Floating Gardens Project

Click on the link to see some of the other work I’ve been getting up to in Cambodia with Agile Development Group – we have a strong community focus to develop and design all of our projects with the villages we work with.

http://www.hcdconnect.com/stories/combating-food-security-with-floating-gardens-made-from-recycled-waste-materials/

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Opportunities after volunteer placements

Having worked in their placements, some volunteers find that Cambodia offers more to the educated expat than just their volunteer post with an NGO.

Opportunities come in all shapes and sizes. Some volunteers are fortunate enough to find paid work, but that isn’t to downplay the relevance and usefulness of further volunteer posts in different organisations or even fields, since many have found worthwhile internships which have greatly improved their CVs.

The communication skills volunteers pick up in their placements are highly relevant to all work in Cambodia, and employers are likely to recognize the importance of such skills in an increasingly more globalized working environment. Placements prove you have patience and the capacity to reach a common ground with people from diverse backgrounds.

In terms of the particulars, volunteers have found that their knowledge of the country, its political situation and even its arts and entertainment has been immensely useful to finding work in different fields. One volunteer started a blog on visual art exhibited in Phnom Penh and was asked to write for an emerging publication. This work has led to other writing jobs, for both local and international publications.

Another volunteer returned home after a 6 month placement with a local NGO, only to come back several months later to take up a teaching position with a school in Phnom Penh. Another didn’t even get the chance to finish her placement before being offered a job with an international NGO!

Others have gone on to find paid work or intern at various other NGOs in the city. I myself had the opportunity to begin my own social business, Agile Development Group, with a contact I developed through my original placement. This is an opportunity I would never had had back in England, since my expertise is relevant to this particular area, and contacts are developed faster in a locale populated with like-minded people.

Cambodia is developing fast, and business and marketing skills are desperately sought after. NGOs and social businesses need strong marketability and up-to-date internet presence to succeed, just as much as privately owned businesses. Volunteers who do not have backgrounds in development might be surprised to discover that their existing skill set is highly relevant to their placement, and to the rest of Cambodia!

Escape from the city

There are a multitude of options for expat-travellers living in Phnom Penh, who find they have the week off work (thank you Cambodian public holidays) and want to escape. Kep is a firm favourite, and is connected to Kampot and Sihanoukville by coastal road. All are within a five-hour bus or taxi ride from the capital. For those with a sense of adventure, or with an ego complex, there is the option of hiring motorbikes and being your own boss (i.e. not having to wait an hour for a man with a drove of pigs to turn up and take his seat next to you).

You can also be in charge of coffee stops along the way. Losing as much fluid as one does covered from head-to-toe and sporting the truly safety-tested helmet (yes Mum, it is legit), these breaks are a must.

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When the outskirts of Phnom Penh – characterised by traffic jams, factories for rent and clouds of dust  – give way to rice fields, one feels certain that although a significant risk of being ploughed down by a minivan is being run, you are breathing fresh air.

Arriving in Kep, you can sigh a sigh of relief. And then not come up for air for a while, since you ought to be chowing down on the famous Kep crab. Sit down at a restaurant, or grab one straight the market and ask someone to boil it up for you.

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Kep is a small town with a calm vibe and tumultuous history. Abandoned seaside houses of the Khmer riche still stand as monuments of the post-emancipation, pre-civil war days. Stark white, often overtaken by vegetation and occasionally occupied by unofficial guards or squatters, visiting the buildings can be something of an adventure.

Now, there are scores of guesthouses in the area, offering accommodation for a range of budgets and tastes.

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Off to Kampot – famous for its pepper – negotiating travel along one of the worst roads in the country. There are more potholes than road, more dust than air, more vans than cows. The journey is rewarded with ribs: the Kampot steakhouse on riverside is known among expats for its competitive edge. Eat a large portion to yourself and earn pride of place on a blackboard league-table, divided simply by pass or fail categories.

The road to Sihanoukville runs along the coast. Its beauty, at certain times of day, is unparalled. But be warned: upon arrival, one is sure to notice the immense volume of backpackers. Quickly becoming known as Cambodia’s answer to Koh Pha Ngan in Thailand, there are few places left in the former King Father’s province which offer a genuine chance to relax. Still regarded as “quiet” in comparison is Otres Beach: the Cambodian expats’ worst-kept secret. Guesthouses claim areas of the beach for their punters, which means that you might be lucky enough to bag a bungalow on the seaside, but there are few areas of the beach empty of deckchairs and loungers.

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Tips and tricks

  1. Travel with friends, especially when biking. A puncture is inevitable, and you most definitely do not want to stand at the side of a road in Cambodia looking desperate.
  2. Beware of newly-formed and half-formed bridges. Especially ones made out of twigs.
  3. Travel in a shared minivan at your own risk. And if you’re biking, use your wing mirrors. It’s not Khmer but it’s definitely a life-saver.
  4. Take a map. Contrary to popular belief men don’t necessarily have a build in GPS system

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NGO’s and Social Enterprises

I’ve been working in Cambodia long enough to have noticed a significant increase in Social Enterprises. These ‘’social purpose businesses” seem to be popping up all over the place; whether it’s a restaurant, retail shop, or a sustainable city tour, they’re everywhere. One of my favorite restaurants in Phnom Penh is just that.

So what’s it all about? Why has there been such a shift away from more conventional NGO’s? And is it set to continue?

One of the best parts of working for 2Way development in South-East Asia is the amount of worthwhile NGO’s I meet on a daily basis. Yet, whilst most of these organisations appear  relatively successful in achieving their aims, many seem to be constantly changing their organisational goals and objectives to fit in with donor trends.  Having to respond and adapt to the changing dictates of donor agencies, can often lead NGO’s to stray away from their original goals, ultimately making them financially unsustainable as they wallow in areas they are not familiar with.

Sustainability is a broad concept and includes a wide range of elements. However, from a financial perspective it can be used to address the ability of an NGO’s to replicate programs beyond their current round of funding. In a world where donor funds are so competitive and unreliable, is there an opportunity for NGO’s to learn and adapt to the social enterprise model? 

A social enterprise most commonly refers to a non-profit organization that employs market based mechanisms to meet key organizational goals, such as providing job opportunities. The social enterprise model asks how activities central to an organisations mission can generate income. This ensures both sustainability and scalability – the ability for a project to expand based on limited investment rather than grant funding.

This change in mindset not only provides an opportunity for the organization to become more financially sustainable, but also allows them to take control over their future.

So is applying business mechanism to the NGO model really the way forward? Personally I think there should be a place for both models. However, in reality ever changing donor trends and an unstable donor environment means NGO’s are being forced to up their game. For those NGO’s who choose to seek sustainability through applying business tools to increase their self-generating income, training and specialised assistance is vital if the correct income-generating opportunities are to be identified.      

Lunch at Orussay Market

South-East Asia is renowned for its markets and Cambodia has some of the best on offer. With dozens of markets across Phnom Penh buyers can expect to find anything from fresh fruit and vegetables, clothing, gardening and DIY tools, electronics, and much much more. Of course they are also a great place to pick up a tasty spot of lunch and when a friend asked me to join her at Orussay market one afternoon I jumped at the chance.

Orussay market is the biggest of the Phnom Penh markets and is centrally located. It’s geared towards locals rather than tourists and mainly sells fresh meat, poultry and seafood, as well as household goods and electronics. Although not selling the usual cheap tourist souvenirs, it would be a mistake to bypass Orussay as it’s firmly the most traditional market in Phnom Penh and is heaving with life.

002With food firmly on the mind, me and my dining companion decided to start our search by taking a stroll around the outskirts of market where stalls overflow onto the street. As motorbikes zoomed between us, vendors pack and unpack their goods. It wasn’t long before the first tasty treat found us – deep fried meat balls (Brohet in Khmer), not the healthiest of snacks but certainly tasty. I’ve yet to find out why one was florescent green but it tasted good the chili dip served alongside it definitely packs a punch. After washing it all down with an iced coffee I was ready to go again, this time in search of something slightly more substantial and healthy.

011Diving into the heart of the market I quickly came across a traditional noodle dish called Nom Banh Chok. It’s served with cucumber, fresh herbs, and a chicken and coconut curry sauce. If black pudding isn’t your thing I’d advise avoiding the large lumps of jellified chicken’s blood that top the dish! My companion was less than impressed.

020Feeling somewhat full, it was time to investigate. The ground floor of Orussay is where you find all your meat, poultry, seafood and dried goods (the second two floors are catered towards clothing and household supplies).As locals inspect the wriggling fish, carefully deciding which will be dinner, vendors methodically swat the flies away from their meat stalls – the smell at times can be somewhat overpowering but it all adds to the experience. It wasn’t long before we stumbled across to poultry section. Here live chickens and ducks miserably await their fate.  Many are carried away upside down on motorbikes whilst for others the end is someone closer. If you’re an animal lover you may want to avoid this area altogether.

024After a refreshing coke it was time for one last tasty treat before returning to the office. My friend quickly spotted a cart vendor selling what looked like Cornish Pasties! The first bite told me that this was in fact nothing like a Cornish Pasty! However the slightly sweet pastry encasing a mixture of egg, carrot and pork was delicious nevertheless.