organization was born to serve the poor. You are not definitively in their budgets. You come to help them to fulfill their mission. Do not abuse of their kindness and resources. Produce as less expenses as possible.

Lightweight luggage

Don’t come to Cambodia with all your house! Practice simplicity. Cambodia, although poor, has as much markets as any other part of the world. Remember that we live in a globalize time. Any single comb you find in the mall of your town, you can find in Cambodia too… so don’t bring heavy luggage with things you can buy here.

Be aware of the climate

If you think you cannot work in a tropical land, because you come from the Siberian plains, choose a cool country to work and not Cambodia. Though remember that we are humans and we can get accustom too.

There are much advices about to be a volunteer, but I share it with the experience of years in Cambodia, seeing persons from the five continents working in my organization. Most of them very beautiful and talented people, old and young. I appreciate especially those who assume a very professional attitude toward my children and youth. They want to give their best, as they were doing a very serious work in their countries. Also those who give tenderness, respect and dignity to our people.

Don’t be afraid! Be a volunteer!! If you are 18 or 80 and you have a talent to share with the poor, we wait you. 


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About Albeiro Rodas

Albeiro Rodas (in Cambodia Sky Ly Samnang), is a MA in Digital Communication, independent journalist and a Salesian of Don Bosco from Amalfi, Colombia, based in Cambodia since 1999. He is the creator of the Don Bosco schools of journalism in Sihanoukville and Kep with young people from poor communities and the founder of the Don Bosco Kep Children Fund. Medal for Social Commitment UPB (2010); among the 100 more upstanding Colombians abroad (Marca Colombia, 2012, and among the 12 Colombians that are making this a better world 2013 (

8 responses to “How to become a volunteer in Cambodia”

  1. Maryna Duong says :

    Hi nice to meet you Albeiro! I’m 15 years old, cambodian but living in Germany. I am very interested in volunteering in cambodia. I finish school in about 4 years and turn 18 soon, so I wanted to ask you which places in Cambodia are good for volunteering.I enjoyed what you wrote, it helped me a lot. I hope you can answer me. Because I really would like to volunteer one day in my life. I’ve been to cambodia many times, always only spending time with my family and watching poor kids and people. I always felt so bad and always wanted to help them. Since I’m really interested in social work, helping people and teaching I think volunteering one day is the right thing 🙂

    Thank you!

    • Albeiro R. says :

      Dear Maryna, congratulations for your proposals coming from a young person like you. Read a lot, study very well and get interest in social services in your country now (although it seems strain, there are many Germans needing assistant too just near your town). There are many groups for young people where you can participate. Find information in your own school. Read a lot about Cambodia, your motherland. In Germany there are many programs for socials service at the end of the college or high school. Sure you can find information. You must start to think what is your vocation, to where you want to direct your life: education, social work, science, etc. It will give you the opportunity to help others. Greetings.

  2. pietro hublitz says :

    My experience as a volunteer in Cambodia has been one of the most rewarding of my entire professional career. Transforming young people, mostly poorly educated, into professionals can give such satisfactions that money can’t buy ! This country needs volunteers but to be a volunteer in this country requires a huge patience, tolerance, calm and self-control. I have been on the verge of strangling some of my students so many times, but, in the end, losing temper brings you nowhere.
    The best suggestion I can give to prospective volunteers is: set an example.
    Most of those kids don’t have good examples in their families, as parents gamble, get drunk or simply spend their days doing nothing. A volunteer should be an example of hard work and sobriety. A volunteer should set an example of good family life, should not use drugs, should not gamble and should not be seen around town drunk or stoned. The Cambodians do observe us, and they do it even if you don’t notice it.
    Another aspect of volunteering here should be the absolute respect for the local traditions and customs. If there is ( and there is for sure) something you don’t approve in their habits, let it be, in the end this is not our country. But when you do see somebody of the kids doing bad things like littering or worst, you should intervene, but not critically. Maybe nobody taught them not to litter. You should explain THE REASONS why we all should not be littering, telling the youth that nature is an asset, and if this asset is exploited or not respected, this very asset will lose value.
    Volunteering in Cambodia is surely a great thing to do if you really want to know the country deeply. After my volunteering experience I can understand this place much better.
    Yes, there is somebody amongst the locals who can see you as a walking ATM or consider you as a stupid time waster, but, believe me, that is just the minority of the locals. Most of the people whom you help are really grateful and appreciate what you are doing for them.
    Some of them will even say that since you are working for free it means that you are worth nothing in your profession. Show them ta few tricks of the trade and they will change their minds in a few seconds!


  3. phoungsopha says :

    Sharing our knowledge to others such as poor people or orphanages is very important therefor many volunteers come to see. Some organisations like Don Bosco is very well come all volunteers who come and share their opinions.

  4. sothuntheang says :

    Don’t forget that ,” To be the volunteer is not the business man ” . The business man find the money or profit from business , opposite the volunteer not find the money from the Organization , school . OR make business from working as the volunteer , because volunteer work as the person who help others , those are lack of knowledge , wealth . Do not hope that you will get money from the working as the person who we help ,( if we give something to someone and then they give us the something back so our purposes is equal ). It meant that the same we did nothing to others .To work as the volunteer such as the teaching ( skills , languages , dancing , sing a song , using PC , communication , ……. ) , training ( football , basketball , volleyball , swimming ,…. ….. ) . how to act as the leadership , the knowledge of how to protect the environment ,

  5. Zen and Genki says :

    Excellent and pragmatic post, nice job!

  6. theelectriccane says :

    Reblogged this on Theelectriccane's Blog and commented:
    Yes, many times I am asked by tourists if they can volunteer for a few days, or they want to visit right out of the blue. Its not as simple as that…

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