An Eastern Experience

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Joe Schutz, a Project Engineer in our Bristol office, recently travelled to Cambodia. Here he shares his thoughts on volunteering with an organisation that is supporting self-employed workers in the country. 


At Cougar Automation, we’re offered the chance to take unlimited unpaid leave. For nine weeks during September to November, I took advantage of this opportunity by travelling to Cambodia to do volunteer work.

My work was organised by International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ), an agency that arranges for and places volunteers in over 40 countries. I worked for a local NGO in Phnom Penh called Independent Democracy of informal Economy Association — or “IDEA” — which organises and supports networks of “informal” self-employed workers, such as taxi drivers, street vendors and domestic workers. These workers are usually poor and have little power in society. They can be incredibly vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, ill health and other threats. IDEA has influenced policy change and empowered workers to exercise their right to protect themselves and their livelihoods, improving their safety and wellbeing, as well as safeguarding their freedoms.

With little in the way of funding and only seven staff members in Phnom Penh, IDEA benefit greatly from assistance from volunteers. My work involved writing reports, teaching English and providing IT assistance. I left behind a Cougar-supplied laptop, which I know is much valued by the staff — one employee’s Windows XP laptop was held together with two bits of wood and some string!

The experience offered me the chance to see much of the country. It was an amazing and inspiring experience for me. Perhaps the biggest impact on me was the sobering reminder that we have a good situation in the UK relative to many places in the world.