Cambodia depends on tourism not only for the economic advantages it brings, but also for community development– and short term visitors can contribute. This is especially true in the less tourist-flooded Battambang, a beautiful colonial town on the river in the northwest. Various not-for-profits from the well-established Phare Ponleu Circus to the fledgling Children’s Future International provide education for disadvantaged youth and also offer travelers an opportunity to give back to the place they visit. Dozens of these places just in Battambang are frequently welcoming of visitors who want to stop by and help out, even temporarily.
And, of course, there are the not-for-profits that simply are for tourists, where the focus of the NGO is to cater to travelers’ needs. Here are the top 5 in Battambang.
1. Fresh Eats Cafe – A cafe where youth are taught service skill sets offers delicious juice blends of fresh veggies and fruits. Use your imagination to come up with your own blend or indulge in the mother country nostalgia beverages (Americans will like the traditional ice cream floats including the more obscure Purple Cows and Boston Coolers while Aussies will appreciate the ice cream ‘spiders’). Located Road 2.5, south of Psar Nath, the Central Market, 4 roads West of the river.
2. Phare Ponleu Circus – Not merely a circus of acrobats and theatre, art courses instruct Cambodians outside the normal curriculum of public or private schooling. If you’re staying longer than a week and you’re qualified, try to get in touch and teach a new skill in storytelling or entertainment. The animation group out of Phare, KongKea Cartoon, has submitted a short film to international competitions. Located on National Road 1, you will need to take a tuktuk or moto transport from the town center.
3. Mine Action Group (MAG) – For those travelers who want a bit more risk than is offered by friendly khmer smiles, there are plenty of de-mining organizations based in Battambang, as it makes for easy access to the landmines in the countryside. MAG, the Mine Action Group, headquartered internationally in Manchester, UK, is just one of the organizations that provide information to visitors. Probably best to send a query email before your visit as they are frequently out of the office in the field. Located near the Battambang rotary statue, you will need to ask a tuktuk driver or a moto for this one, as well.
4. Children’s Action for Development – Featured in Lonely Planet, a local, Racky Thy, has founded an organization that accepts very short term volunteers to teach the children at this learning center. It provides childhood education as well as parental training programs. Always open to describe his organization, contact him through his website:
5. Soksabike Tours – You cannot see Cambodia without cycling through its ricefields. Soksabike tours, named after the khmer ‘How are you?’ (Sok sa bai?) is run by local tourguides, supported by Kinyei, an organization that attempts to support homegrown entrepreneurship and education. For the tours, call or go to the
Kinyei offices on Road 1.5, 2nd east over from the river. Kinyei is also open to guest lecturers or teachers with local Cambodians.
Short term volunteering gives opportunities to interact with the locals in a way that simple tourism doesn’t. Acts of kindness go a long way and also make your vacation stories that much more unique.
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