Provincial communities are getting a helping hand from growing numbers of Cambodian graduates who are entering volunteer work before seeking employment in a tough job market.
A group of NGOs known as VolCam have come together to produce an online directory listing volunteering vacancies and helping prospective volunteers match their skills to a community’s needs.
The VolCam “Directory of Volunteer Service Opportunities in Cambodia”-a website resource updated by the NGOs involved following training from the UN-launched on International Volunteer Day in December and is the first of its kind in the country and aims to improve communications between NGOs as well as volunteers.
“Communities rely on volunteers because they come and share thoughts, experiences and ideas…it [the experience] will of course also help volunteers get jobs in the future because of what they learn; employers appreciate it,” said Chhit Muny, program manager of Youth for Peace, a VolCam partner, by phone. “The numbers of local volunteers have increased through promotion through schools universities and civil societies.”
According to figures from a 2008 study conducted jointly by NGO Youth Star and UN Volunteers, some 23,997 [CAMBODIAN?] volunteers work across 74 percent of the local NGO industry in Cambodia. UNV also reports that the number is increasing.
“By having the VolCam directory, I believe that the percentage of volunteers in Cambodia will be increased as people will find it easier to get info about volunteering,” said ICT specialist Hong Sophany, who has volunteered since 2007 teaching high school and university students’ about ICT.
As aid to Cambodia has increased from abroad, often in the form of overseas volunteers, so has the awareness among local NGOs that volunteers are a valuable asset. Businesses have also noticed the trend, and have been encouraging an attitude of ‘volunteer first’ as a way of approaching and dealing with the knowledge gap recent graduates have when applying for employment, explained Curtis Hundley, chief of party, USAID Cambodia’s Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprise Projects, by e-mail.
“We hire relatively few recent graduates because they cannot meet the experience qualifications of the positions we offer,” said he said adding that the MSME project works with about 4,000 rural entrepreneurs. “It is difficult to develop skills in a university environment. One may increase knowledge, but the skill of applying that knowledge can only be learned on the job. We do think that volunteering or internships assist the student to move from the conceptual to the practical.”
“If we could encourage educators to do one thing that really helps students it would be to work in the area of confidence building, rather than rote memorization of facts and figures,” he added. “Confidence building exercises require more thinking on the part of the educator and the student, but the result is a better graduate who is confident in his/her ability to learn how to contribute to their employer’s success.”
Since volunteering last year with UNV as a youth officer, Chan Thida Dum, 29, said he is extremely proud to be able to help develop Cambodia. “Getting a job is not so easy,” he said. “But, by some volunteering activities people can get much more information related to the job market and they can also get real practice of work to prepare for real work. I recently sent one of my sisters-in-law to do some volunteering work because I would like her to practice the work and be familiar with the work environment.”
“I heard about volunteering from my friends,” said Tey Sophea, 27, a volunteer for 12 months with Youth Star in Prey Veng province. “When I finished university I knew I need to get practical experience working. Following what I did in the community, I can initiate projects and ideas to improve them. I couldn’t do that before.”
But volunteering is not always the perfect solution. For Thol Dina, 26, a former history student who volunteered to teacher at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, his two year unpaid contract finished and the university said they could not offer him a job, nor would it support him sitting the exams to be formally appointed.
“They never paid me for the whole two years,” he said by phone. “But luckily my friend and I had scholarships for our Master’s degrees and I could survive from that income. We could not do anything, just survive. I really love the idea of being a volunteer and I think Cambodian universities should train people like this as it does provide a lot of benefits, but there was very little support in the department for us.”