Name: Zoe Speirs
Hometown: Hemel Heampstead
Nationality: United Kingdom
Languages spoken: English, Spanish (fluent), French (beginner)
School: Stamford High School
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Caring for Disabled Children in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Duration: 8 weeks
Start month: April 2015
Claim to fame: Has lived in Spain and speaks fluent Spanish. Gracias!
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I chose to do volunteering because I wanted to travel during my year out before university, but I didn’t want to just travel – I want to give something back to the world and fully emerge myself in a different culture. I did a lot of research, and UBELONG had the volunteer program that really fitted what I wanted to do, and on top of that, it was so much more affordable than other companies. The support that UBELONG Mentors provided was beyond superb, and it was just such a fabulous company. They made my dreams a reality. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone, and UBELONG allowed me to do this – I never thought I would be travelling half way across the world to volunteer, let alone by myself – and UBELONG made that possible and so much less daunting. My mentor was so supportive, and guided me through each step – making the process so much easier and smoother – I could have never done it without UBELONG.
What is your favorite memory?
How can I pick just one! Although the entire experience was amazing, I’m finding it so hard to pick just one memory from the hundreds I have from working with the beautiful children I worked with. Every day was truly a pleasure to go to my placement – I ended up wanting to go rather than having my days off! If I had to pick though, I can think of two. One would be after having pool day outside with the children in the morning, I was cuddling and playing with the baby with Down’s Syndrome, and the little angel fell asleep in my arms. I have never had a baby fall asleep in my arms, and it is the most magical feeling ever. The second memory, would be playing with the little boy with severe Cerebral Palsy, who learnt to like me and used to smile at me all the time – you could tell he was getting more confident, as he smiled and giggled when you tickled his head – although disabled, he was happy, and that truly gave me a lesson in life – these children gave me much more than I could have ever given them. I have truly grown to love them.
Tell me about somebody you met who impressed you?
I met the most incredible and strong and inspirational lady ever: Colleen. She is an Australian woman who has moved to Phnom Penh and is part of the management of the orphanage of my placement. She has made such incredible changes already, albeit small, but these little steps are slowly adding up. It’s very hard to just change things quickly when it is such a different culture. Even so, she has made changes such as providing hot water for bathing, moringa powder to be added to meals for the children severely malnourished, snacks that are more manageable and easier to swallow for the children, and a change in the nappy system from the old cloth nappies to tie. As I said, these small changes are exactly that, small, as funds are tight and culture differences are hard to change to the Western view, but these changes are already making a difference, and I can’t wait to see what else Colleen is going to manage to change – such as upgrading the children’s wheelchairs. If I grow up to be like Colleen, I will be beyond proud of myself.
In a sentence or less, what was your funniest moment?
When the first rainy season kicked in whilst I was travelling back to the house after my placement in a tuk-tuk!