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Discovering Cambodia

Discovering Cambodia

‌UNV Project ‘Volunteer Caravan’ travelled throughout Cambodia meeting with volunteers and their organisations to discuss issues affecting volunteers, projects they work on and the impact they are having. © Maeve Halpin / UNV Cambodia

Author: Maeve Anne Halpin | Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia | Organisation: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

I made friends for life ... I cried a bit, I laughed a lot and I found out what makes me passionate in my work

In 2014, I was selected as one of Irish Aid’s funded UN Youth Volunteers, as a Communications, Youth and Outreach Specialist for United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). As I had never been to South East Asia before, nor had I ever worked in the UN System, it was a big change for me professionally and personally.

© Maeve Halpin / UNV Cambodia

UNV Stand at a University Fair in Phnom Penh, encouraging university students to volunteer (Maeve on the right) © Maeve Halpin / UNV Cambodia

Volunteering abroad took me out of my comfort zone. It was nerve wrecking the first couple of weeks, navigating the busy streets, meeting new faces every day, attempting to communicate in Khmer all while starting a new job in an unfamiliar setting

UN Volunteers are highly regarded in the UN system: our role holds the same responsibility, if not more, than other contractors as we are encouraged to take part and organise UNV activities, and motivate our UN colleagues to volunteer and create a sense of community. My role was a steep learning curve for me; I was thrown in the deep end from day one, which allowed me to develop professionally very quickly. My position at UNDP has opened many doors for me throughout my career and gave me the opportunity to learn from some incredible colleagues and thought leaders in the sector.

‘Volunteerism’ is entrenched in Khmer culture; many Khmer volunteer in two or three roles on top of their job. This passion for volunteering and community is infectious and stayed with me, encouraging me to volunteer wherever I go.

Cambodia was an adventure: I made friends for life both from Cambodia and abroad; I travelled to incredible hidden treasures in Asia; I got lost on back roads; I fell off a moto; I tried and (some may say failed!) to learn Khmer; I developed my professional skills; I cried a bit; I laughed a lot and I found out what makes me passionate in my work.

© Maeve Halpin / UNV Cambodia

Field Visit with UNDP to visit their projects on water management and agricultural practices. © Maeve Halpin / UNV Cambodia

Volunteering is an incredible experience for both you and the community you work in, but as the age old saying goes: you only get out as much as you put in!

Irish Embassy in Vietnam

Irish Aid, through the Embassy of Ireland to Vietnam in Hanoi, has a small fund to support poverty reduction focused initiatives across Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar.


Irish Aid supports better access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene in Quang Tri Province, Vietnam, through Plan International. Photo © Plan International.

Regional work is currently focused on the thematic areas of the clearance of mines and unexploded ordnance in highly contaminated areas in these countries, hunger and nutrition reduction and some targeted scholarships for third level students to study in Ireland. Funding is also provided to Misean Cara for missionary development work in Cambodia.

Read more about UN Volunteering 

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