A few weeks ago I went on a field trip to interview and take photos of some of the beneficiaries of the NGO I am volunteering for. I love going on these trips, because it offers a fantastic opportunity to get to know rural Cambodia outside of the tourist hubs, and also speak to people about their concerns, achievements and hopes for the future. I always come back really energized and inspired, but these trips can also be quite hard and emotional at times as well.

Because of the Khmer Rouge reign and the civil war that followed, Cambodia still faces economic challenges with a third of the population living on less than $2 a day. It is hard to imagine how people can survive on that amount of money, and speaking to people first hand you really understand the hardships some people go through. I spoke with one woman for example who is currently looking after her granddaughter, because her granddaughter’s parents both had to migrate to Thailand to find a job. They haven’t seen their daughter since she was born and they are not sure when they will see her next.

baby and grandma sex tourism cambodiaI also met a woman who told me that she has 8 children, but that she thinks that one of them is dead, as she hadn’t heard from him for 6 years now. He also migrated to Thailand to find work and could have ended up in forced labor somewhere in the fishing industry. There are many more sad stories I heard, but they are too sensitive to talk about here.

IMG_2389IMG_2392IMG_2358On the plus side I also heard many wonderful and inspiring stories of how people are fighting their way out of poverty through pure dedication. I met a girl who was part of our university scholarship program. She is one of 10 children in her family and the only one in her family and the entire village who goes to university. She is studying accountancy and after uni she would like to work for an NGO so she can help her country. Needless to say her family and the entire village is really proud of her. She is a real role model for the younger children in her community who are now all eager to finish school, so that they can be like her one day.


After she comes home from university she still helps her family with farming


And then there are of course the many cute and cheeky children I get to meet on these field trips. At first they are usually shocked to see such a white woman (the villages I visit tend to be rather remote and so a lot of people would have never seen a foreigner). But after a while they usually warm to me. In fact throughout an entire interview with a village resident, which lasted about 20 minutes, I was holding hands with three girls. They wouldn’t let go of me and found it hilarious to touch my pale arm. They found it even more hilarious when I took pictures of them and then showed the pictures to them.


No matter how hard some peoples’ lives are, I am to this day amazed how people in rural Cambodia manage to have the most heartfelt smiles in the whole wide world. It is moments like this when I love my job in international development. Work doesn’t get much more rewarding than this.



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About Tammyonthemove

Tammy & Chris are a couple hailing from Germany and England, meaning between them they are efficient and polite, but unable to talk about football. Find out why they stopped pushing pens around the British civil service to travel the world on their blog.

26 Thoughts on “The ups and downs of work field trips to rural Cambodia

  1. What a fascinating article. Lovely photos too. One of our jobs as a teenager was volunteering with the elderly. So we really relate to the rewarding aspect of your work.
    Gran Canaria Local recently posted…IngenioMy Profile

  2. You have to have thick skin to do this kind of job it seems. Kudos to you for sticking with it despite all the sadness. Some good comes out of it as well. Anyone that dedicates time to help others gets a hi five in my book. Hearing all the stories would definitely affect me. Next volunteer job I would like to work with animals. I’m not sure I could handle the children. I’d always be crying!

    Good on you Tammy 🙂
    Mica recently posted…200 Year Old building turned contemporary hotel in Istanbul’s historic center- our hotel favorite is the Modern SultanMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on August 12, 2013 at 8:09 am said:

      Thank you Mica! Working with children can definitely hard. I think you become really attached to them. My work affects more grown ups. I would like to wok with animals one day as well actually. I have a thing for sloughs. 🙂

  3. Beautiful pictures! They may be living on under $2 a day but they still manage to do it with a smile on their face. That’s inspiring.
    Bethaney – Flashpacker Family recently posted…Eight Fun Things to Do in Sydney with KidsMy Profile

  4. Such cute kids – they brought a smile to my face! The fact that the rural Cambodians you met are able to smile in spite of their economic condition just goes to show that money can’t buy happiness. I applaud the work you’re doing!
    Dana Carmel @ Time Travel Plans recently posted…Where to Stay (or Play Golf) in Palm Desert: Marriott’s Shadow RidgeMy Profile

  5. Something I keep finding when I travel is that it’s the people who have less who seem more able to smile. Perhaps it’s a coping mechanism in some situations, or maybe they have just learned o appreciate the special things in life while people in developed countries are influenced to constantly strive for more in life…
    Arianwen recently posted…Piloting a Stunt Plane in Abel TasmanMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on August 12, 2013 at 11:17 am said:

      I think that is definitely true Arianwen. When I worked in London I hardly ever saw people smiling and here in Cambodia everybody does. In developed countries a lot of people compete to own a bigger house, a faster car or more expensive clothes, but what they don’t realize is that money can’t buy happiness.

  6. Beautiful article Tammy. Such wonderful photos.

    I loved Cambodia, it reminded me of Africa. People who have nothing are often the most content in many way and they’re so generous and will share what little they do have with you.
    Helen recently posted…Visit to The Umoja Women’s Village in KenyaMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on August 13, 2013 at 4:07 pm said:

      Thank you very much Helen! That is so true. One of the village elders drove all the way to the next village to buy me some bottled water, even though I didn’t even ask for any. Such kind people.

  7. Beautiful, beautiful Cambodia. I miss working there so much. I love your pictures…they capture the Khmer cheeky and happy nature so well 🙂
    Becki | Backpacker Becki recently posted…What is Tokyo Like? 16 Things I Love About Japan’s Capital CityMy Profile

  8. Beautiful shots of everyone, so candid and happy. Love it!
    Ayngelina recently posted…Not really a whale of a taleMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on August 13, 2013 at 4:09 pm said:

      Thank you Ayngelina! Khmer people are the most photogenic people I know, so it is quite easy to take nice photos. 😉

  9. Love the street portraits! You have a wonderful series here, Tammy.
    I’ve found Cambodians as the most smiling people of Asia. Beautiful people!
    memographer recently posted…Tiger Temple: All-inclusive Resort for TigersMy Profile

  10. Those kids are very adorable. It’s a very inspiring story, despite what some of them might have gone through.
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  11. There are so many things that could be improved in Cambodia – particularly their food supply. I always wondered why all the food staples at Cambodian supermarkets were all foreign. What happens to all the food production there?
    Alex recently posted…Hack Your Airfare to Asia: Taiwan EditionMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on January 27, 2014 at 12:16 pm said:

      Interesting that you spotted that. In my experience the supermarkets cater for the large population of expats though. Most Cambodians couldn’t afford to purchase their food in supermarkets, so they get everything on the local markets.

  12. I’ve had a chance to work on a field in rural India! It is always a humbling experience. The wages are very low and yet these very people are some of the kindest souls you would ever meet! This article makes for a good read!
    Chaitanya Shah recently posted…Photography from a TrainMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on July 7, 2014 at 8:44 pm said:

      That was exactly my experience of Cambodian people living in poverty. They would offer me food and drinks even though they hardly had enough for themselves. It taught me a lot about humility!

  13. ooh i really enjoyed this post!
    it reminds me so much of my relatives who live in countrysides of kandal and battambang provinces.
    i dont know what it is about the children- you are right- they get all giggly and affectionate when you show them their photo on a digital camera. i first visited cambodia in 2006 and they were so amazed to see their photo right after, as though seeing their face for the first time.
    lovely post that makes me long to go back.
    soapie recently posted…Tasting AutumnMy Profile

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