Civil engineering student becomes an intern with VBC

Volunteers join VBC from all round the world and most come for a week or two and make the volunteering trip part of a holiday.

But Enola Coffin’s volunteer stint with VBC was very much a nine-week work and study trip.

The 22-year-old from France is a civil engineering student at Ecole Centrale de Nantes and as part of her studies she is required to do an internship abroad.

The USA and Australia are the most popular destinations among her fellow students but she didn’t want to follow their lead – instead preferring to go to South America or South East Asia and fortunately for VBC, Asia won.

“I have always been interested in volunteering so it was an amazing opportunity,” she says.

Enola is not the first student from her course to intern VBC – two years ago Thomas joined us and through his experience Enola’s school still had VBC’s details.

Working with the VBC team

Enola joined VBC on July 8 as a building volunteer and our original plans were for her to spend the days with our building team.

She started out going to the build site every day. At first she was observing the builders, then she helped to guide the volunteers. In the afternoons she stayed on site to help build with the locals and it turns out being immersed in the countryside and the culture with all Khmer people was one of the highlights of her time with us.

“It’s been fun, out digging holes … even in the warehouse it was a lot of fun working with Mr Buntheun, Mr Barang and Mr Gaek.”

Enola is easy-going, compassionate and very flexible and she fit in immediately with our team and everyone she met.

Civil Engineer and project manager

Back in France, Enola combines work and study and her work in the construction industry involves planning projects. So she came on board as an advisor to our team to help plan the very busy week we had last month when we built six houses.

When we discovered Enola was a civil engineer we decided these were very specific skills VBC should tap into. She agreed to create a building process book.

It was a big job and involved many discussions with our team but we now have a comprehensive guide, outlining all the different stages of VBC’s builds. We are introducing the book at some of our build sites so the volunteers have a visual instructional guide explaining the different stages of the house build.

Cambodian surprises

It was Enola’s first visit to South East Asia and she admits her expectations of Cambodia and VBC were in conflict with what she actually found.

Fortunately, it was favourable for our organisation as she was pleasantly surprised by the operation we run.

“I wasn’t expecting VBC to be this well structured,” she says. “I had thought it would be a bit of a mess.”

Five years of fine-tuning the process means we have a good routine that works well for the volunteers and our builders and ensures we are successful at providing a rewarding volunteering experience that also supports local jobs. And we have the flexibility to be able to tailor some requests to group needs.

She also didn’t expect the volunteer process to be so genuine when building a house in a week.

“I thought it would be a bit touristic but actually it’s very nice if you just come for one week.”

Embracing Khmer culture

Enola was fully immersed in Khmer culture when she joined our staff retreat at the end of August – including karaoke and trying the traditional dress of indiginous Cambodians. Nearly the entire VBC team went away to Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri in Cambodia’s east, for a four-day team building exercise.

Volunteers are the backbone of our organisation and they help in so many ways. Enola embraced our team and her Cambodian experience and in the process has made huge contributions to our organisation and our staff.

Thank you Enola! Come back soon.