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Voluteering Abroad in Cambodia

Home, train, work. Work, train, home. Repeat.

This is the life I was living for many years before I left for Cambodia. I was lacking inspiration, beauty, adventure, and most of all, a sense of connection with the world and people around me. My co-workers we like a second family, but the pressures of schedules, status meetings and deadlines, were bearing heavy weights on everyone’s shoulders.

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I could see people working long hours, straining their health and family life.

At this point in my life, I was not ready to commit to this type of lifestyle. I thirsted for something real.

My search lead me to the Challenges Abroad. While Thailand was my first choice, I found out that my photography and video services we need elsewhere – Cambodia to be exact.

While I knew very little about Cambodia, I let faith lead the way and a few months later I was boarding a plane to South East Asia to do photography and videography for the organization.

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Over the next few months, I made lifelong friendships with the local staff and volunteers. I pushed myself out of my “American” comfort zone living with no AC or hot water, and chasing out the occasional bird from my bedroom. I learned parts of different languages, tried new food, hiked mountains, experienced religious ceremonies, and for five months, Asia became my second home.

The best part of my experience, was learning from the incredible work Challenges Abroad does around the world.

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What I saw was Challenges Abroad volunteers and local staff not telling these communities what was right, or how to live their lives – rather listening, partnering and supporting local leaders to create real opportunities for the people in their community.

When interviewing one of these community leaders, Racky, I quickly found out that virtually none of his visions could have come true without the support of Challenges Abroad and it’s volunteers. He told me stories of children laying on classroom floors and sharing pencils because funds were too low to buy supplies. After partnering with Challenges abroad, this all changed. Not only did students have the supplies, but Racky was able to expand to over 4 school across the city of Battambang.

Racky is pillar of his community. He went though the recent and devastating events of the Khmer Rouge. He fought for his life, survived, and now fights for the education of a future generation.

What I learned abroad was that the people of these communities are not weak, they are not looking for handouts, rather they have huge dreams that have the capacity to make lasting change. I realized it is not “fixing” what a country lacks, it is building on what it has.

In Cambodia’s case, it is passionate people and an invigorated youth. It is a sense of community, connection with the people around them.

Challenges Abroad and their Partner NGO, FutureSense work hard to support these incredible people to achieve their visions and goals for their community. – Polly Cannella

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