I never planned to come to Cambodia.

When I signed up to the Australian government’s international volunteers program, I had neither a clear idea of where I wanted to go nor what precisely I wanted to do. I just knew I had some time, and I wanted to be useful.

Ending up at Children’s Future International in Ek Phnom – a small NGO I’d never heard of in a part of the world I would likely have otherwise never visited – may not have been an entirely random outcome, but it’s pretty close.

I arrived at CFI in December to work for six months as a technical advisor in the communications team. The role requires me to produce a communications plan for the organization and train up two of my colleagues, Sophannak and Sakara, in addition to helping with day-do-day communications tasks: social media, producing the newsletter and writing and editing grant reports and applications.

I love the rhythm of the day here. The mornings are (relatively) cool and the center is quiet, but by 11.30 a few of the kids have arrived for lunch and the place starts to come alive. After staff lunch at midday – my favorite is this amazing curry soup with noodles; a rarity, sadly – I sometimes sit in the garden, watching the kids playing soccer or one of dozens of creative games they seem to invent on the spot.

Then at 1pm the classes start, and the staff return to work to the sounds of students greeting and thanking their teachers in unison.

CFI does remarkable work. Granted, every volunteer at every NGO probably says the same thing about their organization, but from the supplementary education to the social work and community development programs, CFI is having a profound and lasting impact on the children and families of Ek Phnom.

And when I see how deep the connection to the community is, how hard the staff work, and the love they have for each other and the people they serve, I can’t help but believe there’s something special about Children’s Future. I feel grateful to be here and to have been so welcomed.

And I’m grateful, as all volunteers should be, to have the opportunity to do something so worthwhile in the first place. Being able to volunteer speaks to a level of privilege and security that would be inconceivable to many Cambodians, for whom simply getting by is a daily challenge.

I’ll be leaving CFI and Battambang in a little over a month, and while I will most definitely not miss the rolling power cuts, the skull-melting heat and the occasional near-death experience on the road to Phnom Penh, this organization and this part of the world will always remain with me.

I don’t think I’ll be staying away for long. Especially if they keep serving that curry soup.