Teenager urges others to volunteer abroad after taking trip of a lifetime

Host Family: Molly Westhead lived with a local family while volunteering in Cambodia.
Host Family: Molly Westhead lived with a local family while volunteering in Cambodia.

A teenager who spent 10 weeks working on a project fighting poverty in Cambodia is calling on other young people in the area to consider volunteering overseas.

Molly Westhead, 19, travelled to Cambodia in October 2018 with international development organisation VSO, as part of the UK government funded International Citizen Service (ICS) programme, where she worked alongside young volunteers from Cambodia and the UK.

She lived with a local host family so that she was fully immersed into the community and could gain a better understanding of the challenges people there face.

ICS volunteers, aged 18-25, work on long-term projects that seek to end poverty in some of the poorest countries in the world. The scheme offers young people the chance to gain valuable new skills while working on projects that make a genuine difference to the people and communities they are supporting. Those aged 23-35 can apply to be ICS team leaders.

Molly said: “Many young people in Cambodia struggle to attain qualifications required for a successful future as a result of a poor education system. Particularly in rural areas, the quality of education is poor due to a lack of funding, teachers and of access to an education in general. Often, children are discouraged from attending school due to their help being required by their families - who rely on an income from the farming of rice.

Our project aimed to boost the number of children attending school to the age of 16, and to also improve the quality of the education they receive through providing them with support, appropriate equipment and also working alongside the teachers to create more interactive, and interesting lesson plans. The project also targeted parents by highlighting the importance of an education for the future of their child.

I had an incredible time in Cambodia, and I really feel that the project helped to encourage young people to take control of their lives. Whilst making a positive difference to the local community, I was also able to have a unique opportunity to immerse myself in Khmer culture through living with my counterpart Sinan and a host family from the local community.

I was lucky enough to be able to live and work alongside a fantastic team of 20 UK and Khmer volunteers, and I have already started planning my return to Cambodia in order to visit the friends, family and the 3 schools I volunteered in. ICS offered me the opportunity to challenge myself and to help others, whilst making friendships and memories to last a lifetime. “

Upon their return to the UK, all ICS volunteers undertake an ‘Action At Home’ project, ensuring that their new skills also benefit their local communities. More than 15,000 young people from the UK have participated on the programme since 2011.

Molly said: “My ICS placement was a real eye opener, so upon my return I decided to write a blog detailing my time in Cambodia, in order to raise awareness of the issues faced. I hope to make people aware of pressing issues faced by other countries. I want to encourage young people in the United Kingdom to appreciate the fantastic quality of education accessible, and to encourage them to seize every opportunity possible within education.

ICS has made me re-evaluate my plans for the future, by showing me that my interests involve helping others in any way possible. I think it is hugely important that young people get involved in projects like this – more than half the world’s population is under 25, so we’re the ones with the power to change things!

I’d really encourage other young people to think about applying for ICS, it does have the power to change your world. Since returning from Cambodia, I have learnt to appreciate life a lot more - everything from family, friendship, to food and the local environment.”

ICS is funded by UK aid, so young people don’t need cash, qualifications or work experience to take part, just the desire to make a difference to the lives of some of the world’s poorest communities. Before she left for Cambodia, Molly raised £800 for VSO, which will ensure that communities in developing countries can continue to benefit from the work of volunteers.

Felicity Morgan, Director of ICS at VSO, said: “It’s really inspiring to hear about the fantastic work Molly did on placement.

“We’re incredibly proud that UK aid is supporting young Brits to bring about positive change in some of the world’s poorest communities. As an organisation working on the frontline against poverty, VSO sees how people across Britain play an important role in delivering UK aid. From the NHS and Army helping end the Ebola crisis, to the millions who generously donate, and the contribution we all make through taxes, together we are all making the world a fairer, safer place.”

To find out more about ICS or to apply, visit www.volunteerics.org.