My name is Farah Srichandra and I am Junior, Biology major at Loyola Marymount University. My volunteer experience through LMU’s Alternative Breaks in Siem Reap, Cambodia was both an unforgettable and rewarding experience. During my two-week stay, from May 14 to May 27, I had the chance to travel to many villages with Journeys Within Our Community (JWOC) and the university students from JWOC’S scholarship program. During my two week stay in Siem Reap I worked on the layout of an organic garden and courtyard at Wat Chork Buddhist Temple. My take on this project was to plan a blueprint of a 25 meter by 2.5 meter garden in the central quad area of the pagoda where students, monks, and teachers could have a central meeting area. We picked to plant flowers such as marigolds, which are commonly used to give offerings to the monks and for the temple. The purpose of the organic garden is to plant vegetables and flowers which the temple community could use on a daily basis. The students could in turn sell the flowers, grow their own food, leading them one step closer to becoming self sufficient. My work primarily consisted of closely observing and assisting our volunteer coordinator Melissa in a variety of procedures including planning an organic garden, purchasing flowers, and setting up compost stations at the pagoda.

It was a true gift to be able to learn one-on-one from excellent leaders about all steps in the process of building a sustainable non-profit organization. The men, women, and children I met at the squatters village were badly in need of clean water, and I am grateful that we were able to help them. They were also lovely hosts and were excited to show us their culture. As they showed me where they worked and lived, I was often struck by the fact that their health is important not only to their quality of life, but often also to their ability to provide for themselves and their families. It was at these times that I realized the importance of JWOC’s mission. The staff at Journeys Within Our Community in Siem Reap were hard-working, welcoming, and totally committed both to caring for the Khmer community and to helping us volunteers become comfortable in a foreign environment. Time and time again they went out of their way to share their own personal experiences along with the rich history of Cambodia. In addition to the volunteering aspect, I experienced enormous personal growth, now I can put a human face on the issues of poverty and global health inequity. Yet this volunteer work was only a small part of my journey through Cambodia. I had the opportunity to experience what so few foreigners ever see: the traditional life of a modern Cambodian family. I didn’t just travel to Cambodia, take a few pictures in front of a few historic monuments, and write off my visit as complete. Instead, I got to see part of the real Cambodia

Ultimately, what I took away from this experience was so much more than just an advanced understanding of the Khmer culture. In this end, this experience clearly reaffirmed to me how important education is for the growth and advancement of these communities. Learning about the Khmer way of life gave me a different perspective on how to view the world. Without LMU’s Alternative Breaks, I cannot imagine how I could possibly have seen and learned so much as an undergraduate about solidarity, Khmer cultures, and my own desire and ability to make a difference in others’ lives. I hope to one day give more to the underdeveloped world and make a significant contribution towards their advancement, access to better health care and reduction of poverty.

—Farah Srichandra, Loyola Marymount University Student, Journeys Within Our Community Volunteer 2008