Volunteer Post: “Lessons Learned While Abroad”
By Volunteer Brianna Caruccio
Have a read through what Bri felt, thought and experienced during her time as a volunteer with the PLF . . .
Lessons Learned While Abroad – by Brianna Caruccio
- Flexibility is key. Don’t expect a situation to go according to plan and don’t be upset when it, inevitably, doesn’t. Sometimes you will be in a junky van clunking down a dirt road, traveling at a speed of 90 mph, and hanging on to the seat in front of you for dear life. Sometimes you will spend an entire day planning a lesson that completely goes awry. Sometimes you will lose power in 100-degree heat for five days and come dangerously close to losing your sanity. Sometimes you will eat crickets and ants. And, sometimes, you will like it.
- Volunteering and voluntourism are not one in the same. Helping out in developing countries and hugging poor, dirty children has become a popular industry among backpackers and travelers. But working in an orphanage may actually lead to the abandonment of children by their parents in order to sustain a (seemingly benign) desire from eager tourists to help out. Instead, aim to volunteer (with organizations like the PLF or the The Global Child [TGC] ).
- Aim to know the needs of the place where you are and aim to contribute effectively. Contrary to what I believed at the beginning of my trip, I discovered I was able to give something to this country. To the PLF.
- Two other girls and I spent a good portion of our ten weeks developing a curriculum for the Knar school’s supplementary 6th grade science class. Each week, we met and re-taught ourselves about plants and animals and trees and rocks. We then put this in a giant word doc that was shared with and taught to the Khmer teacher at the Knar school each week. He gave the lessons and every so often, we went to the school to assist with experiments (our coolest, most innovative activity was an end-of-the-unit scavenger hunt). This contribution was no doubt small—a little seedling that may take years to grow and bloom—but it was there, and it was significant.
- The American dream is not everyone’s dream. I was surprised when one of the students in my class at TGC told me he wanted to be a Cambodian farmer when he grows up. But doesn’t he want to overcome his “situation”? Doesn’t he want to travel to the states, get an education and attain a good job, a good life? I have often assumed, without even intending to, that my reality and perceptions are right and good. But operating under this mentality can impose homogeneity and neglect beautiful, important difference. Odoom, Graham’s fiancée, is perfectly happy staying with Graham and her family in their rural village. A six-figure income and a house with a white picket fence isn’t always the end-goal. Nor should it be.
- If you want to get to know someone, travel with him or her. Missed buses, impromptu rainstorms, traveler’s diarrhea, and jet lag are surefire tests of character.
- To quote both the PLF and TGC t-shirts: “School is the Answer” and “Today’s Children, Tomorrow’s world.” If you want true change, turn to children. Children have the uncanny ability to absorb, adapt and share without much intervention. We saw this when we went to Koh Ker, a village previously filled with violence, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Since putting a school in the village and addressing basic needs, however, the PLF has seen the benefits of childhood education trickle down into desolate parts of the community. The village now has clean drinking water, parental support and a school full of eager, motivated (and really adorable) children.
- History is important. I am the first person to shy away from lectures about the Civil war and I am not one to willingly read a textbook. But examining the past is a necessary process for future improvement. Cambodia is a country crippled by the Khmer Rouge and needs to address the lingering consequences of a senseless genocide before it can progress as a nation, particularly in terms of education.
- If you’re guilty, you’re doing something wrong. Lori put it well when she said, “You can feel bad all you want. You can stand on the street naked and try to strip yourself of all of your privilege. But that’s not productive. You can’t strip it away. You were born at the table. Your goal, instead, should be to bring everyone else to the table.”
- Pictures don’t tell the whole picture. Most of the time, traveling looks like greasy hair, coffee-less mornings, sweat and rashes in places you didn’t know existed—all of those moments that editing and filters can’t fix. Similarly, pictures can’t capture the candid beauty of sunrises, sunsets and smiles.
- People make places. People are everything, really. This term would have been nothing without the seven candles staff, PLF and TGC, or the other four members of my group. I can’t wait to go back.