“It was a humbling experience.”


UBELONG Snapshot
Name: Jing Yi Yap
Age: 26
Hometown: Dundee
Nationality: Malaysia
University: University Of Liverpool
Degree: Medicine
Languages spoken: English, Mandarin (fluent), French (intermediate)
Past travel experience: Avid
Volunteer Abroad: Medical Assistance in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Duration: 4 weeks
Start month: September 2014
Claim to fame: Jing is very active in his community back home. She has been involved in various forms of volunteering, both short and mid-term since she was in school. We loved having her on the projects, she proved to be an exemplary UBELONG Volunteer. Thank you Jing!

Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
Having this wish of being able to volunteer abroad, I have always been on the lookout for potential projects or organizations to sign up with online. This search happened for nearly a year until I finally seized a potential break in between switching jobs. I knew from my numerous searches and comparison that UBELONG was an organization I could trust. I liked it for the information and description of projects the UBELONG website presented, and because the website gave me a good transparent glimpse into what to expect. Also, the excellent reviews of past volunteers put me at ease.

What were your major challenges?
I have to say, definitely the communication part! It was something I have expected prior to embarking on this project and knew it was going to be challenging especially as I will be involved in a medical assistance project which at its basics, requires me to see and talk to patients. However, I had a great deal of help from the local doctors and students who took the initiative to translate and explain throughout, making me feel comfortable and not left out as they speak in their native language.

Another challenge I grew to realize in the midst of the project was having to acknowledge the differences in the healthcare system, adapt and accept that this will not be changed in the span of the time I was here. I was taken into shock initially and perhaps till now, of some stark differences I see in the treatment and care provided in this developing country, mainly due to the limitations in resources coupled with the culture and attitudes of the locals towards healthcare. For instance, local anesthesia in wound suturing which I could never get away without if I were in England, was hardly a necessity and instead rarely used here, much to my dismay as I could almost feel the pain myself each time the needle pierces through. I would initially question differences in a somewhat ‘horrified’ manner but as I slowly understand the differences and limitations they face, I learnt to acknowledge them as the local practice.

What did you take from the experience?
It was a humbling experience for me and I learnt to better appreciate the simple pleasures in life and not be complacent. One bus journey I could never forget was this 5 hours bus ride back to Phnom Penh, where I, along with the other volunteers were seated with the locals as majority. The ride was bumpy, the television blasting a local festival show at full volume and there were children seated along the aisle without the proper bus seats. It wasn’t the most comfortable journey and I was initially admittedly irritated and intolerant.

However, I then saw a different scene around me; faces showing genuine happiness as they laughed along with the comedy sitcom. It was a simple and basic setting, lacking in some (perhaps more to some of us who probably cannot ‘live’ without the latest iPhone) but they could still enjoy and be happy with the simplest. I felt ashamed of my initial thoughts of distaste and later even became defensive for them as I hear a few rants from my friends. Sometimes, pleasures can be derived from the simplest of things, as long as you have an open mind and heart.

In a sentence or less, what did you think about the food?
Interesting mix of cultures!

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Related post:
Meet Fabian, a New Mexico State University undergrad who volunteered in Vietnam, with UBELONG at the medical assistance project.