When was the last time you dived into something that stretched you beyond what you’d done before?
A question guaranteed to make you think right?
The last time I dived into something that stretched me was when I volunteered for three months in rural, northern Cambodia with the ICS programme and the charity VSO. I had wanted to do the VSO programme for several years but it never was the right time, and if I am honest, I probably lacked the confidence or push to motivate me to apply. That all changed last July when I found myself suddenly single and no longer a teacher. Little did I know it, but this time period was gearing me up to be an active citizen and to contribute to the world. Holidaying in Cornwall that summer I met a girl who had volunteered on the ICS programme, and she encouraged me to apply. The next day I completed the application in one go; and in November I successfully got through the interview to be a team leader. I wasn’t completely happy in my new job so it seemed a perfect time to leave. In April 2018 I would be leading a group of 18–25 year olds on projects relating to improving the economic livelihoods in Cambodia.
I had chosen to go to Cambodia because I knew nothing of the culture or people. I had holidayed in neighbouring Thailand so I knew the food would be great; and given my 10 year history of working with young people, I was sure that this would be a fantastic role for me. Little did I know of how much I would learn about myself over the next three months or how my life would change. The fact that I am writing this in a cafe in Port of Spain, Trinidad, drinking dragonfruit tea, doused in sweat, a mere two months after I got back from Cambodia is testament to how the VSO/ICS experience impacted me. But I am getting too far ahead.
Before I went to Cambodia I had to move back home to live with my family due to unforeseen circumstances. It was strange to be back in my teenage bedroom but I was busy fundraising for the VSO/ICS programme and promoting my first book, a collection of poetry spanning ten years. All too soon it was time to go and I tearfully said goodbye to the UK, meeting two of my fellow team leaders at the airport. These girls were to become good friends during my time in Cambodia and when I got back to the UK but at that moment in time, we were about to embark on a new adventure.
We arrived in the capital Phnom Penh and were whisked around tourist sites in a daze by our fellow Cambodian team leaders. Team leaders and volunteers alike were given Cambodian counterparts with whom to work and live with in an Cambodian host home. After two weeks of training and prep in the capital we were thrust into a whole new life in rural Cambodia in a region called Banan in the province of Battambang.
The highlights of my time in Cambodia were:
The food! Our host family provided breakfast and dinner for us each day and as there were no ovens or fridges the food was seasonal and authentic cuisine. I looked forward to each dinner time as there always seemed to be some new vegetable or meat dish. Rice is a staple of the Cambodia and the way to say you want to eat ‘ nyam bai’ literally translates as ‘eat rice’. I fell in love with avocado smoothies; glazed chicken and rice; the fresh fish; all of the tasty and aromatic soup dishes and vermicelli noodles with pork topped with peanuts, the later often being served for breakfast! I tried in vain to diet and lose weight but I couldn’t stop myself trying everything. I went on a Cambodian cooking class in the city and learnt how to make the decadently delicious amok soup with is made with coconut milk, fish and vegetables. That day I ate so much I couldn’t sleep, I had eaten so much.