By Stephanie Mustari
Hi Everyone! My name is Stephanie and just I finished up a 3 week volunteer experience with PLF. My experience was beautiful. If life affords you the opportunity to volunteer with PLF for a day, week or longer please do not hesitate to jump on it. I promise you will not regret it. I want to tell you everything and anything about my experience but there is just soo much to say! I will share a few things that I think I would have liked to know starting out. 
Let’s get the basics out of the way. The guesthouse – fabulous! Clean (like super clean), warm, welcoming, lots of open shared space to relax in, great wifi, close to everything in the city.Ponheary and Lori (the founders of PLF) live here, as well as Ponhearys family, who all work at the guesthouse in different capacities. The PLF office is on the first floor of the guesthouse. I truly believe this is what contributed to the communal, loving and warm feeling that you get as you enter the guesthouse after a long day. The founders are here, the family, Little Yutt will be playing cars in the front lobby area, PLF staff, other guests checked in while visiting Siem Reap. As a single female traveller, I truly really appreciated the feeling of safety I felt each and every day.DSC05576Ponheary and Lori are just the most exceptional women I have ever met. You will get many opportunities to chat with them in and around the guesthouse. They are smart, witty, and have the biggest hearts in the world. One thing that really drew me to PLF is this fact. The founders work side by side with you to brighten these children’s lives. Always thinking ahead, planning new initiatives for the students, meeting with the teachers.  Their focus is the children. That’s it -no frilly stuff, and they never lose sight of that.

The staff are just so great as well. From the tuk tuk drivers to the cleaning ladies who work at the guesthouse and of course PLF staff members. As soon as you begin your first day Jacqui will sit with you and go over everything you will need to know (accompanied by a handy checklist!). And she will work with you to figure out what it is you want to do and what schedule suits your needs. Your schedule is based your interests and skill sets in conjunction with what works best for the students.  She’ll organize everything for you and make your entire experience seamless and easy.

The work – busy, sometimes tiring, just so so rewarding. Monday to Friday I helped out in the English classes from 11am to 1pm, and from 1pm to 3pm I did Arts and Crafts. On a side note..I know that “Arts and Crafts” might seem on paper to be a pretty “fluffy” volunteer experience but it plays a really important role in the students education. The students who are fortunate enough to actually attend school in Siem Reap are taught to memorize and repeat, memorize and repeat. There is no such thing as arts and crafts during the regular school day. Creating a space for this does wonders in developing the students creativity and gives them the opportunity to think independently and outside of the box. To me, this was the most rewarding volunteer time spent.

DSC05535Now back to my schedule…Tuesday and Thursday nights I also assisted with another English class from 5-8pm. Since my background is in accounting, I also sat with PLF Khmer staff to develop their personal money management and budgeting skills. It was a busy schedule. And I was exhausted Tuesday and Thursday nights. But with weekends to fully re cooperate Monday morning I was ready for it again! I encourage you to not bite off more than you can chew.Between the heat, time adjustment, and prepping, even a few hours a day of volunteering can tire you out.

The Cambodian people and country – that’s a whole other post in itself. The people are the most kind people I have ever come across in my travels. They will chat with you, help you any way they can, and always ALWAYS do so with a genuine smile. This is of course a developing country. There were times I just felt so sad and hopeless hearing different stories that the people had to share and just learning about the suffering that this country has endured. It’s heartbreaking. And if you’re a dog lover (as I am) prepare yourself. I had been warned about this before coming by a friend of mine. But at the end of the day, remember you are here with PLF, helping to spread some light in the country and joining the momentum to create change. And what better way to create change than through education.

Saving the best for last – the students. Ahh the students.. Just wow. I was blown away. Coming from Canada where you basically have to put on a small circus act at the front of the room to get kids to actually pay attention, this was a HUGE surprise for me. They are so grateful for the chance to learn. They are so respectful of you. They are filled with so much love and laughter and excitement and curiosity. They are the ones who will really capture your heart and make you contemplate if maybe you made a mistake only volunteering for 3 weeks. My only regret of this entire experience is this. I only stayed for 3 weeks.DSC05200If you are considering volunteering with PLF and happen to cross this post, know that it will be great. You will learn and grow from it just as much as the children you serve.If you have any question at all, anything, from my experience, Cambodia in general, anything please email me at [email protected]. I would love to answer any questions you have:)
PS – follow Loris restaurant guide in your guestroom. This was my food bible. It always delivered an authentic, memorable and yummy meal;) Enjoy!!