While the BBC is helping folks become acquainted with the dark side of voluntourism in Cambodia – a la orphanage voluntourism – I thought I might take a few moments to share with you a potentially different approach for voluntourism in Kratie (pronounced “kracheh”) Province in the heart of the agricultural region of Cambodia.
I spent the last couple of days in and around Kratie and “Sambo,” (Sambour District is the actual name, but most Cambodians, so I am told, refer to it as Sambo) about seventy five minutes outside of the Kratie urban center, with team members of Partners for Development, an NGO which has focused on malaria and dengue fever prevention in villages in Sambo and elsewhere. Dr. Im Sarun and Chin Polo (from the PfD Phnom Penh office) served as my primary guides to explore what voluntourists could do to support the villages in and around Sambo. Turns out, there is quite a bit of work to be done here and the communities would benefit from some extra sets of hands. Interestingly, none of it requires volunteering in orphanages.
Turns out, one of the biggest contributors to dengue fever and malaria is lack of overall village hygiene. There are ways to prepare villages for the upcoming rainy season here in Cambodia (May – October). Fortunately for those “unskilled gappers” who are much maligned in the UK media these past few years, dating back to Ian Birrell’s initial comments on orphanage “voluntourism” in November 2010, there is a great deal of grunt work involved in the process. And the way to train villagers, according to the PfD Team, is to get in there alongside them and do the duty.
Of course, if you are coming to Kratie Province, you can’t miss an afternoon on the Mekong with the river dolphins or a visit to the 100 Pillars Pagoda in Sambo and the Mekong turtle conservation center, set up in part by Conservation International on the same property. Of course, money you spend as a tourist undoubtedly makes an invaluable contribution to the well-being of those who earn a living through tourism expenditure [so remember, voluntourism includes the oft-forgotten and woefully neglected (at least by critical writers on voluntourism) “tourism” part].
If you are really adventurous, you can ride a boat across the Mekong to Koh Trong island to view the fruit bats and the abundant agriculture, particularly organic vegetable production, that peppers the landscape. And for the adventurous of spirit, a visit to the meditation center on Sambok Mountain to view the hand-painted depictions of Prince Siddhartha’s transformation into the Buddha are indeed a worthy prize following the 250 meter climb.
So, cheer up gap year young people! Cambodia could definitely benefit from your good intentions and your bodily labor. And with the guidance of some seasoned veterans focused on reducing illness and loss of life from two very real threats – malaria and dengue fever – you may do more than serve, you may just learn something – a decidedly important outcome as Ms. Papi so eloquently points out.