Almost 5 months since I joined Phare Ponleu Selpak family in Battambang (Cambodia), as a senior volunteer.
When I decided to volunteer, I chose to come specifically at Phare Ponleu Selpak because the history of Cambodia has marked me, because their project is about resilience through the art and because I believe in their ability to improve their future in a sustainable way.
I haven’t really felt any difference between the perception of my work before arriving in Cambodia and the reality because I had prepared myself for change (by reading some testimonies and history books in particular). Actually, one of the biggest challenges for me was to adapt to the temperature, I still dream of snowy peaks some nights and even during the day. Of course, there is a difference in the pace of work that is due to the climatic conditions and I am not sure of having a faster pace than people locally because my body is less accustomed than theirs. We must also work and live with recurrent power cuts, another challenge to face.
Over the first two months, I wrote my astonishment report which was an excellent source of inspiration, improvement and creativity for me.
My priority action plan was to be accepted by all the staff, to meet them, to try to understand their language, to speak a little Khmer, to respect their customs and their culture. This essential phase of integration allowed me to ensure, in a second time, my legitimacy to intervene as an HR consultant and share my knowledge.
Cambodians very logically think that we, Europeans, are all similar. For them we are all ‘barang’ (name designating the French during the protectorate, and by extension all foreigners). We were five of the EUAV volunteers to arrive in November, coming from different countries of Europe, different cultures, backgrounds, ages and personality. Actually, this was what I did not prepare for! All this European people living and working together, this was a big challenge! And we did it, arguing sometimes, sharing our emotions and also some crazy laughs. When the second group (3 people) joined us 3 months later, the office became almost ‘Barangland’ with 8 EUAV among the family! Waiting for 2 more EUAV Volunteers arriving soon. Now I think Cambodians understand that we are ‘same, same but different’ ?.
So, what are my findings for the past 5 months that I’ve been working and living in Battambang?
The most beautiful learning for me is to work with all these cultural differences, different accents, and some misunderstandings sometimes under the benevolent eye of Phare Ponleu Selpak who integrated us as their family members.
I am proud to be part of this family for a year, especially this year because Phare Ponleu Selpak is celebrating 25 years anniversary and I know that I will always follow the light of PHARE wherever I am, in Europe or elsewhere.