The past year and what I do in Cambodia

2017 is over and even though I didn't use to be someone that reviews every year sentimentally, I decided to do it for this past year. The reason is simple: I think this was the most exciting year I have ever had.

I kind of have the feeling that my life started, which has probably something to do with the fact that I finished high school in the summer and am now in Cambodia, a place where I decided to be. How crazy is it to get the opportunity to spent one year abroad in a foreign country, in a country that I didn't even know before starting research on what to do after school.

In 2017 I learned a lot; I felt in love with people and moments, I travelled a little in Germany, I played theater, I visited universities, I got to know new people, I made mistakes - luckily not many in my final exams, which is why I graduated pretty successfully -I went to my first public concert, I organized a lot by myself concerning my year abroad,  I turned 18 (full age in Germany), drove a car legally alone, cut my long hair and then finally left my home.

It has been my dream to do so for years and even as I am here now, living my dream, it still is unbelievable. I applied for this volunteer service at the German organization Brot für die Welt ("Bread for the World"), which then accepted me in March and sent me through a governmental program that covers 75 % of the cost to Cambodia. The other 25 % percent is paid by Bread for the World which is another reason to be incredible thankful.

I am volunteering here at "Life with Dignity" (LWD), a Cambodian NGO, that used to be called "Lutheran World Service" as a field program of the Lutheran World Federation. Back than they focused on emergency relief, de-mining and resettlement after times of war and the Cambodian genocide regime of the "Khmer Rouge" from 1975 to 1979(by clicking here you come to the Wikipedia article in case your interested). Nowadays, LWD focuses on rural development with the core values justice, equality, peoples participation and transparency and accountability. The staff is Khmer, members work in Area Program Offices in five provinces of Cambodia or in the Headquarter in Phnom Penh, like I do. There are around 30 members working in Phnom Penh and volunteers. I am one of them, sitting in an office with my supervisor Kimsrien and an American volunteer named Chelsey and her supervisor Ratna. We four are not always all together in our little office with bathroom because we travel to the province time after time. In our office we talk about life in Cambodia and life in our hometowns, we exchange our languages and taste Cambodian snacks like fresh mangoes, other unknown tropical fruits or any kind of "num" (Khmer word for snack). I wouldn't like to miss one of them in our offices, it's a pleasure to work there.

I take my bike to work, which means 30 to 50 mins bike ride at 8 AM and 5 PM through the little crazy traffic of Phnom Penh. Since I don't know how much you've heard about Phnom Penh yet: the capital of Cambodia is pretty well developed in some parts, there are several international schools, big streets and high buildings. There are very rich people living here, like there are poor. There are hospitals and western supermarkets. I do not miss a thing in Phnom Penh (besides people living 9000km far from me). Live in the province is different. Target areas of LWD that I visited already made me see a life between rice fields and palm trees in wooden cottages. The landscape is beautiful, but life there is for many people tough. Living in remote areas far from the provincial towns, LWD's target groups are supported through education about their rights, community based organizations, the construction of streets, irrigation systems or schools, and start-up aid like vegetable seeds or animals. It is LWD's mission to empower the vulnerable people to claim their universal rights so that they live in dignity.

One part of my job here is to edit reports about such projects I've talked about and the other part is to support my supervisor Kimsrien to host visitors from abroad that spend some days in the province with LWD, learning about development work and participate in it through hands-on activities like painting schools, planting trees or building trash bins. For those visits, there are things that needed to be prepared, which is what we do right now because there are visitors coming in February and March.

I came to Cambodia with four other Germans who applied for this volunteer service to Bread for the World as well. We are roommates here, sharing an apartment with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and a living room. We are well equipped with everything we need for our daily live there. We became like a little family, including discussions, but lots of love. Those people were strangers by the beginning of last year, but this adventure and the fact that we have come pretty close in this apartment makes me appreciate them and I might never forget one of them. Anna has also wrote a report in English, that you might be interested in(just one click).

I am in Cambodia for almost 5 months now. I learned a little Khmer and try to improve it now more and more. I spent a week in South Vietnam in September, and probably the same amount of time in Cambodian traffic over the last 5 months. I got a little bit used to the markets here, my working life, my home (our flat), to shower without running water when I am in the province, to throw toilet paper in a trash bin, to buy drinking water and to rarely enjoy a warm shower in general. When we arrived in August we used to have around 33 degrees (around 90°Fahrenheit) before lunch and until now there were a few days with under 25 degrees (77°) which felt really cold. I would guess that the average temperature is around 30 degrees (86°, which we also had on Christmas).

It's pretty tough to summarize the past five month, but I can say that I am happy to be here and get to know this country that is full of contrasts.

P.S.: In case you open my blog through google chrome, you might get asked if they should translate the page. This translation is pretty good and you are able to follow my whole blog!

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