UBELONG Volunteer with some of his students in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

“Growth is an inevitable outcome when volunteering anywhere.”


UBELONG Snapshot
Name: Michael Di Salvo
Age: 29
Hometown: Staten Island, New York
Nationality: United States
Languages spoken: English, Italian (advanced), Spanish (beginner)
Occupation: Teacher at St. Peter’s Boys High School
Volunteer Abroad: Teaching English in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Duration: 2 weeks
Start month: July 2018

Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
Valeria Belmonte, a colleague of mine, described to me all of the wonderful experiences that she had while volunteering around the world with her husband. I became inspired from hearing her stories. Similar to her, I wanted to help others, I wanted to go on an adventure, and I wanted to make a difference – in myself and others.

What impact did you make on your volunteer project?
I volunteered as an ESL teacher at a school in a poverty stricken area of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The school was erected right next to a dump and most of the children in attendance used to spend their hours as garbage pickers since they had no school in their proximity to go to. Therefore, the school was a symbol of hope for the students.

The impact that I made while teaching at the school was tremendous, but it might have been greater on me than the actual students. Every morning I would design a lesson plan that was fun, educational, and engaging. Each day was filled with smiles and excitement. The energy and creativity that I brought to the classroom was unlike anything they’ve experienced before. They did not want class to end. One time they even crowded the exit so that I couldn’t leave.


UBELONG Volunteer with his students in Cambodia

Michael with some of his students in Phnom Penh 🙂


My successes in the classroom did not go unnoticed. After a short period. I was promoted by John Thompson, the school supervisor as well as the coordinator of volunteers. He wanted me to train new volunteers and develop a 5th grade curriculum of assessments and exams for iPads that were recently donated.

My six years of teaching experience played an integral role in my training of the other volunteers, but I gave them the necessarily tools to become strong, and confident educators. I noticed their rapid growth and comfortability while working with the new volunteers in and out of the classroom; they became extensions of myself, and together we made an immeasurable impact at the school.

Upon the completion of my volunteer work as an ESL teacher. I asked if they needed assistance with anything else, and sure enough there was an entire school that needed to be painted. So, I gathered some supplies and in two days painted the entire school. Now the school is vibrant and welcoming whereas in the past it was dull and dreary. Children will be looking forward to attending school everyday from now on.


UBELONG Volunteer paints a local school in Cambodia

Michael painting a school in Phnom Penh!


How did you grow personally during your volunteer trip?
Growth is an inevitable outcome when volunteering anywhere. I grew socially by increasing my awareness of the world, but more specifically the Cambodian culture through daily interactions. I grew spiritually by opening myself up to the journey and the people that I met along the way. Also, my craft and confidence as a teacher has been strengthened significantly; I did not think that I would be able to teach a class of 50 children in a language they were unfamiliar with, but with meticulous lesson planning and patience I found great success.

In a sentence or less, how would you sum up your volunteer experience?
Enlightening and necessary.

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Related post:
Meet Lovella Pinero, a staff nurse from the Philippines, who volunteered with UBELONG at the caregiving project in Cambodia.