Volunteer in Cambodia

Are you interested in volunteering in Cambodia to teach, build houses or care for children? Read on for further information.

Thank you for your interest in volunteering in Cambodia. Whilst we do not want to discourage you from helping, we want to explain to you the reasons why you shouldn’t participate in volunteer programs, and alternatives for helping!

At Human and Hope Association we ended our foreign volunteer program in 2014. This was a decision that was carefully thought out by our local team for the following reasons:

Empowerment of staff – Our mission is to empower Cambodians to create sustainable futures. We believe in applying this
not just to our beneficiaries, but to our staff as well. Therefore, it is important to give our staff the opportunity to thrive in their roles and gain confidence. We have seen firsthand that when volunteers come into organisations, this can often be disempowering, as the local staff believes that they cannot fulfil their jobs without the support of foreigners. We believe that local people are the subject matter experts, as they are the ones who know the country and traditions best. By promoting team work amongst the locals, they can learn from each other and not become reliant on foreigners.

Consistency – When volunteers come and go, it creates an inconsistency with our education system which follows lesson plans and a curriculum planned well in advance. In the past, students complained of the volunteers who didn’t teach them effectively. Furthermore, we educate many students who come from disadvantaged and vulnerable backgrounds, and having strangers come and go in their lives creates an unstable situation on top of what they already experience at their homes. By having full-time staff to teach our students and visit the community, we can create a trust with our beneficiaries as we are seen as being reliable.

Child protection –
Child abuse is prevalent in Cambodia, and our staff and visitors must adhere to a strict child protection policy. By inviting large numbers of temporary volunteers, the risk of abuse is heightened. Our local staff have been trained in child protection and are equipped to deal with this issue in a local context.

Culture – The Khmer culture is unique, and there are often complex factors contributing to situations. Often volunteers who come for a short period of time inadvertently offend the local staff and students by not adhering to the culture. Our local staff are able to effectively work with the community in a culturally sensitive way and therefore gain the best outcomes.

Detachment issues – In the past, the staff have formed good relationships with some volunteers. When the volunteers left, the staff ended up feeling quite down, and this has affected their work. This has also been the case for some of our students, who already have challenging lives.

Language barriers – The official language of Cambodia is Khmer, which all of our staff speak. However, as our projects aren’t just focused on English class, we have numerous who speak minimal or no English, and communication can be very difficult. This often proves to be frustrating for both our staff and volunteers and can result in strained relationships for all parties involved.

Sustainability – Having volunteers come and go isn’t sustainable. What IS sustainable is training local staff, who can, in turn, train more local staff as part of a succession plan.

Time –
To run an effective volunteer program takes a lot of time, with the pre-arrival, volunteer duration and post-departure. In the past, we have found it very time consuming to look after volunteers, with staff members commenting they have spent more time concentrating on the volunteers than on our beneficiaries. This takes time away from our crucial work with the local community and capacity building the local staff.

Due to our commitment to empowering local staff, we became entirely Khmer operated in July 2016. Our local team who are the subject matter experts, continue to develop our community and help villagers break the cycle of poverty. We are leading the way for locally run organisations in Siem Reap, and are raising awareness that voluntourism and volunteering for short amounts of time aren’t what Cambodians need.

“Local people need to be empowered and valued. When local people are empowered to help their own community and their commitment and accomplishments are valued, it is an obvious evidence to prove to the other potential beneficiaries to trust and be inspired to transform their lives and not rely on foreigners. Foreigners are encouraged to help Cambodia, however, in terms of day-to-day operations, local staff should take responsibility.” – Salin, Education and Community Manager

Instead of volunteering in Cambodia, there are plenty of other ways you can help!

Make a monetary donation

A good way you can help in Cambodia is to donate money to reputable NGO’s. It is a good idea to research these NGO’s before travelling to Cambodia. Look out for organisations that are transparent and have their finances and annual reports online. Make sure that they have child protection policies, and require pre-bookings for you to visit.

When you do visit, don’t take photos (children are NOT tourist attractions), and keep an eye out for any red flags, such as the staff allowing you to roam the premises unaccompanied or walk into classrooms and ‘teach’ the children. A good NGO should have a strict visitor policy and child protection policy in place, and they should be adhering to it. As a responsible traveller, you are to respect that NGO’s are learning environments and the community should feel safe and comfortable. Disturbing the students/beneficiaries is not responsible, and reputable NGO’s should not allow you to do that.

A donation of $10 a month can provide education to a child at Human and Hope Association, covering the cost of a teacher’s salary, educational resources, clean drinking water and hygiene supplies. Become a Language Champion here.

Shop/Dine/Stay at Social Enterprises

There are many social enterprises in Cambodia that you can shop/dine/stay at. These social enterprises usually support the work of an NGO (non-government organisation), or simply just care about fair wages and conditions for their workers.

You may choose to catch a nightly circus show at Phare, the Cambodian Circus, where the profits support their mother NGO in Battambang. Or you may want to help in the preservation of Khmer culture by watching the Sacred Dancers of Angkor perform traditional Khmer dances.

When it comes to eating, Footprint Cafes has a delicious selection of food and donates 100% of net profits as educational grants back to the local community. Salabai is a hospitality training school that also has a restaurant, hotel and spa on their premises.

Cambodian Creation sells a large range of fair-trade products including handicrafts made by our seamstresses at Human and Hope Association.

Donate blood 

Donating blood is an incredible way to help Cambodians. Angkor Hospital for Children is a free hospital for children in Siem Reap that aims to provide children with access to high quality, compassionate care wherever they live and whatever their ability to pay.

They are always in need of blood donors, whether it be for an open heart surgery patient, a child suffering from chronic haemophilia or to a survivor of a motor bike accident. Just like in countries such as Australia, the lab staff will run a few quick tests to ensure your haemoglobin levels are high enough and blood pressure is within a safe range to donate. 

The best part about this is that it doesn’t cost you any money to make a big impact in a Cambodian child’s life!


*Clay began studying in preschool when we launched the program in April 2013. A shy four-year old, he was one of six children who came from extreme poverty.

As time went by, Clay grew into a confident, extremely intelligent child. He stayed at HHA a full day and spent countless hours in the library putting together complicated puzzles and reading books. He began studying in English classes too and was one of the top performing students in his class.

In October 2015 Clay graduated preschool and was enrolled in public school. We were finally able to convince two of his siblings to study with us, so they take him on their bicycle on the 8km round journey to and from HHA each day.

Clay studies Khmer language with us and has moved up in English class. His attitude and behaviour have improved and he continues to thrive.

It costs $15 a month to provide education to a preschool student. Become a Preschool Champion for just $15 a month today!