Through the International Citizen Service (ICS), Emily McGoohan, a young parishioner of Ss Alban and Stephen Parish in St Albans, volunteered with the charity Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) for 10 weeks in rural Cambodia, where she worked on a livelihoods project across three villages in Koas Krala district, Battambang Province. The project focused on three key areas: agriculture, business and careers, with the overall goal of improving living standards by providing local young people with greater knowledge and understanding, to mitigate youth migration from rural areas to the larger cities and neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam.
Emily volunteered alongside eight UK and nine Khmer volunteers and was part of the agriculture sub-team. To improve local youth knowledge about agriculture, Emily was tasked with leading three weekly youth clubs on agriculture; she also created demo-plots, constructing irrigation systems and plant nurseries in multiple schools. There were improvements to community infrastructure too, with the building of three chicken coops, establishing home gardening plots and organising a weekend chicken training workshop for locals.
The volunteers were also involved in starting a community shop, working with local partners to advertise job opportunities, teaching English and planting trees to combat climate change. Sustainability was essential to the project, ensuring locals would be able to run the youth clubs themselves and continue accessing enough resources to be able to continue improving their quality of life.
The programme allowed Emily to immerse herself fully in Cambodian culture, living with a local family and being accepted into the local community. Living with a family whose father had moved to South Korea to work also emphasised the importance of the work she and the other volunteers were doing to provide local opportunities so that families would not have to be separated in order for one of them to earn a living.
Not only did the project benefit the local community, but both the UK and national volunteers were able to learn about each other’s cultures and work together to make a difference in a country that suffers from many injustices and inequalities.
Emily was particularly grateful to the Catenians for their generous support, which enabled her to take part in this life-changing experience.