Name: Ashley Mills
Hometown: Castro Valley, California
Nationality: United States
Languages spoken: German, Spanish (intermediate), Japanese (beginner)
School: University of California San Diego
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Care and Teach for Children from Poor Backgrounds in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Duration: 2 weeks
Start month: June 2015
Claim to fame: Ashley has been to Japan, and she even speaks a bit of Japanese!
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer in Cambodia?
I was approached by friend who was a co-site leader for an Alternative Breaks program at my school, UCSD. She informed me about the trip and told me that she thought I would a great addition to the team. I am super passionate about social justice issues pertaining children and the trip was addressing the issue of underprivileged youth and special needs children. I decided to become a participant in the trip in order to help as much as I can.
What inspired you during your volunteer abroad trip to Cambodia?
I was greatly inspired by the people of Cambodia. As cheesy as that sounds. I witness people so happy to help each other even when they had very little. While traveling through town I came across a motorcycle accident. Two motorcycles had collided with each other and both drivers were injured. Where I am from it is common for people to merely rubber neck and for the bystander effect to take place. However in Phnom Pehn it was different, many tuk tuk drivers had made a barrier around the injured drivers to protect them from oncoming traffic, people were running over offering water and rags to help with the injured and others were waving down the traffic down the road to let them know of the accident. It was really amazing how so many people stopped what they were doing to ensure that the two injured drivers got the help they needed. This is only one example but I saw this theme happen often with the locals. It really inspired me to be aware of the bystander effect and to take that extra step to help others.
I was also inspired by the women who worked at the orphanage I volunteered at. These women, known as the mamas, have one of the most challenging jobs I have ever seen. The mamas are in charge of the care for many special needs individuals, often 10 individuals to 2 mamas and 1-2 volunteers. They always had a cheerful attitude and never showed how weary they were. I never saw them take breaks either, constantly working and making sure the children were not only taken care of but also happy. Even more importantly they found such joy in their work. Their job was hard and at times when a child was really ill or passed was depressing but they always seemed to look towards the happier side of things and were always smiling. They inspired me to stay positive and no matter what happens to always find happiness in the little things.
What was most challenging to you during your time volunteering?
I come from a medical background and it was difficult for me detach from what I had been taught all my life in a very westerner view. At first I struggled with not looking at my surroundings through a westerner lens. By that I mean not comparing what I was seeing and judging it based on my own personal views. I learned that I had to have more of an open point of view. At first I was shocked by the care methods for the children, but after detaching from the westerner view I realized that the mamas were using the best methods they had available. It really changed my point of view, but it took a while for it to happen.
In a sentence or less, sum up your UBELONG experience.
Life changing and an experience I will treasure forever.