Two summers ago, I found myself in a tiny, run down, outdoor school in the middle of an impoverished community just outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I went to teach English because although many people assume volunteering abroad is actually a disservice by taking jobs away from the people or not being knowledgeable about the culture, the demand for English speaking citizens is extremely high. Teaching English as a volunteer is one of the greatest things you can do because it provides children with the opportunity of breaking out of the cycle of poverty through the attainment of a higher paying job. And, higher paying jobs in developing countries tend to be the jobs where English is a requirement. When I got there all eager to make a difference in these children’s lives, I witnessed teachers not teaching, children not eating, and babies being left at the school because the parents needed to work. It was basically a day care with no care.

This is not to say that this is the normal or that it is caused by the people living there. But, it’s a representation of the reality for children and the education (if they’re lucky enough to get one) in impoverished areas.

So, that’s where we come in – the privileged young Canadians with a passion to travel and help the world at the same time. Seeing the teachers barely teach the children motivated me to teach to my best abilities even though I was not getting paid. Seeing the children without food for lunch motivated me to be mindful of what I eat and donate what I don’t eat. Seeing the babies being left there because the parents had no other options motivated me help families break out of poverty in any way possible.

A sad video on Youtube about a child with no food or access to education may or may not motivate you to create change, but volunteering in the reality that is poverty in developing countries will.