Standing in the visa line in Siem Reap after arriving in a swathe of sunshine and tourism, I knew Cambodia was going to be very different from my previous country of residence, Bangladesh. Having traveled through Cambodia before, I knew a little about the country’s history and culture; and as the nostalgia pulsed through my veins in the immigration queue and my passport was being stamped, I was very much ready to make Siem Reap my home and take on a new challenge.
I was excited.
Let me provide some context: Siem Reap is a town built upon tourism. The temple complex of Angkor Wat draws in visitors from around the world to come and view its spectacle. This is great for the local economy, bringing in what I imagine is millions of dollars, which in turn should have a positive impact on the socio-economic development of those living in and around it. However, given that Cambodia is a developing country, we know that is not always the case.
Those who have visited Siem Reap know that as well as the five-star hotels and resorts, there is still visible poverty and inequality amongst many Cambodians who are looking to benefit from a portion of the millions available.
This is where Journeys Within Our Community (JWOC) comes in, providing a range of services and programs in and around Siem Reap, to make sure local residents can improve their quality of life. Through innovative programs based in the heart of the community (Scholarships, Free Classes and Community Support), JWOC has managed to create a rapport and understanding within the community beyond any traditional NGO.
Knowing this, I was still quite nervous on my first day (as most of us are); however, after walking into the community center for the first time, all my nervousness quickly subsided. Students were playing tag. What could be more natural? Phew!
This initial experience perfectly sums up JWOC and the aura that exists here – the enthusiasm and professionalism of the scholarship students and staff we have is exemplary and clear to see by all involved. I was lucky enough to arrive in Cambodia just in time to ride with the students on the 30 km “Race 4 Change” Angkor Bike Ride and to then celebrate their achievements at the graduation party. I have since experienced their fieldwork in villages, their classroom teaching and witnessed JWOC’s ability to transfer such enthusiasm and work ethos into the programs.
You may walk into JWOC with a frown, but nobody walks out with one!
From the first day at JWOC up until now I have found myself engaged in every aspect of an exciting and vibrant organization filled with youth enthusiasm and spirit; and, with the 10th anniversary of the organization coming up next year, a celebratory mood.
As the Communications and Fundraising manager, I have the responsibility of highlighting and showcasing JWOC in the best way possible, both outside and inside our walls. And as far as I can tell, JWOC is already doing this for me!
So as the nostalgia in my veins runs out, I find it being replaced with optimism and anticipation for the coming months.