Summer 2017 brought a different kind of memorable travel experience to Fay McKay from Azure’s Member Services department team. Together with her husband Matt, she journeyed all the way to Cambodia to work as a volunteer in a children’s orphanage and street kitchen for the best part of a whole month.
Fay and Matt volunteered with a Maltese NGO called the DO (Drama Outreach) Project. Set up in 2013, this project aims to enhance the welfare of children in developing countries and poor communities. While its main work consists in teaching English to Cambodians through drama, art, song and dance, DO is also greatly committed to providing orphans, children living in institutions, and those from low-income families with better access to food and care through ongoing collaboration with Cambodian organisations.
Among such organisations is Le Restaurant des Enfants (LRDE), a soup kitchen that provides street children as young as four years old with a safe, clean environment where to receive basic food and other daily necessities. It also offers them some much-needed respite from their day’s job as flower sellers or rubbish collectors.
LRDE 3 is one such street kitchen, situated about half an hour’s tuk-tuk ride in a province outside Phnom Penh. For the whole month of September, roughly 80 children were supported through Azure’s generous donation of €1300, which sum helped cover weekly food provisions, personal hygiene products and shower water supply. This is where Fay worked as a volunteer every morning, followed by afternoons spent assisting in an orphanage that provides shelter to newborns and children of up to around 16.
It was Fay’s husband Matt who came up with the idea to participate in the Cambodia DO Project. A teacher at San Anton School in Malta, Matt was inspired by a conversation with a colleague who turned out to be the very person running the project, and who just happened to be on the lookout for summer volunteers. Matt went ahead and signed himself and his wife up, together with four other volunteers who were to join them on this experience.
Fay and Matt were away for a whole month’s period, most of which was spent volunteering. Towards the end of their stay in Cambodia, they found the time to take a break from all the hard word with some adventure travelling. Upon landing in Laos, Fay recalls taking in the jungle-covered mountain surroundings and feeling she had arrived in the most beautiful country she had ever been to, with friendly locals adding to the enriching experience.
While in Laos, the couple signed themselves up for a three-day jungle trek, which Fay claims turned out to be “quite challenging, to say the least!” The itinerary involved walking around eight hours a day and overnighting in jungle villages with the local inhabitants. Fay leaves ‘food for thought’ as she sums up this part of her experience: “I had to say no to the rat stew on the second night of our stay, but apart from that it was an amazing adventure.”
Fay goes on describe the most shocking part of the whole trip. After a day spent at LRDE 3, Fay and Matt were invited by these same children to pay a visit to their homes. As they headed down the road, Fay admired the most beautiful gold pagoda and walked through its pristinely kept grounds. Towards the back of the pagoda was a huge rubbish dump, over which wooden and tin shacks were built to house the 70 families to whom these children belonged. Fay could not help but feel powerless at the sight of a river of raw sewage running through this settlement. It broke her heart to see how the children, who didn’t know better, were so proud to show off their homes.
Fay and Matt also realised what a huge drug problem there is in Cambodia. This, together with the lack of education and the fact that a lot of the parents and children carry the HIV virus, meant that a lot of ongoing hard work is needed in the country. The couple were determined to play their part and give their utmost through this volunteering experience. In fact, just seeing the children laugh and being able to stop working and be children for a little while gave Fay the greatest satisfaction she could expect from this experience.
And when asked whether she would repeat the volunteering experience, Fay has no doubts. “Absolutely, I would go again. There is so much to be done in this country and our help is desperately needed. These children are so grateful for everything they receive, even if it’s just a hug.”
Fay encourages anyone who is considering doing this to simply go for it. At the same time, she is also keen to point out that one must “be prepared for it to be the best thing you’ve ever done, as well as the most emotional!” Her plan for 2018 is to try to secure permanent funding for LRDE3 and sponsorship of a teacher to provide basic education to LRDE3 children for a couple of hours daily.
DO also runs a child sponsorship programme that helps take Cambodian children off the streets, enabling them to stop working and providing them with a school education. If you would like to support a child or wish to enrol as a volunteer, visit www.doproject.org and, like Fay, make a difference in the innocent lives of Cambodia’s youngest generation.