Ever since I started my life at Durham University I have always looked for chances to do something different and that moment came last summer. Through DUCK (Durham University Charities Kommittee) I had the opportunity to spend my summer in Cambodia building a fruit and vegetable garden and teaching English to school children.
We first stopped in Siem Reap, home of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. It provided an amazing opportunity for our team to bond and seeing Angkor Wat was one of the most amazing moments of my entire life, something I will never forget!
After this, we headed to the second largest city in Cambodia, Battambang, which was to be our new home for the next four weeks. There was so much to see and do; we rode a bamboo train, went to the circus, explored the most amazing markets, climbed a waterfall, took part in a cookery course, it felt like we did everything!
The first part of our project was to build a fruit and vegetable garden in the grounds of a local Temple. This was one of the most challenging experiences of my life, we were all complete amateurs but we came together as a team to utilise everyone’s strengths and did it to the best of our ability.
After just three weeks, ahead of schedule, we finished our work on the garden. It was quite an emotional moment as it is something that will benefit the local community and make such an impact for years to come.
One of the best parts of the project was getting to interact with the Monks based at the Temple. They taught me a lot about Cambodian culture and their national religion, Buddhism.
Every afternoon, we taught English at a local orphanage. I still remember the first day when we arrived, the children were very cautious of us but they soon got used to us and taught us all of their favourite games to break the ice.
I’d never taught English before, especially to a room full of faces that couldn’t understand most things I said. I was surprised about how quickly my confidence grew, before I knew it, I was singing and dancing and having a great time with the children.
On our final day just before we left Battambang it started to rain. As we were there during the summer we were faced with monsoon conditions! The children dragged us outside, we were singing and dancing and really making our final moments with them truly magical.
When we left Battambang, we moved onto Sihanoukville and then Phnom Penh. The final days of the expedition gave us chance to reflect on what a beautiful country Cambodia is and what a truly transformational experience we had had.
Volunteering in Cambodia really was the summer of a lifetime!
Catherine is a member of Stephenson College and is studying Marketing at Queen’s Campus.