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“In a short amount of time, it’s possible to understand what makes them smile.”

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Name: Abigail Hands
Age: 20
Hometown: Kent, United Kingdom
Nationality: United Kingdom
University: University of Cambridge
Degree: Law
Languages spoken: English
Past travel experience: Avid
Volunteer Abroad: Caring for Children with Disabilities in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Duration: 3 weeks
Start month: August 2017
Claim to fame: Abigail is a second time UBELONGer – her first time with UBELONG she volunteered in Hanoi, Vietnam in 2016. It’s wonderful to have you back on board, Abigail 🙂

Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I have always been involved with working with children at a local level, whether that be in local primary schools or fundraising for children’s charities. For my gap year, I decided that I wanted to go abroad and volunteer in an environment different to my own. UBELONG was the best program I found that could make that happen.

What was your impact on your volunteer project?
I was working at an orphanage for disability children in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The playroom that I was in had some of the more severely disabled children. My role therefore, had an emphasis on caring for them. I helped the mamas in the daily routine, making their lives easier and allowing more attention to be given to the children. After just a few days, you realise that it isn’t possible to change the overall functioning of the orphanage however the smallest changes that are made do have a big impact.

It became my goal to ensure that everyday I made as many of the children as possible smile and kept the mamas as enthusiastic and motivated as possible. In a very short amount of time it is possible to really get to know the children and to understand what makes them smile. For some children that involved making car/train noises when you walked them in their chairs, while for others it involved simply picking them up out of their chairs and holding them.

My biggest impact was regarding one of the little girls in my playroom. She has severe autism and can be quite challenging to deal with. Due to this she was often left in her bed and treated quite roughly. I grew very fond of her and ensured that everyday she was taken out of her bed and included in what the other children were doing. I noticed that towards the end of my time at the orphanage she was treated a lot better and the mamas were far more affectionate towards her. By showing the mamas that she was manageable and not as difficult as they may have thought, it made a huge impact on how she is cared for and to understanding her disability.

What is your favorite memory?
It is very tricky to think of my favourite memory as so often the children made me smile and reminded me of why I wanted to volunteer in the first place. However, one of my favourite activities was when the kids got to bathe in the paddling pool. The freedom that they felt being in the water compared to being stuck in their chairs was incredible to see. One little girl couldn’t stop laughing from the moment you placed her in the water until you took her out. It was amazing to see that such a simple thing could bring such joy to their lives.

In a sentence or less, how would you describe local life?
The city of Phnom Penh is always bustling, there is never a dull moment and everyday is different and exciting.

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Related post:
Meet Rhoda Lynch, a Princeton University undergrad, who volunteered with UBELONG in the caregiving project in Hanoi, Vietnam.

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