My volunteering experience in Cambodia

Studying Social Work as a mature aged student in my forties was not a quick decision, but one that is continually providing opportunities that have helped me realise I made the right choice. After working in the graphic design industry for many years and spending lengthy breaks travelling, I knew a change of career choice had to revolve around my desire to help disadvantaged people.

I’m currently in my third year of study and really enjoying the program and social work definitely feels like a degree that could translate to international practice in culturally diverse communities.

As part of my participation in the UQ Advantage Award I decided to volunteer for a month in Cambodia, choosing an established, locally run NGO in Battambang, close to the Thai border. An opportunity that would give me personal experience in areas of social work that I am very interested in – community development and health.

My job as a volunteer was to assess the impact of a nutrition program that had been funded for the past year through a private donor. The program was aimed at supporting the local village children to learn about health and hygiene, practice a little English, and also to provide them with one well-balanced meal a week. An essential difference for children living in a community experiencing high rates of poverty, malnutrition and all the concurrent social issues of a country recovering from a turbulent political history.

My role involved talking with the community through the help of a translator, writing a report on the impact of the program, and making recommendations to improve community health education in surrounding villages. A bit of a budding social work, interested in community development and health dream job really.

Such a practical experience with immediate and tangible results gave me an incredible sense of achievement and the professional insights I gained along the way now feel invaluable. Putting my learning to date to real use also helped me to reflect and relate how complex theories can be translated so beautifully to a foreign environment.

I am currently on my first placement at the Mater Private Hospital, working in a diverse range of medical areas such as aged care, general adult meds, the Mater Young Adult Health Clinic and the new Health Law Clinic. I have always had a deep personal interest in end of life care and improving the opportunity for people to die with dignity, so this placement is consolidating my personal interests and theoretical learning in a physical sense.

Eventually, I hope to be working internationally on long-term community development projects that help improve the health and human rights of disadvantaged communities. I would also like to continue working in community, to support a greater freedom of choice around end of life care options and contribute to political change in legal areas such as voluntary euthanasia.

To any students considering social work or any study at UQ, my biggest tip would be to get involved in as much as possible within the UQ community and to make connections with people from various faculties, as you never know where your networks could lead you. I also recommend prioritising your learning experiences if possible as the time really does go more quickly than you first think it will. While study may feel overwhelming, especially if you are returning after a lengthy break as a mature aged student, you will essentially be the one who benefits from being organised. By planning your time, starting assignments early, doing the assigned reading and bringing a positive attitude to your studies I feel you have more chance of not only avoiding stress but giving yourself a better opportunity to do your best work. Academic learning that ultimately helps you to be the best professional you can be when you graduate.

Last updated:
19 October 2016