Last week I got back from a month in Southeast Asia, and I am very happy and excited to say that the voluntourism trip I helped lead in Cambodia was a massive success! The WOWi team, consisting of members from various parts of the United States, worked closely with the Ponheary Ly Foundation to teach digital media skills to high school students at Tchey school on the outskirts of Siem Reap, the gateway city to the Temples of Angkor.
For the uninitiated, WOWi (Windows Of Wonder Institute) is a nonprofit organization that uniquely combines ART + WEB + LEARNING to build and connect communities locally, regionally, and globally. Based in Austin, TX, WOWi chose Cambodia as the location for its first international satellite. The long-term goal is to build digital media creation schools in different parts of the developing world whereby disadvantaged youth will gain 21st century job skills to help end the cycle of poverty while also enabling them to tell their stories to the world via sharing their digital content over the internet.
Now, being that Cambodia is a struggling, developing country we knew there would be technical and logistical hurdles once we arrived, but the team jumped into the project heads first knowing that with tenacity and resourcefulness we would prevail. And that’s exactly what happened! For instance, one thing we normally take for granted here in the US is on-demand internet access pretty much anywhere we go. Not so at Tchey school. We brought along a very sophisticated (and expensive!) device from home that was supposed to give us connectivity, but it ended up being useless. Kind of hard to have online international exchanges with other schools in the US without a decent internet connection! So we tried using a simple and relatively inexpensive USB stick that we purchased from a local cell phone provider in the city, and voila, we were connected with the world from a very simple and basic classroom on the other side of the world.
During our two weeks at Tchey we taught these eager students some building block skills in digital media development. As we covered things such as media management, some basics in Photoshop, and video production the students broke up into 5 different small groups to focus on creating short films on subjects that interested them. It was a lot of work for all involved, but it was also a tremendous learning experience that WOWi hopes to build upon with additional trips to Cambodia already being planned.
Below are two of the short films that the students created:
But as hard as we worked during out two weeks in Siem Reap, which was rewarding and fun in and of itself, we also had a blast exploring and photographing Angkor Wat and several other amazing temples nearby. We likewise frequented the night markets and boutique shops which certainly didn’t disappoint on the shopping front. And every day we had delicious food at a wide array of restaurants that serve cuisines from around the world. You foodies out there would have loved it!
Again, the trip was a great success, and everyone who came is still beaming about the things we accomplished for WOWi’s global digital media, educational development project and the fun they had all along the way. I’ve always loved to travel, but being able to go to a truly fascinating place in the world that is rich in culture and full of great restaurants and unique shopping experiences while also getting to do meaningful work that will greatly help improve the lives of others makes travel even better. If you’re a traveler and have never taken a trip focused on voluntourism, I highly recommend giving it a try some day. Traveling with a purpose that fulfills something outside of yourself makes your trip even more enriching and memorable.