Cambodia has a long, rich and complex history. Cambodians are proud of their culture and their ancient past, but at the same time they are still recovering from the tragedies of their more recent history. The near-total destruction by the Khmer Rouge of the nation’s educated workforce and infrastructure during the period 1975–1979 left Cambodia with a serious need for trained and educated people. Most Cambodians are eager to improve their lives and they view acquiring English language skills as a means to help accomplish this goal.
Although the Peace Corps and the Royal Government of Cambodia signed an agreement in 1994, political instability and budgetary constraints did not allow Peace Corps to establish a post in Cambodia until 2006. An assessment completed by the Peace Corps in 2005 found that the administrative and security infrastructure in Cambodia was sound, and that the opportunities for Volunteers to work safely and effectively had improved significantly. While Cambodia’s development needs are great, and much of the country’s infrastructure is still lacking, there are enough supports in place to ensure safe and productive assignments for Peace Corps Volunteers.
Peace Corps is launching its program in Cambodia with a teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) project. This project is geared toward classroom teaching of English at the upper secondary level. It will also support teachers in Cambodian provinces and districts to improve their English language and English teaching skills. The first group of TEFL Volunteers will arrive in Phnom Penh in February 2007. The scope of the Volunteers’ work, however, will not be limited to classroom teaching. Volunteers will collaborate with community groups and individuals to develop community-initiated projects, promote life skills, and achieve sustainable community activities, enhancing the quality of life for Cambodians in the communities where Volunteers serve.
Peace Corps History
Main article: History of the Peace Corps in Cambodia
The Royal Government of Cambodia first invited the Peace Corps to open a program in Cambodia in November 1992. An assessment team was sent the following year, which resulted in a country agreement being signed on October 3, 1994. However, the political situation was found to be too unstable for Volunteers to be sent at that time. A second assessment team visited in 1996 and, although an improvement in the political and safety situation was noted, these concerns and budget constraints resulted in a decision not to establish a presence in Cambodia. In 2004, the Ministry of Education again expressed an interest in the Peace Corps establishing a program and in 2005, officials of the Royal Government of Cambodia concurred. This time the assessment team found the administrative and security infrastructure to be sound and the opportunities for Peace Corps Volunteers to work safely and effectively had improved significantly.
Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle
Main article: Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Cambodia
Peace Corps/Cambodia Volunteers will live with host families throughout their service. Since most high schools are at the district level, most education Volunteers live in provincial and district towns. Health centers are located at the commune or village level, so health education Volunteers will be in smaller towns. In the district towns, some homes have electricity and indoor plumbing, including toilets and cold water showers. Electricity is not available at every site. Drinking water must be boiled,filtered, or purchased. Other basic amenities such as soap, shampoo, hair conditioner, lotion, stationery, sodas, and instant coffee should be available in provincial or district centers.
Main article: Training in Cambodia
Peace Corps/Cambodia’s training program is community-based and will prepare you to live and work safely and productively at your site for the first three to six months. In this training model, four or five trainees will live and study in villages located near a central hub site in a larger town. Most language, cross-cultural and technical sessions and activities will occur in the training village. Throughout pre-service training, you will occasionally go to the hub site, where you will study with the larger group for one or two days. You will live with a Cambodian host family in your training village, which will help you learn about and adjust to Khmer culture and practice your Khmer language skills. You will also take part in various cultural activities and excursions, as well as visit your future permanent site.
Health Care and Safety
Main article: Health care and safety in Cambodia
The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the good health and safety of every Volunteer. Peace Corps medical programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative, approach to disease. The Peace Corps in Cambodia maintains a clinic with a full-time medical officer, who takes care of Volunteers’ primary health care needs. Additional medical services, such as testing and basic treatment, are also available in Cambodia at local hospitals. If you become seriously ill, you will be transported either to an American-standard medical facility in the region or to the United States.
Diversity and Cross-Cultural Issues
Main article: Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Cambodia
In fulfilling its mandate to share the face of America with host countries, the Peace Corps is making special efforts to see that all of America’s richness is reflected in the Volunteer corps. More Americans of color are serving in today’s Peace Corps than at any time in recent years. Differences in race, ethnic background, age, religion, and sexual orientation are expected and welcomed among our Volunteers. Part of the Peace Corps’ mission is to help dispel any notion that Americans are all of one origin or race and to establish that each of us is as thoroughly American as the other despite our many differences.
Our diversity helps us accomplish that goal. In other ways, however, it poses challenges. In Cambodia, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyle, background, and beliefs are judged in a cultural context very different from their own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in Cambodia.
Outside of Cambodia’s capital, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. What people view as typical American behavior or norms may be a misconception, such as the belief that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. The people of Cambodia are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to cultural differences that you present.
To ease the transition and adapt to life in Cambodia, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental compromises in how you present yourself as an American and as an individual. For example, female trainees and Volunteers may not be able to exercise the independence available to them in the United States; political discussions need to be handled with great care; and some of your personal beliefs may best remain undisclosed. You will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these and other limitations. The Peace Corps staff will lead diversity and sensitivity discussions during pre-service training and will be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be your own.
Frequently Asked Questions
Main article: FAQs about Peace Corps in Cambodia
- How much luggage am I allowed to bring to Cambodia?
- What is the electric current in Cambodia?
- How much money should I bring?
- When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
- Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
- Do I need an international driver’s license?
- What should I bring as gifts for Cambodian friends and my host family?
- Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?
- How can my family contact me in an emergency?
Main article: Packing list for Cambodia
There are very few important items that you cannot find in the markets of Phnom Penh. The things that are really hard to find are often things that are commonly available (like clothes and shoes), but that are only available in small sizes that will fit Cambodian people.
Peace Corps News
The following is automatic RSS feed of Peace Corps news for this country.
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PEACE CORPS JOURNALS
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Contributions to the Cambodia Country Fund will support Volunteer and community projects that will take place in Cambodia. These projects include water and sanitation, agricultural development, and youth programs.