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The power and purpose of volunteering

Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,” said John F Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States. This simple but meaningful sentence changed people’s attitudes in America at the time, and still speaks to people in countries around the world today.

There are dozens of organisations, both national and international, that are working to encourage people of all ages to engage in volunteerism around the country (see our volunteer opportunity listings on page 6 and our organisation profiles on page 10).

“Developing a society is not the responsibility of individuals or the government alone. Everyone must contribute to the progress of our country,” said Mao Vutha, senior communications officer for Youth Star, which has provided Cambodian university graduates an opportunity to gain experience and develop their civic leadership skills by volunteering in underserved rural areas.

“We give people the skill to fish; we do not give people fish to eat,” said Mao Vutha. “It’s advantageous to volunteers who can develop themselves and their future careers”, he added, explaining that leadership, problem solving and communication skills can all be strengthened through Youth Star and other comparable organisations.

Luy Tech Chheng, a former Youth Star volunteer, said, “I learned a lot from my time – things like report writing, researching, agriculture, health, leadership, communication and the reality of the situation in the community where I worked.”

“Before participating with Youth Star, I was not confident in speaking to a large number of people, but now I have changed,” said Luy Tech Chheng, who worked to encourage community participation in commune councils, taught English to children and worked with villagers to increase farming productivity.

In addition to organisations, there are also individuals in the country working to inspire volunteering efforts (check out our story on page 9 for more examples).

Sambo Manara, a community service organiser and lecturer at Pannasastra University, has organised various service projects over the past few years that have involved more than 4,000 students.

“I want my students to share their knowledge and be aware of the real situation in the countryside,” Sambo Manara said, adding that employers and scholarship providers value the contribution to the community and practical experience volunteering represents.

“The job market is narrow and my clients need capable and qualified employees with experience with volunteer work and internships,” said Ros Bunleng, human resource and administrative officer of the recruitment agency American Academic Associates.

“Volunteerism and community service are criterion to be considered for scholarships,” wrote Bun Sambath, alumni coordinator of the public affairs office at the US embassy, in an email to Lift.

He explained that volunteering shows a recipient’s willingness to be involved with their society, but it also suggests that the applicant is interested, engaged and motivated to improve themselves and their country.

Thanks in part to the experience she gained doing volunteer work, Chhay Chansopheaktra, 21, received a scholarship, The Study at the United States Institutes for Student Leaders (SUSI), in 2008.

“We are always asked for work and volunteering experience or social involvement when we apply for scholarships and jobs abroad,” Chhay Chansopheaktra said. “Volunteering will be advantageous in your future.”

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