According to Wikipedia, “volunteering” means the practice of people working on behalf of others or a particular cause without payment for their time and services.

 I like to work as volunteer since I was young. When I was a high school student I did want to join the student association. But, at that time it was difficult to become formal member of the association. It was linked to the party’s politic and it was strict during the socialist regime in the early 80er.

 In 1981, I remembered one day, there was some repair works for the school (Bak Touk high school) chairs and table and I went there asking the organizer who may need my help to repair those furniture. I was happy that my request was accepted. It was my first volunteer work. During student’s time, I did not have any money. My mother offered me some pocket money. But, I refused to take it, because I saw she worked very hard to sell rice soup or rice noodles to earn some money to support the family of ten people: my parent and eight children. Usually, I helped her by getting up early in the morning and during my free time from school. I never spent my time going for a walk or with friends, not to say with girl friends. I was very shy. Knowing that I am poor, I would better use my time to earn some money on my own. We had a bicycle and I used that bicycle to drive as “bicycle taxi” or “Kang Dup” in Khmer. My first bicycle was bought after I sold my raising pig. Usually, I woke up at 4 am, helped my mother a little bit, and learned my lessons from school. At 5 am, I drove my bicycle along the quiet streets in Phnom Penh trying to find customer for any kind of trip. One trip at that time costs one Riel. Until 6 or 6:30 am, I would be lucky to earn up to five Riels. Some time, I got only one customer and received one Riel. I save this money for my study, English, Mathematics, physic etc. I skipped breakfast to save money. Though, I was a poor student, but I like to do social work to help our school and others.


Cambodian students in Leipzig, East Germany, in the 80th

 In August 1, 1984, I got the government scholarship to study in East Germany. I was very happy to receive this great news. I learnt very hard in school and my exam got the best note among 800 students nation wide at that time. 8 students (me included) or 1% got the “very good” note during the exam passing the secondary school. My hard working habit produced very satisfactory result. During the application, one could apply for three major different subjects to study. I applied for Physic, Electronic and food processing. However, what I had to study was determined by the state: Marxism and Leninism, a subject I have never dreamt of. I was disappointed to learn that I have to study Philosophy, a subject that I dit not like. But, my dream was to go for a study abroad. It doesn’t matter, what subject. A chance to get scholarship, especially to country like East Germany was not very big. I had to take this chance with the hope that I could change my subject while I arrived there. But, my attempt to change the subject was in vain.

 In Germany, along with the study, I first became a member of the so called student group of the local association in Leipzig. We had about 60 Cambodians studying in Leipzig. We were about 15 students in one group, living in Loessnig. I was very active in the cultural club. We learnt how to dance, how to perform our Cambodian cultural dance etc., especially during weekend. Most of students did not want to waste their time for this kind of unpaid social work. But, I liked to do it. Either at the language school, at the university or at other venues, our group had been invited to perform Cambodian cultural show and other exchange program. I was less shy than in school. We have successes and received good recognition from the embassy or other partners.

 Later on, I was elected to become the group leader, then the chairman of Leipzig student association, and finally the member of the steering committee of the “Revolutionary Youth Association of Kampuchea”, until 1990. At the national level, the revolutionary student’s association had about 400-500 members. Everybody must become the member, otherwise, it was observed by the Cambodian embassy very closely. We were not allow to travel outside East Germany. Even to Cambodia, we must apply for a visa. Our passports were collected upon arrival at the airport in the former GDR.

 Upon returning to Cambodia in April 1996, I joined the Cambodian German Association, called KDV, became later member of the steering committee and then secretary general of the association. I was active in the KDV till 2002, when we handed over to a new chairman. He finally destroyed everything after two years in that position. 

 What have I learnt from these association work and life?

– learn to organize small and big event

– learn to facilitate and chair the meeting

– learn to manage team work

– learn to sing, dance and perform some cultural dances, I have never dared to dance before

– learn to give a speech in the public function

– learn to communicate with people at different levels and background

– learn to make friends

– learn to do networking

– learn to raise, collect and manage collective funds

– learning many things by doing

– And finally have lots of fun.

 What did I pay for so many things I learnt? Nearly nothing, except my time and energy; that I then plenty had.

 Our volunteering work produced some results:

– Our students got organized, at the group level, at the provincial level and at the national level

– Local and national events such as capacity building program, Khmer New Year, other important functions clollectively organized

– Other people learnt to know our small country Cambodia more and more. In East Germany, German people hardly know about Cambodia. They presume we are coming from Vietnam since we have black hair and there were a lot of Vietnamese guest workers there

– Strengthening the solidarity among students, embassy officials, partners

– Our association got recognition from partners etc.

 I still enjoy working as volunteer the way I could or contribute small amount of money for charity or volunteer organization. It is also lacking in current Cambodia, but we Cambodians do need to foster this volunteerism spirit to help our society becomes a better place to live in.


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