Returning to Cambodia with VSO

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In November I’m travelling to Cambodia for three months to volunteer in the north eastern province of Stung Treng.

I applied for the International Citizen Service (ICS) programme that runs here in the UK and was accepted by their partner Voluntary Service Overseas, a long running charity and volunteering organisation.  When I got the email that informed me I’d been placed in Cambodia, I was overjoyed.  I backpacked through too briefly in 2010 and have always wanted to return for a less fleeting visit.

Cambodia is still one of the poorest countries in South East Asia, and I’m going to be working on programmes aimed at developing secure livelihoods as part of an effort by VSO that’s been going on in the region since 1991.  It’ll be a huge learning opportunity, and a chance to contribute something other than just the tourist dollar when I visit.  I’m very aware of the pitfalls of ‘voluntourism’, but am confident in the sustainability of this scheme – ICS and VSO only send volunteers to projects that have specifically requested them.  On top of this, each of the UK volunteers that goes out will be matched by a Cambodian volunteer.  You can read more about VSO’s actions in Cambodia on their website, and see their strategic plan.  Here’s a bit of what they say:

So far, nearly 700 international volunteers have supported 152 partners in 15 provinces.

Our core programmes areas are health, education, secure livelihoods and governance. Within these programme areas we cover other issues such as gender equality and climate change.  Our strategic plan (2012-17) focuses on the poorest communities in the north-east of the country where we feel the biggest impact can be achieved.

I’m really privileged, as a recent graduate (read: relatively unskilled in a practical way), that through ICS’s youth programme I can be involved with VSO.

Before I leave in November, I’ve been asked to fundraise towards VSO’s development efforts around the world.  This is just a fraction of the amount it costs to run their operations, but is an important part of how the programme works.  It’s also been proven that volunteers who fundraise know more about the work they’re doing, and commit themselves more fully.  None of the money goes towards my travel costs.  All of it goes toward VSO’s work globally, which is overwhelmingly the work of development professionals and highly skilled volunteers.   I am definitely up for the challenge.

If you’re interested in following along with my efforts, I’ll be posting more about what I get up to here and also on my JustGiving page at www.justgiving.com/lucymerchant.

Paris on a whim

Stumped as I was for something to do to celebrate my 23rd, when my mum ventured the idea of escaping to Paris for a bit of a mother-daughter holiday, I jumped on it.  It was literally booked about ten minutes later.

The weather was sunny and warm, and we walked around, ate lovely food, shopped, and visited a few places I hadn’t been before (and some places I simply love).

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Goat’s cheese salad – a must-have. Always good, and different in every café so you have a reason to just never not order it.

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Two patisseries that my housemate and I used to frequent on our study abroad year – we lived just down the road. The one on the left is sino-francais and doubles as a chinese takeaway 😛

Canal Saint-Martin

Canal Saint-Martin

Canal Saint-Martin

Canal Saint-Martin

Somewhere we visted that I hadn’t been to before was the Canal Saint-Martin, in the east of Paris.  It was packed along its edges with people enjoying the sunshine and browsing the boutiquey shops along the banks.

We stopped in a trendy crêperie for some caramalised apple goodness.

Sunbathers

Sunbathers

Someone get these Parisians a beach!

Sailing boats in the Jardin du Luxembourg

Sailing boats in the Jardin du Luxembourg

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I really recommend visiting the Marche aux Puces (flea markets) to anyone who’s planning on visiting Paris.  It’s easy to get to, just take the line 4 to Porte de Clignancourt on a Saturday, Sunday or Monday and follow the crowds.  There’s a massive market that’s sprung up around the edges of the actual market, make sure you don’t get fooled into thinking that’s what you’re looking for!  Head for Rue Rosiers, and Marche Dauphine, and explore from there (you can get a map from the website).  Track down some moules-frites for lunch 🙂

Early morning Seine

Early morning Seine

My favourite part of Paris, I think, is Montmartre.  We spent a good part of our last day ambling around, exploring the area behind Sacre Coeur that is remarkably void of tourists and very pretty, with little craft shops, a park and great views over the city.  I like the feeling of space you get up there – the rest of Paris can at times feel very hemmed in.

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I’ll be back.