The Benefits & Profile Of Volunteering

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Cambodia School Children

Post written by Jamie C. Amelio.

Caring for Cambodia (CFC), which in ten years has built sixteen schools and now educates and provides two meals a day to 6,400 students, was started in my living room in Singapore by a handful of expatriates. Its backbone continues to be volunteers, now numbering many hundreds around the world.

Over the years I’ve learned to identify at least five types of volunteers:

  1. First, there are those who show up at meetings because they are your friends, but eventually their commitment tends to wane
  1. There are those who talk and talk about the million tasks they are going to take on but who get nothing done.
  1. There are those who want to help because it’s the right thing to do but fail to follow through. When they see you, they come right out and tell you why they couldn’t get the job done. Often these people can be inspired to do more
  1. There are those who year after year squeeze volunteer work into their busy lives. Their intentions are good, but they may only have time to participate in one event a year, or take on a task behind the scenes. They can make an important contribution, and for the most part stay committed.
  1. Finally, there are those who lead busy lives but who make an ongoing commitment. They are selfless and incredibly hard working, and they do what they say they are going to do, no matter what.

In my world, I consider these five types of volunteers, all of whom are responsible for CFC’s success, to be different shades of orange. Being orange is an expression I coined to refer to individuals — good and kind people — who get what we are trying to do in Siem Reap. I have repeatedly witnessed peoples’ inner light magically turn this brilliant hue when they walk into our schoolyards or classrooms, hold the hand of a young Cambodian student, or congratulate an older youth with a smile. People feel it, and they become committed

My First Orange Moment

I will never forget my own first orange moment, standing towards the back of the majestic ancient temples of Angkor Wat. Four or five monks in their bright orange robes were walking across the lush, rain-soaked fields when just then a waif of a girl tugged at my shirt. “Could I have a dollar?” a sweet small voice pleaded.

I asked her what she would do with the dollar. She introduced herself as Srelin and said she wanted the dollar to pay for school.

“What a clever answer,” I thought suspiciously, imagining a street person in a U.S. city standing outside a liquor store asking for money.

I found myself telling Srelin that if she showed me her school I would give her the dollar, so she invited me to visit that afternoon. Very businesslike, we shook hands.

Later that day Srelin showed me her classroom, not much more than four walls and a ceiling. There must have been 75 children of all ages crammed into a small room. sitting on benches under narrow tables, three to five kids to a table. Children were literally sitting on top of one another. It turned out that the teacher hadn’t shown up that day. Without supervision, the children just sat there talking quietly, waiting for their teacher to arrive.

By the time we returned to our hotel something in me had changed. My heart and head had been turned topsy-turvy. I couldn’t sleep that night. I couldn’t get my mind around the idea that I lived in a country with everything I could possibly need while two hours away children were trying to learn in an environment like the one I had just seen. That was my orange moment, and I never looked back.

Another Orange Moment

Over and over again, all five categories of volunteers have had their own orange moments. We always encourage our volunteers to travel to Siem Reap to see for themselves what we are doing there to reconstruct the Cambodian educational system, which had been destroyed in the 1970s when the Khmer Rouge singled out teachers and murdered 70% of them.

Kaye Bach, who left a good job in Singapore to move to Siem Reap as our first director of teacher training, had her orange moment one weekend in 2006 when she and her husband were visiting Cambodia on holiday with some friends. A colleague from the American school in Siem Reap had suggested she visit one of our schools, and she brought with her two duffel bags of school supplies. Immediately she was surrounded by a couple of dozen small children, no more than five or six years old.

As Kaye handed the supplies over to the school’s principal, unable to communicate with the children in any language, to the mortification of her husband and son, she spontaneously broke into the most Western song she could think of, “If You’re Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands.”

“I don’t know what came over me but the kids were delighted and immediately joined in, even though they spoke no English,” she remembers. “I was hooked. Without a doubt, I was going back. As for so many of us, it was almost a spiritual experience without having anything to do with religion. It was my “orange moment.”

Jamie C. Amelio’s book, Graced with Orange, tells her story of travelling to Cambodia, adopting two Cambodian girls, founding Caring for Cambodia (CFC), a non-profit, non-governmental charitable organization, and changing her own life and the lives of those around her. It is now available on Amazon.com.

photo source: caroundtheworld.com

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