Katie, Cambodia 2017

Katie Willis, a student at the University of Nottingham, volunteered with NFC & Golden Futures in Cambodia for six weeks during the summer of 2017. Read on to find out more about the work she did to help improve access to higher education for disadvantaged young people in Phnom Penh.

My name is Katie and I worked for Golden Futures, a UK based charity which helps give disadvantaged Cambodian children the opportunity to build a brighter future, this summer. The charity is focused on helping young adults who have grown up in orphanages find their feet, and provide them with the support that children growing up in families take for granted. Our project spanned for six weeks in Phnom Penh, where we worked with the children and staff at NFC.

Our key mission was to create an up to date University guide for 2017. This guide would be written in both English and Khmer, and include a detailed course index and an accurate list of Universities in Phnom Penh. Initially, this task seemed daunting, but with the help of both the staff and students at NFC we managed to complete the guide and distribute it to other NGOs and organisations. Students and staff helped with the translation and proofreading of the guide, whilst also providing us with the facilities we needed to produce it. Our key aim with the guide was to help make university more accessible to the youth of Cambodia.

Another of our goals for the project was to find work experience for the older students at NFC. Work experience is uncommon in Cambodia, but we believe it is an important opportunity for all young people to have. It allows them to understand the world of work, whilst helping them make an informed decision about their future career prospects. This is essential for allowing young adults, especially the orphans we were working with, to break the cycle of poverty and help them create a brighter future for themselves, whether it be through higher education or vocational training. Of the four students that were eligible for work experience, we were successful in finding work experience for all four in their respective industries. These industries included tourism, accountancy and sales. Work experience gave each student a clear idea of what they wanted to study at university.

For the students who wished to attend university, we arranged visits for them to give them a true taste of university life. We visited three universities in Phnom Penh: Vanda Institute, Royal University of Law and Economics and Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP). Each student benefitted from their respective visit as they were all able to speak to their chosen department about their future degree. They also spoke to current students, giving them a realistic insight into the world of higher education and the expectations their professors would have of them.

We also provided workshops for both the students at NFC and at other NGOs throughout Phnom Penh, such as ACE. We created workshops on: budgeting, future possibilities, CVs and interviews, map reading and teamwork. Despite many students back in the UK being aware of many of these skills, for the young people and adults we gave these to in Phnom Penh they were foreign yet important life skills. We created activities within our respective presentations to emphasise the key points. For example, we gave out worksheets for CVs and budgeting in which students could create their own, whilst hosting mock interviews with students so they could gain experience of what it would be like to have an interview with a potential employer in the future. We received a lot of positive feedback about the workshops and believe that the benefits of them would reach further than just to those who received them.

Working in tandem with Stichting Dom-Ray, Golden Futures collaborated with them to help work with the countryside education project (CEP) that they had established in Kor village in Prey Veng province. We gave workshops to both the parents and students in their only classroom, focusing on future possibilities and the benefits of university in the long-term. Most students in the countryside are forced to leave education before they complete high school, to go and work in factories in order to provide for their families. Originally, CEP had arranged for two students to come to university in Phnom Penh, but sadly one girl was sent to the factory instead and was therefore unable to complete her education. It was crucial for us to convey the importance of both university education and vocational training, as in the long-term they would earn a higher wage. All the students and parents were very engaged in the workshops and it was very heartwarming to see so many parents and family members who were passionate and supportive of their children to help them create a brighter future. They were all very grateful for our visit and many of the students took away key life skills from our workshops. Two students from CEP will be visiting Phnom Penh before the end of our project to get a real feel for city life and visit the universities which they hope to study at.

To conclude, I have learnt that university is a luxury not available to all, but the work we do as a charity is vital to giving students the opportunity and support they need to access higher education. Personally, I have been very humbled by my experience in Cambodia and working with the staff and students at NFC. Their endless positivity and drive to better their own situation fills me with hope for their future. Their appreciation for the continued support we give them shows, emphasising the importance of our work in Cambodia. Each person I have worked with has helped me grow as a person and they have each taught me to be thankful for the life I have. On behalf of myself and my team, we are all grateful to Golden Futures and InterVol for giving us the opportunity to meet each and every one of them.