[box]Tammy from Tammy & Chris on the Move blogs about her voluntary work, travels and misadventures across the globe. Follow her journey on her blog, Tammy & Chris on the Move, on Twitter or on Facebook.[/box]
Tammy and Chris, you worked in London in the civil service but decided to leave that behind. What made you decide to escape the rat-race?
We have always dreamed of escaping London to travel or volunteer abroad long-term, but never had the courage to do it. But there came a stage when our daily commute to London of 1.5 hrs, the credit crunch, the cold and rainy summers in England and changes at work were getting too much. Luckily Chris was offered redundancy and I was able to take a sabbatical, so we didn’t have to think twice and decided that it was the time to finally follow our dreams.
You’re currently in Cambodia working on law, justice and human rights issues…tell us about what you’re doing and what problems Cambodia is facing.
I volunteered for a Cambodian NGO initially and now work as a communications advisor. The majority of NGOs that work on human rights issues deal with issues such as freedom of expression, human trafficking or gender issues. Much of my work was about raising awareness of our work both among beneficiaries, donors and potential donors. I am lucky to have visited many of our projects to document progress and interview beneficiaries. Some of these places are so remote that often people have never seen a white and blonde woman. Sometimes they even touched me to check if I am real (I have to say that even for a European I am incredibly pale, so to them I must look like a ghost). So my work is very rewarding on one hand, but also challenging on the other hand, as progress is often slow. But when you do get a success story of a girl that got rescued from trafficking and abuse for example it makes it all worth it.
What do you like about living in Cambodia?
The country is incredibly beautiful and the people are one of the most honest and friendliest people I have ever met. The country is really diverse as well as you get jungles, ancient temples, deserted beaches, but also a good nighlife in the cities.
Do it! Cambodia is a really nice country to live in. It is cheap and is not as modern as some of its neighbours yet, so still hasn’t lost its charm yet. Having said that it is modern enough to offer you all your comforts, such as supermarkets with Western products, free wifi in most cafes, and plenty of restaurants and bars. Do make your research about potential jobs first though. Most expats here work in international development, which is a hugely competitive industry. So expect to get many job declines at first. Most people have to start out as volunteers (as did I) and if you can proof yourself you sometimes get taken over as a paid member of staff or you will have gained enough experience to apply for other jobs.
It was incredibly beautiful and incredibly frustrating at the same time. The scenery is just breathtaking and nothing can prepare you for the first time you get a glimpse of Everest. But it is not an easy trek. You have to trek about 5-6 hrs each day for 12-15 days and you have to trek at high altitude, which is very hard. As there is less oxygen at high altitude it gets quite tricky to breathe at times (there was a time when I had to stop every 5 minutes to catch my breath) and some people suffer from symptoms of Accute Mountain Sickness (AMS), which are dizzyness, headaches and nauseousness. Unfortunatly I got AMS one day before I was supposed to reach base camp, so I was too ill to continue. It was devastating after 8 days of trekking and knowing that I was so close, but luckily my husband Chris made it.
Can you provide any tips for doing the base camp trek?
Do it slowly. We did our trek with an organized tour and it was scheduled to be for 12 days, so we couldn’t extend it. With hindsight 12 days wasn’t enough for me to acclimatize to the altitude properly. I recommend at least 15 days. You should also try and do some trekking beforehand to get yourself used to trekking 5 hours a day. If you can’t go trekking you can go to the gym and use a treadmill or a stepper to practise for those long and hard ascents.
Volunteering can be very rewarding if you make your research properly. Unfortunately there are a lot of dodgy organizations about who offer voluntourism opportunities for people without much time, but a lot of money. A lot them are very expensive, but the money doesn’t benefit the local people at all. You should check these things beforehand. Personally I find long-term placements (at least 3 months) more rewarding, as you can make a greater impact and you can get to know a country, its people and the culture much better. Organizations such as 2 WayDevelopment (who we used), as well as VSO, Peace Corps etc are very good organizations. The latter ones also offer good pre departure training, cover medical insurance and even pay you a small living allowance.
Finally, what are your plans for the next year or so?
We are going to stay in Cambodia until October and then the world is our oyster. We haven’t really made any plans for afterwards yet, but are keen on exploring more of Asia, i.e. Burma, Laos and Japan.