Name: Maggie Sweeney
Hometown: Denver, Colorado
Nationality: United States
University: University of Denver
Degree: Political Science & Journalism
Languages spoken: English, German (advanced), Spanish (beginner)
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Strengthening NGO Capacity in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Duration: 4 weeks
Start month: March 2016
Claim to fame: Lived and worked in Germany for six weeks.
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I decided to become a UBELONG volunteer because I had heard great things about the organization from friends, and I figured it would be a great way to make a difference while simultaneously traveling and learning all about a new culture.
What was your impact on your volunteer project?
I was volunteering with a human rights organization that focuses on raising awareness of issues regarding women and children throughout Cambodia. The organization aims to target underdeveloped provinces that are not as economically advanced as other areas of Southeast Asia. By doing so, they strive to raise awareness of pressing issues throughout the country that can be ameliorated by helping others gain an understanding of how to help. I helped update the outdated marketing kit for their organization. I did this by editing and revising the grammar and sentence structures for the English version, and revising the graphic design of the images and overall layout.
What were your major challenges?
One obvious major challenge was the language barrier. I was the only one working in the office who spoke English as a native tongue, and this was a bit of struggle when I needed to ask questions or clarify particular projects. However, this challenge made my experience all the more memorable and educational. Another major challenge is the pace of work. There were definitely some times where I ran out of something to work on, or I wasn’t too sure how I could help out after finishing an initial assignment. It’s critical to understand that you’re a volunteer, not a paid worker, and you will be asked to perform many odd jobs that you might not have anticipated, or may not thoroughly enjoy. You can’t be to shy to use an open system of communication with your employer, and be assertive when asking what you can do next. Many people that I lived with in my volunteer house would complain about not having enough work to do throughout their days.
In a sentence or less, how would you describe the locals you met?
The locals I met were truly amazing. They were all very excited about the fact that I was visiting and working in the city, and much more welcoming than I anticipated. They were interested about where I come from, and why I chose to come to Cambodia. They also wanted to know what I thought of their country and how it compares to where I live. Their general interest in my life really made me all the more excited to be surrounded by such enthusiastic individuals. My favorite part of my work experience was the last day before I left. The community was celebrating the Khmer New Year, and we spent the day eating unique foods, fruits, and candies while celebrating the country’s biggest holiday. We had two monks come in and lead a prayer ceremony for us while we sat crossed legged on the floor, sang songs and recited prayers. My employer was greatly appreciative of all of the work that I helped the organization out with, and I definitely had an emotional goodbye on my last day; even though I was only there for a short three weeks. Overall, I had such a great experience volunteering and it’s definitely something that I will recommend to others, and consider pursuing again for myself in the near future.