Travelmag Banner

Volunteering in rural Cambodia

South East Asia, it’s a popular one on that well trodden back-packing route. Buckets in Bangkok, tubing in Laos, the DMZ and the splendour of Angkor Wat. Undoubtedly, it’s a region steeped in history and culture with a lot to offer. But have you got anything to give back?

On a path less taken, in the Takeo Province of Southern Cambodia, is a place that welcomes travellers with open arms, provides a base to explore a guide-free and queue-less Kampuchea, a place to eat, sleep and meet others, and most importantly of all – change your life and that of fifty kids for the better.

New Futures Orphanage (NFO) was set up in 2006 to help the poorest children in this beautiful rural region of Cambodia. Most of the children are from families who are suffering from severe poverty, no education, lack of food and clothing, and in extreme cases the kids have been subjected to sexual abuse and violence.

The orphanage is always welcoming volunteers and the beauty of it, in stark contrast to many volunteering opportunities, is that it won’t cost you one single riel. Most of the volunteers are back-packers and the centre where the volunteers stay (away from the orphanage) has a real travelling vibe to it.  Giving you the benefits of the common-room or communal kitchen of a hostel, and these can be as rare as a genuine not-for-profit orphanage in this part of the world.

Not only does any time spent at NFO give you the feeling of doing something really worthwhile, in a country that really needs it, but it enriches the travel experience immeasurably.

The rural base allows the traveller to gain a much more tangible experience of Cambodia. There are no day passes or ‘tuk-tuk’ cries here. Getting supplies from the local market – you don’t speak Khymer, they don’t have much English – suddenly becomes much more fun than it was in the 7-Eleven in the city. The main mode of transport is the trusty old bike, all the volunteers have one – at 1$ a day it’s a great way to get to the orphanage or go for an exploration of the local villages and countryside while taking everything in en route.

As far as the volunteering goes, there is no minimum skill level. Some volunteers spend time with the kids teaching them new games or helping with their English, some like to play football and volleyball, while others help with building work or have a specific subject that can help with the children’s education.  No matter what you think you have to offer, all activities have equal merit in the value they impart to the kids.

Many of us strive for an authentic travel experience and several times we find ourselves heading down routes and places where others tell us ‘that you should have been here ten years ago’. ‘It’s all commercial now,’ they’ll say, ‘chasing the tourist dollar’. A lot of the time these oracles of travel are simply looking through rose tinted glasses, but sometimes they’re right.

Cambodia is the jewel in my South East Asian crown and it was the ability to linger and absorb myself into a rural community – who were definitely not in the business of making the most out of a passing back-packer trade – that made the opportunity provided by New Futures in Takeo unforgettable.

Memories of my travels in the region, the ones that stick out, consist of things that were different from my life at home. Pigs running down a main street and into a petrol station; fishermen casting their nets into lakes while monks in their traditional robes sat on the bank chatting; bridging the language gap while ordering eggs to make sure they were embryo-free; and watching children who once had little or no hope in life, becoming inspired by something as simple as learning a new English word.

All these things happened in Takeo during my time at New Futures Orphanage. It’s more than just a way to do something worthwhile while travelling, it’s a fantastic back-packing option if you want to uncover a path less travelled – in more ways than one.

For more information on the volunteering opportunities at New Futures visit

   [Top of Page]  
 Latest Headlines
Asia Pacific