Wherever you venture to in this vast world, you want to make sure any sort of volunteering you do is through a reputable organization, which is why we wrote this post. We want to give you everything you need to know about volunteering in Cambodia, specifically in Battambang, Cambodia.
Volunteering in Cambodia
We get why volunteering in Cambodia can be unsettling, the idea of donating money and ensuring it goes to the right place is a scary thing. Especially when dealing with organizations in developing countries. There are so many horror stories about fake orphanages in Cambodia and sadly, the stories are true.
Fake orphanages have been popping up all over Cambodia with their aim set on exploiting innocent children. Tourists get tricked into thinking they are buying artwork from orphans or donating to a reputable organization whose goal is helping the youth.
Sadly, this is a scam. The goal of these fake orphanages is to trick tourists into donating cash to the organization or to the kids themselves.
The fake orphanages take the majority of the cash, leaving little for the child to use or take home to his/her family. However, not all orphanages are FAKE. A lot of orphanages in Cambodia are real, very real, and are in the business of doing good.
We were fortunate enough to volunteer at one. Let us introduce you to BOVA.
Volunteering in Cambodia: About BOVA
Battambang Orphanage Village Assistance (BOVA) is run by a local Cambodian man and his family.
The mission of BOVA is to “provide care, education and vocational training to Cambodian orphans and the needy children of rural Cambodia and at the same time to build a network of support for impoverished children and families through education.”
BOVA provides FREE education to the youth of rural Cambodia as well as medical care and food at no cost to the individual or family. Amazing, RIGHT?!
Where is BOVA
BOVA is a small school and house located in the Ek Phnom district of Battambang, Cambodia, about 15 – 20 minutes northwest of the city center of Battambang.
Unfortunately, BOVA doesn’t show up on Google Maps but have no fear, we have the address for you.!
The address of BOVA is: 58, Group 4, Samroang Khnong Village/Commune, Ek Phnom District, Battambang Province, Cambodia
About BOVA’s Owner
Sophorn Sem, the founder of BOVA, was born into poverty in January of 1977 as an only child to his mother and father. If you know your history, you know that 1977 was smack dab in the middle of when the Khmer Rouge came into power.
From 1975 to 1979 Cambodia went through one of the worst mass genocides in history.
Sophorn and his mother survived the genocide, but Sophorn’s father was murdered by the Khmer Rouge
Decades later, once tourism came to Cambodia, Sophorn became a tuk-tuk driver to support his mother, wife and 2 daughters.
As Sophorn was working as a tuk-tuk driver, one of the passengers of his tuk-tuk gave him an English Dictionary (because his English was so bad).
Sophorn did not take this small gift for granted. After a long day’s work, every night he would study English until, by his own will, became fluent.
A few years later, an Australian couple took a tour with Sophorn and noticed the same things we did, a kind, genuine, sincere, hard-working man that wanted something better for himself and his family.
They offered to pay for him to go to the University and be his sponsor.
Starting Battambang Orphanage Village Assistance (BOVA)
Sophorn started at the University and before he knew it, he graduated with a degree in Finance.
Realizing what the kindness of strangers, education and learning English did for him, he wanted to pass on the same kindness and opportunity given to him.
This is when he started the NGO called BOVA – Battambang Orphanage Village Assistance.
Sophorn started BOVA to help the people that can’t help themselves. He saw the suffering in his own backyard and decided to do something about it.
Sophorn, his family, and the NGO he created (BOVA) want to provide the tools these kids need now in order to succeed in later in life.
From English lessons to vocational training to become self-efficient, BOVA is a cycle of good in the city of Battambang.
About Our Day Volunteering in Cambodia
Around 8am, Sophorn picked us up from our accommodation and before we set off to BOVA, we asked Sohporn, “is there anything we could we donate?”
Sophorn told us that the biggest problem they are faced with is school supplies to teach the children English. Right, school supplies, we’re on it!
We headed out and got packs of notebooks and pens. We wish we could show you the look on Sophorn’s face when we came walking back with the supplies…. His smile was running out of room on his face!
Onto the next, question, “what else can we do?” Sophorn mentioned food.
While the children are in school, Sophorn and his family are tasked with feeding the kids. Food, we’re all over this.
We bought a 50 Kilo bag of rice, a few litters of drinks and cookies, because let’s be honest, cookies transcended barriers and are welcome by all!
With supplies and food in hand, we load up his tuk-tuk and off we go!
We drive 20 minutes or so and end up driving down a street and pulling up to a home. A home? We realized at that moment, Sophorn runs BOVA right out of his home twice a day, every day (except Sunday).
We hop out and are greeted by his family – his wife, two daughters, and his mother. They were expecting us and with such gratitude, they bowed repeatedly, grabbed our hands, and thanked us for our kindness.
Teaching English in Cambodia:
When we arrived to BOVA we were thinking we’d just be dropping off the donations, saying hello to the kids and be on our way. Honestly, that’s all we wanted.
The opportunity to provide help where we could. We needed nothing and we mean absolutely nothing in return.
However, Sophorn had a different plan for us! We were going to be teaching English for the morning!
For 3 magical hours, we taught a room of 30 smiley-faced Khmer children.
From singing songs to teaching them how to say colors and drawing stick figures on the board, to showing them how to say body parts in English, we did our best to put our scholar hats on for the day.
Weirdly enough, this was the first time I had seen Jesse “teach”. Not going to beat around the bush but I think he may have a hidden skill set that we might start utilizing 🙂
As cute as Jesse was up there in front of the class, the big highlight and truly humbling thing about this whole day were the kids.
These kids by their own will, want to be here. They want to learn. They want to make their life better.
Back home, we hated school. Thought of it as a chore versus a privilege. Basically, education is something we took for granted when we were younger.
Sophorn is literally the embodiment of ” when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” He took every opportunity he got to better himself and the community he grew up and lives in.
He is the real hero in this story…
Volunteering at BOVA
If you are in Battambang, Cambodia and want to volunteer, we know for a fact Sophorn would love to have you!
If you’re hesitant on donating money, we get it. We were too. We did not give any cash to the kids or Sophorn when we were volunteering.
Instead, we bought food and school supplies for the kids and helped teach English for a morning.
You can reach out to Sophorn through Facebook or via his below contact information…
Telephone: (855) 012 326 577
E-mail: [email protected]
For The Budget Conscious: Located in the heart of Battambang, The Place is the vibe you are looking for. From its rooftop terrace to in-house bar, The Place is just the place for you.
For The Luxury Inclined: Bric-a-Brac is nestled in the colonial heart of Battambang. Providing 5-star service in a restored historical building, Bric-a-Brac is a Cambodian accommodation you won’t soon forget.
For Something In Between: Delux Villa is clean and comfortable and a great break from the Cambodian heat. With its beautiful pool and gardens, Delux Villa is the quiet you are looking for after a long day of exploring.
For more places to stay in Battambang, you can check out the latest places and prices here.
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– Lauren & Jesse Stuart (The Stüs)