Before you volunteer, do think about what you're doing and who you're hoping to benefit. If this is just to clear your guilt, get a few photos for Facebook and having a Madonna Moment, then that's your problem - and really it is unethical to inflict your wishes and your agenda on local children. Our organisation exists to benefit them - not us.
NGOs in Cambodia are collectively getting critical of volunteers who are here to put in a quick appearance, and spend most of that time taking photos, and Savong has talked about having a ban on cameras at the School and at SOC. As Friends International organisation says: Children are not a Tourist Attraction.
So think about the long term legacy you wish to leave in Cambodia. You can discuss these things with us if you wish before you come. Having a clear ethical compass is useful. If you make a friend in a nation such as Cambodia, are you prepared to have that friend for life?
Volunteers need also to be sensitive to the local culture.
- You are a guest in a school environment. Read the Child Safety Policy.
- Wear appropriate and conservative clothing. Don't be scruffy. Females: no short shorts or revealing tank tops. Local standards are very modest and very tidy.
- Keep a professional relationship only: arms length from the students you teach and from the teachers you work with. No flirting or hint of sexual activity. Do not cross this line or we must take police action. Child safety is paramount - and that goes for students of all ages.
- Do not single out particular students - for example to give them money or special gifts. Our school and childrens home try to operate fairly, and a kind well-meaning gesture towards one student can have unintended consequences and prove hurtful to others.
- Do not compromise the dignity of anyone you meet or photograph. We've seen photos taken by tourists - photos of crippled children - from Cambodia and other poor nations - posted on Facebook with derogatory, insensitive and ultimately unfunny comments that neither dignify the children in the photos nor say much about the intelligence of the tourists.
- The key word is respect.