Guest blogger Chi Lo: 4 Months in Cambodia

Chi Lo has been volunteering on an Edge of Seven individual program in Cambodia since early September 2010.  She is a Canadian volunteer working at the Women’s Media Centre of Cambodia in Phnom Penh.  She is on the front lines carrying out our mission to empower women throughout the developing world.  You can read more about her experiences in Cambodia on her blog, a journey of a thousand kilometers begins with 1.609 steps.

Within hours of arriving in Cambodia, my host family bought me a very large scoop of ice cream from a vendor, the neighbour. Now ice cream so happens to be my favourite food, and although I had been given explicit instructions to not eat ice cream in Cambodia as the electricity often goes out, I did not want to offend, and hesitantly ate the dessert, certain I would feel the repercussions in the next 24 hours. Thankfully, and surprisingly, I didn’t. In fact, Cambodia has been a surprise at every turn.

I came with few expectations, only warnings from friends and family whose perceptions of Cambodia proved to be far outdated when I finally arrived. In need of change, I came here looking for experience, in work and in life. I have found it.

On my first day of work at the Women’s Media Centre of Cambodia, my coworkers informed me that I would be hosting an environmental radio show the following day, regardless of my inexperience in this field. WMC is the country’s only media organization dedicated to improving the lives of women, through television, film, and our very own radio station. We disseminate messages about issues such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, domestic violence, civil law, reaching much of the population, including “media black spots.” Ever since, every week, I prepare a playlist with “international songs,” as well as information about an environmental topic, which we discuss on air. Listeners call in to share their ideas about the topic.

 While other volunteers stay just a couple weeks, working at orphanages and playing with children, I feel that I have been able to make some sort of difference through the radio program. When my co-hosts and I discuss topics such as keeping the rivers clean or indoor air pollution, we are able to reach a wide audience and educate them about issues that are relevant to their situations. What surprises me the most is how enthusiastic the Cambodian public is about protecting their environment.

In three and a half months, I have progressed from not speaking any Khmer, to having a basic conversation; from unwillingly eating frogs to intrepidly munching on tarantulas and grasshoppers (I surprised myself); from being deathly afraid of public speaking to hosting a radio show. After three and a half months, things such as the bum gun or the families of six on a moto, no longer faze me. Yet, I am constantly experiencing something new – Khmer weddings, traditional and contemporary Khmer dance, and the way of life both among locals and expats. Every day, I have a new story to share. Every day, Cambodia continues to surprise me – the way people smile, the way most people genuinely want to help, and the way strangers tell you they love you. Though there remain problems within society – the constant dark cloud above the country, the residual effects of decades of war, the Khmer people are resilient. My experiences here, in just this short time, are far too detailed to describe here, but I can say with confidence and without cliché that being in Cambodia has changed my life for the better.

At Edge of Seven, we find grassroots organizations in developing countries that are making tremendous strides to empower girls and alleviate poverty.  Then, we connect volunteers with those organizations.  A member of our team has visited and observed each international group that we support.  By joining a project, volunteers can expect to be dealing with real issues and problems at the ground-level.  Volunteers can also expect a side of cold showers, slice of humble pie, and dash of inspiration with their adventure.

Our individual programs are a short-term alternative to the Peace Corps.  Recognizing that many volunteers cannot dedicate two or more years for service abroad, we customize programs based on timeframes, skill sets, and experience levels.  Typically, we offer start dates on the first and third Monday of each month with a one-month minimum.  Volunteers can expect to be placed in an urban area where English is spoken more freely.  We are currently running projects in Nepal, India, Thailand, and Cambodia.

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