A new policy for volunteers – designed to raise the bar


Volunteering – it isn’t about us, it’s about the support we can provide for disadvantaged students in Cambodia

One outcome of my recent meetings with Savong who heads a school and children’s home is the introduction of a minimum donation set for would-be volunteers to his organisation. This is set at $US 100 and is in-line with similar steps taken by similar NGOs in the district.

Volunteers and visitors have long been valued at these NGOs, and as Savong acknowledges – we are the lifeblood, financially, of how these NGOs operate in order to meet the running costs of teaching staff and equipment at the school, not to mention clothes, care, food and education costs of the children at the SOC Home.

But with Cambodia becoming a hotter destination, we’ve seen the rise of the “cheap” tourist who not only visits NGOs unannounced, interrupts proceedings, takes a million photos, but then after 2 hours, drives away without even making a donation – any donation. In other words they using the NGOs to provide a photo-op: they’re not there to make any difference, whatever, to the lives of the children.

As I’m keen to tell friends these days: a lot of what we can bring to these NGOs is about expertise, skills, experience and talent – volunteers bring great teaching skills to the school for example – but money is still vital to the running of these places if they are to keep developing.  And as part of our overall travel budget, what’s $100?

Other NGOs have found that the policy has lifted the overall quality of their volunteers (only the serious apply – the cheapies are put off) and, thankfully, helped with the running costs of the organisations. We hope so. The $100 rule will apply whether the visitor or visiting couple is there for one day, one week or one year. (It is not a daily rate!)

Any thoughts about this?

For more on volunteering click here.

5 thoughts on “A new policy for volunteers – designed to raise the bar

  1. Great, and long overdue. Does this apply to school groups too? I am just as concerned by their one day visits, but $100 per person would go a long way to helping the budget deficit each month!
    What about the question of photography at SOC?

    • Thanks Jonathan. I do think we have to be careful that we’re not seeing visitors purely as cash-machines – their skills and expertise is highly valued. Savong and I didn’t specifically mention school groups, but from what I’ve seen over the years, when a school group organises a visit from Singapore or Malaysia they’ve been amazingly generous and have made fund-raising part of their project.

      At the SOC there is a sign at the gate, where visitors check-in, saying no photography and I had to ask permission to take the photos that I took. I think the main point of the no photography rule is to deter those who just want to come by for a photo-op. (How would we feel if a visitor from overseas came into our homes, told our families to line up and say cheese, then take a hundred pictures and leave without further contact? Appropriate? I don’t think so.)

      Volunteers who spend time either at the school or SOC, when they come to know they students take may take photos (with permission) and by then the purpose is quite different. Instead of “here are some cute Cambodian kids” the photos are more personal: “Here’s my class of students – here’s a record of the people I worked with.” As Mary, another reader, suggests: it would be good to then get those photos back to the SOC or School – to share back rather than simply “take” photos.

  2. A good idea, and your first sentence makes the point – it isn’t about us, it’s about the support we can provide for disadvantaged students in Cambodia. I think $100 strikes the balance between weeding out those that aren’t genuine, without deterring those with whom we may have the opportunity to develop longer term relationships.

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