“By the end of my placement, I felt like family.”


UBELONG Snapshot
Name: Lily Macleod
Age: 23
Hometown: Toronto, Ontario
Nationality: Canada
Languages spoken: English, French (intermediate)
University: McGill University
Degree: Psychology
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Strengthening NGO Capacity in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Duration: 5 weeks
Start month: February 2016
Claim to fame: Traveled to Croatia to compete in the Beach Volleyball World Championships as a Team Canada athlete. Way to go Lily!

Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I can’t pinpoint the moment when I decided to volunteer abroad- it was more of a slow and steady realization. I had reached the end of my undergraduate years-during which I studied sociology and psychology-and was yearning to see the theories I had learned about social systems put into practice. I was interested in the processes which contributed to human trafficking, exploitation and explicit inequality but these concepts remained distant from my reality. I also realized that I had a passion for human rights and female empowerment and had a strong desire to promote these phenomenon in a place that was struggling to advocate them. And finally there was my undeniable urge to explore and see the world. What better way to achieve all three of these things then to volunteer for a human rights organization in Cambodia? UBELONG was my number one choice because it was the most affordable organization and offered really interesting placement options.

Tell me about somebody you met who impressed you?
I remember my head smashing against the ceiling during a car ride to a fishing community in rural Cambodia. We couldn’t go one meter without a tire almost giving way to a pot hole. I silently willed us to turn around. My colleague then turned to me and said: “20 years ago, we visited this community and I told the driver to be very careful because each hole could be a land mine”. This colleague is the bravest person I’ve ever met. He not only survived the Khmer Rouge Regime-during which he was forced to watch his loved ones starve to death- but he has gone on to achieve so much personal success, to continually fight for the future of his country and most importantly to gain the most positive and compassionate outlook on life. Tragedy has made him stronger. That is the kind of person I aspire to be!

What were your major challenges?
In one word: uncertainty would be the most challenging part of my experience. I quickly learned that NGOs are fluid entities that often operate on the fly and helping out means stepping in and trying new things outside your comfort zone. I spent the good part of my placement proposal writing, which I had no experience with and felt anxious that I would not achieve the success my organization was depending on. In the end though, I learned that passion, dedication and truly hard work take you a long way- with these elements, the proposal was chosen to be funded!

In a sentence or less, how would you describe the locals you met?
The Cambodian locals I had the pleasure of meeting were each welcoming, humble and thick skinned. By the end of my placement, I felt like family.

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Related post:
Meet Tuomas Vuorinen, a business grad from Aalto University School of Science and Technology, who volunteered at the Microfinance and Income Generation project in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.