Before I started working at Human and Hope Association, our Director was approached by a volunteer from Japan. This volunteer had originally applied to be an English teaching volunteer at an organisation that sent volunteers to teach at public school. He had failed his English admission test, so was unable to be accepted into the program. So, what did the organisation do? Referred him to Human and Hope Association. Our Director, not understanding that this man’s language skills weren’t good enough to teach English, accepted him as a volunteer. We then cancelled the volunteer program and this man was forgotten, until one week before he was due to arrive, and he sent an email.
“Sally, a Japanese man is coming to Human and Hope Association next week to teach for one month. I forgot that he is also helping around the office,” our Director told me one day.
“But we cancelled our volunteer program,” I responded. “And we don’t need office help, because now we have promoted some Cambodian volunteers to be staff, so that is their job.”
“What can we do? He is coming next week, and we gave him permission months ago,” the Director responded.
“Let me think about it,” I responded.
What ended up happening was we allowed this man to teach at Human and Hope Association in the evenings alongside our Khmer teacher. In the day times, I arranged for him to reorganise a library at an NGO that did accept volunteers. Not ideal, but I did feel bad that he had planned this in advance, and due to a lack of communication at Human and Hope Association we didn’t cancel in time.
I stopped feeling bad though, as I got to know this volunteer. His English was at a beginner’s level, and he tried to overtake his Khmer counterpart in the classroom. One day when I went to check on him, I realised that he was teaching by himself. His Khmer counterpart had decided to take the evening off and left him to teach by himself. This could potentially cause many issues and left me furious. [That Khmer volunteer ended up being let go a few months later when we were getting serious about being a trusted NGO.]
One weekend while the volunteer was still at Human and Hope Association, I held a code of conduct workshop for the staff. We brainstormed about what should be expected of our staff and local volunteers, played games to reinforce values and promoted unity. After what I deemed to be a successful workshop, we headed to the home of our Director’s parents, as he was holding a ceremony to thank them for being a great mum and dad. When I arrived there with my team, the volunteer was already there. I sat across from him and started talking with my team, pleased to relax after a long day.
“Sally,” the volunteer called out at me across the table, interrupting my conversation.
“Yes?” I responded.
“The team told me you had a workshop today. Why didn’t you invite me? I am part of the team,” he told me, his tone quite aggressive for a man from such a gentle culture.
“The workshop today was for staff only,” I responded, aware that all eyes from the table were on us.
“I am a staff member,” he told me.
“No, you are a volunteer,” I responded, holding my ground. “This workshop was for our local team who are here all year long.”
“I came to Cambodia to work for Human and Hope Association, so I should have been in the workshop,” he told me, not budging.
I was determined to cut the conversation off, as this wasn’t something we should have been talking about in front of our whole team, or at a ceremony for that matter.
“The reason we held this workshop was so our local staff could have an input into the rules they are supposed to follow, and so that they could learn to work as a team. As you are a short-term volunteer, and we are not accepting foreign volunteers anymore, there wasn’t a need for you to attend. Now, as I am here with my friends at a social event, I would appreciate it if you could please stop pursuing this conversation.” I then turned to Sreylin, signalling to the volunteer that I wasn’t going to engage with him.
He tried to broach the subject with me again. I could have handled the situation in two ways; engage with him or ignore him. I chose the latter, as I knew that if I was to engage with him, nobody would be better off. When I got home though, I was furious. I headed onto Facebook messenger and vented to my confidant who would always tell me truthfully whether I was overreacting about a situation. Her verdict was that no, I hadn’t overreacted, and this guy had purposely tried to take me on in front of my whole team. With her help, I wrote a strongly worded email to him, which was responded to with his head between his legs. Too little, too late. The damage had been done. He was our last English teaching volunteer.