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Volunteering in Siem Reap

We Care #2: Melissa, long-term volunteer at BFT

At Triple A Cambodia, one of our core principle is to help the impoverished local population with our business. We’re however far from being the only ones willing to help. We run our We Care blog post series in order to highlight some of the best initiatives taken in Cambodia that will help the locals on the long term.

Today, we’re meeting with Melissa, a Canadian Nurse volunteering at Build Your Future Today, an NGO operating in the Siem Reap Province.

Volunteering in Siem Reap

 Melissa and Odom assessing a cardiac patient in Arak Svay

  • Hey Melissa! Can you present yourself and tell us about what you do in Cambodia

Hello and thank you again for taking the time to learn about and contribute to Build Your Future Today! I am a Registered Nurse from Canada, and I have been volunteering in Siem Reap for the past four months with no plans of leaving. I originally came to Asia travelling with friends from home but knew I would stay long term as a volunteer. As soon as I arrived in Siem Reap I fell in love with the Khmer people and the culture. I heard about the organization BFT through a backpacker’s forum and after meeting the wonderful staff at the center and learning about the various projects I knew I would stay for a long time. The Director, Long Sedtha is one of the survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide regime (1975 – 1979) and formerly spent 12 years in the refugee camps on the Thai and Cambodia borders.  He built himself up from a humble teacher, to being the creator, Founder & Director of the Build Your Future Today Center (BFT). His is an inspirational story, of determination and care for his fellow people, influenced by the suffering and hardship he experienced during the Khmer Rouge regime. It is truly an honor to work with such amazing people. As a nurse I am involved in health promotion, health education, health checks and referrals. I am also involved in transporting villagers to and from health centers and hospitals. Working in the remote villages within the Siem Reap province BFT aims to improve health through education to maintain sustainability.

  • In the mission statement of the BFT center, it is said that “Cambodian people will receive the intellectual and economic tools required to attain self-sufficiency.” Could you tell us a bit more on how you guys are implementing that.

The years of subjection to the Khmer Rouge and war left Long Sedtha with one goal: “After the Pol Pot Genocide Regime and war destroyed Cambodian society, I only wanted to help rebuild a new community and to improve the quality of life for Cambodians. My decision was not only limited to my work, it embraced my life with a strong vision of – Cambodian people will receive the intellectual and economic tools required to attain self-sufficiency. This can only be realized once it is accepted that education must be the key to developing economic self-sufficiency as well as personal well-being and peace for the individual family as well as the whole of Cambodian society”. The creation of Build Your Future Today Center (BFT) stemmed from this determination.

The villages that the BFT work with are extremely poor suffering from malnutrition, lack of income, lack of education, domestic violence, and limited access to water, electricity and sanitation. BFT runs a number of programs based on the needs of the community determined through a socio-economical survey and village assessment. These include: adult literacy training, building schools and implementing education, health and nutrition education, supplementary nutritional programs, agricultural training, community Peace Building, community capacity building & livelihood improvement, as well as supporting children from families in crisis at the BFT center. Based on the results of the surveys a developmental plan is initiated with the intention of the village being self-sufficient within 4 years.
Within each village community advocates emerge who over a period of time start to become leaders in their own communities; passing their skills onto others within the community. The members of the community are taught new skills and microloans are used to support their skills and create an income for the families.

The improvement seen in the villages is hard to mistake. BFT has built roads, schools, and provided skills and literacy training to numerous villagers. A number of villages now require minimal support from BFT and have become independent.

Sre Rabong Primary School

BFT Volunteers and Staff providing hygiene lessons to Sre Rabong Primary School

  • Do you have a rough idea on how many people benefit from BFT’s action ?

At present BFT is currently implementing a variety of programs in 25 villages within the Siem Reap province. This amounts to approximately some 37,000 people at various stages in a 4 year cycle who are involved in projects with BFT. The aim is to adopt the village for 4 years and phase out when the village is self-sustained.

  • How can we support BFT ?

Volunteers are always welcome at BFT, long-term volunteers are preferable but not required. Volunteering with BFT is a truly unique experience; the staff are kind hearted, welcoming and always fun to work with. To learn more about the organization or if you wish to make a donation please refer to the website: http://www.center-bft.org/donate.php

  • Now that you’ve been here for a little while, what would be your advice for someone who’s new to Cambodia and is willing to help the country?

Cambodia has lots of NGO’s working with numerous villages and vulnerable populations. Unfortunately along with the good come the bad. It is important to do research before volunteering anywhere; this way you can prevent the exploitation of children and ensure resources are being properly allocated. Legitimate organizations should have a child protection policy as well as guidelines for visiting the organization. Long-term volunteers have a much greater impact and are less disruptive then short-term volunteers. If you are only here for a few days, supporting shops run by local NGOs and eating at restaurants such as Haven or Marum help to support the community through donations; this is much more helpful than teaching for one or two days.

Oroong Primary School, Cambodia

BFT providing new uniforms and school supplies to students at Oroong Primary School

 Thanks for your time Melissa! Keep on the amazing work!

Once again, if you need to know more about Build Your Future Today, you can check the NGO’s website here: http://www.center-bft.org/