A requirement of the first year of my Marine Ecology Conservation degree was 300 hour worked based learning and a lecturer recommended partaking on a Frontier project. Whilst searching on the website I came across the Cambodia Island Beach Conservation project by chance and instinctively knew this was the ideal project. And I was right. I spent five weeks on the project, during this time I was involved in the day to day running's of the camp, like cooking and cleaning.
On the project I helped teach the children English, took part in lectures about the coral reefs, climate change, the various species and gave presentations based on those lectures. I also gathered beach litter data which I'm using for my specialist research project. I believe what I did made a positive impact. The children certainly enjoyed their lessons and spending time with us.
The daily routine was dependant on the weather. When it was raining, the focus was on learning, on good days the focus was on gathering data, but we also still taught the children. The running of the camp was continuous. The best part of my time on the project was definitely teaching the children. It was really rewarding, really good fun and I got to get to know the children and likewise learn more about their language. Two of the younger girls gave me a small bear charm as a present which was totally unexpected and a lovely gift that I've turned it into a necklace.
Being in the camp you are surrounded by nature constantly from the geckos and praying mantis that ended up in my mosquito net; to the cows that invaded camp, to the island dogs and the various fish and coral species on the reef of which there are so many! A real treat was seeing my first live wild shark, a juvenile Brown Banded Bamboo Shark. I have to admit snorkelling on the reefs was daunting at first as you'll literally only millimetres above the coral at times, using the tiniest amount of movement to swim over it.
Living on the beach wasn't actually that difficult, my problem was missing my friends at university but I was never made to feel alone or unwelcome and support was always available from the others. You're out there together and you're part of the family. I was on the island for my birthday and we loads of fun! Spending the evenings just using head torches and even switching them off just listening to the waves and chatting to the others proved very relaxing and after a hard first year at university it was nice to be able to switch off and unwind in a very simple way I'd have never thought possible.
Something I really miss is waking up to the sound of the waves is an incredible experience. It's so peaceful and serene and I miss it a lot. Camp life was basic and simple and I loved it. It was great to be away from the chaos of my life in the UK. Living with the bare basics made me realise just how many luxuries I actually own and how many I don't actually need and could quite happily live without- such as a proper mattress, though my parents disagreed with me on that one!
I say do this project, get involved. It's something incredible and highly rewarding. For anyone thinking of doing this project I say go for it. It was a truly amazing life changing experience for me. Though I do recommend you take P20 for sun screen, it's expensive stuff but does the job and lasts a long time, and leave your fins at home as you won't really need them, I only used mine twice over five weeks. I definitely recommend you keep a journal as it'll be fun to look through in years to come. Also take clothing you don't mind getting wrecked as the weather conditions ruins clothing quickly.
And enjoy yourself. Doing a rewarding project on a paradise island on the opposite side of the planet? Now that's a life changing out of this world experience!
Author Maria Gray volunteered on Frontier's Cambodia Island Beach Conservation project. Frontier is an international non-profit volunteering NGO that runs over 300 conservation, community, and adventure projects in 57 countries across the globe. Get the latest updates on Frontier's Gap Year Blog and the Frontier Official Facebook page.