Chinese volunteer workers in Cambodia

Updated: 2012-08-29 07:37

By Zhang Yue (China Daily)

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Xu Jiatian was a high achiever in college. Instead of climbing the corporate ladder, he is now a volunteer worker in Cambodia. He shares his motivation with Zhang Yue.

Xu Jiatian is better known as Kurt to kids in many orphanages and primary schools in Cambodia.

Chinese volunteer workers in Cambodia

Xu Jiatian and other volunteers help build wooden classrooms and dormitories for children in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

"Kids would happily scream and run out of the classroom once they see Xu's smiling face outside the classroom window," says Boran, head of the PACDOC orphanage in Siem Reap.

Xu, 24, has been a volunteer in Cambodia since he graduated from college two years ago.

"I have always wanted to explore something new and different since I was still in college," Xu says. "That was how I got to know about voluntary work."

A year after graduating from college, with some savings and a loan from family and friends, Xu founded Green Leaders Adventure, a social enterprise that offers young Chinese people a chance to do voluntary work.

The group has been focusing on Cambodia, under the project named Cambodia International Service. So far, the organization has sent 160 Chinese teenagers to do voluntary work in Cambodia, such as building wooden classrooms and dormitories, and renovating primary schools and orphanages.

"Those who want to participate in the project have to contribute 18,880 yuan ($3,000) each," says Xu.

"Half of their contribution will be spent on traveling and living expenses, while the balance will be spent on construction work in the village.

"Like most of my teammates, I am moved by the way people treat us there. I also find volunteering an amazing experience. I want more young people in China to share the same experience," he adds.

Chinese volunteer workers in Cambodia

Xu Jiatian and other volunteers help build wooden classrooms and dormitories for children in Siem Reap, Cambodia. 

Xu's hometown is in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. Before visiting Cambodia, he traveled to many countries in the Middle East and South Pacific Ocean.

"But working in Cambodia helped me discover more about myself and changed my perspective of the world," he says.

Xu first visited Cambodia in 2010 with a group of volunteers from Taiwan who went to Cambodia to teach the locals to grow better crops to increase their income. Although it was not Xu's first voluntary work attempt, he had an amazing time.

"Simple, but sincere," he says. "Most people do not speak English but when I walk on the streets, people smile and wave at me. Their eyes shine and their smiles are sincere."

Working in the rural areas of Cambodia is hard, but full of touching memories. Xu recalls one afternoon, exhausted from hours of farm work, he fell asleep under a tree in front of the house they helped.

"The family consists of a widow with her teenage son," he says. "Her husband died three months earlier after he was bitten by a snake in the river."

When Xu woke up at dawn, he found himself lying on the bed, with a bowl of food and some fried fish beside it.

"The first thing that came to my mind was, where did she get the fish?" Xu says. The translator told him that while he was asleep, the woman asked her son to catch some fish in the river for Xu, ignoring the danger that her only son might be bitten by a river snake like her husband.

"I later learned that this is the way the locals thank the people they care for. Once they get to know you, they will treat you like a real friend."

At that time, Xu was still thinking about his career choice after graduation. He was a high achiever at college, with good grades and an excellent track records in social activities. Like many of his schoolmates, he was also preparing to further his education in the US.

"But those days spent in Cambodia gave meaning to my life," he says. "I felt trusted and needed, despite the limited communication and language barrier. This is the kind of feeling that our generation longs for."

Most of the teenage volunteers joined the project with the initial aim of gaining some social experiences and to enhance their portfolio for their university applications, but many ended up visiting Cambodia every vacation.

Ten people have joined Xu as full-time staff. All of them are in their 20s.

Since 2011, Xu has been staying in Cambodia during every winter and summer vacation, leading his team to do voluntary work and learning about local demands as well as doing social research.

One of the first full time staff of the organization, Dong Shiqing, quit her job at a radio station in Beijing to join Xu.

"The people here need me. And I am very proud of what I do," she says. "This (voluntary work) is what helps many of those in my generation become stronger, I think. Most of us try to live a successful life defined by society. But what makes me happy is to be useful to other people."

"I enjoy the way I am growing as a person," says Xu. "I see myself making a difference in the world every day. That's real growth and the experience forms the best memory. We have started voluntary work in Cambodia and we aim to go further and last a long time."

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