When I started a job in the past, I was usually excited, passionate, and also unavoidably, nervous about what to expect from my co-staff and supervisor. Starting my very first internship with a non-governmental organization, Youth Education for Development and Peace, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia is definitely unique and challenging in terms of work culture and tasks.
Right as I expected, YEDP is no different from other NGOs in Cambodia because during the Cambodian genocide, the Khmer Rouge regime led by Pol Pot between 1975 and 1979 killed an estimate of 1.5 to 3 million people, especially the educated. Every NGO in Cambodia has to fight against limited financial resources and sustainability, political influences, and natural disasters. Thus, YEDP, in my eyes, functions more like a grass-root. On a positive note, NGOs in Cambodia are forming alliances to apply for international human rights funds from U.S. and Europe in order to fulfill their responsibilities for the vulnerable and improve their staff capacity.
First day at the office is not the brightest day because there is not stable internet connection in the office and the working environment is surrounded by many constructions, which make noises carelessly. Communication becomes the biggest challenge even though I could really sense that supervisor and co-staff were trying their best to demonstrate their passion in the work they have been doing. But Facebook soon becomes the bridge of communication among the team. There are also two other volunteers from Canada and Germany. Right now, the first priority for us is to work on the VOICE grant proposal with two other NGOs in Cambodia; at the same time, we are also working on a website dedicated to the promotion of our NGO. Our work can be challenging and frustrating to begin with, because of the tedious amount of workloads from correcting the grammar of the proposal to understanding the strategic plan of our NGO. In addition, the work pace is quite different from a generic internship back home or college projects because our supervisor is super chill about everything, for instance, the due date of our first proposal is expected to be the end of the summer. Our supervisor is optimistic about every suggestion we talk about, but I find it hard at times to figure out what his vision for our NGO is in a long run. I would like to improve the communication between us and partners so that I will have a more organized schedule for my 6-week internship, and hopeful contribute more to our grass-root NGO. Luckily, I met a senior staff from India, and we decided we should grab Indian lunch together in Phnom Penh and talked about his visions of working in NGO for 11 years in Cambodia. I will have to learn to deal with my frustration and start from the scratch; the key is to be proactive, and humble in my work attitude in the new environment.
The great advantage of interning in Cambodia is that I went to Koh Rong Saloem beach during the weekend with my fellow volunteers. It is not an exaggeration to compare the beach to a secret paradise. But there are literally different worlds between the crowded Phnom Penh city filled with poverty and the pure southern beach town. As a volunteer, we are simply a passenger in lives of other Cambodians; we may never understand how it feels to live in Cambodia and face the life passion and kindness constantly. Deeply in my heart of sentiment, I have begun to realize how I should have appreciated my life more back home, and how much I should work to leave my impact in YEDP.