Cambodia Indigenous People

Volunteer to work with the Bunong peoples at the Cambodia Indigenous People programme

This project was set up to help the Bunong people of Cambodia protect and preserve their culture and traditional ways of life that are currently under threat from modernization. Volunteers are particularly needed to help motivate the Bunong youth by showing an interest in their traditional way of life.

“They have the most warm and open spirits, and they welcomed us into their lives without reservation..”

Mary, biologist, USA

Project Overview

The Project: This unique project is based in the small town of Sen Monorom in the Northeastern province of Mondulkiri. There is a central office in the town which acts as a learning and resource hub for local Bunong people who are working together to preserve their tradiations and heritage.

The Bunong language is founded on oral tradition and until recently had no written form. The project is working tirelessly with local Bunong people to document as much of their culture as possible and preserve it for future generations. They also work with local youth tackling some of the problems they face in an education system which is essentially based on their second, non-native language.

Project Location: Near the small town of Sen Monorom, in the remote and rural province of Mondulkiri, about six hours from the capital Phnom Penh on a good road.

Main Volunteer Activities: Volunteers assist local staff and volunteers with research projects. Offering help in proof-reading their documents, social media training to increase local capacity in distributing information, offering informal computer and English teaching for local Bunong volunteers.

Hours: Volunteers work from Mon to Fri, 6 - 7 hours a day and have weekends free for relaxing or travelling around this unknown region and beyond.

Duration: Volunteer placements are year-round and for 1 to 12 weeks.

Accommodation: Volunteers stay in their own private ensuite room in a guest house in Sen Monorom.

Volunteer Requirements: Volunteers at this project must be aged 18+ and have good English. As you will be working with vulnerable children we also require a background check.

Volunteer Placement Fee: From UK£630 / US$755

What’s Included

        √  Free airport pick up from Phnom Penh international airport.
        √  One night's stay in a guest house in Phnom Penh, pre-transfer to Mondulkiri
        √  Road transfer from Phnom Penh to Mondulkiri.
        √  Accommodation in a private ensuite room in guest house in Mondulkiri

        √  Cambodia  orientation guide and induction on arrival.
        √  In-country support from local english-speaking project staff.
        √  All necessary project equipment and materials.
        √  All necessary project training by experienced staff.
        √  Transfer from Modulkiri to Phonm Penh at the end of your placement.
        √  Project donation.

What’s not included
  • Flights
  • International and domestic airport taxes
  • Medical and travel insurance
  • Vaccinations and inoculations
  • Meals, drinks and gratuities
  • Extra local excursions
  • Personal kit
  • Police or background check (where necessary)
  • Visa costs
What do everyday items cost?

The official currency of Cambodia is the Riel, however, all shops and market stalls accept US$ and you may be given small change in local currency ($1 = 4000 Riels). Be aware that dollar bills with any tears or markings are generally not accepted. ATMs dispense cash in US$. The cost of living in Cambodia is very low compared to most countries in the developed world. The costs of some typical items are:

  • Short journey by tuk-tuk - $1 to $2
  • Meal in a market - $1
  • Bottle of soft drink - $0.50 to $1
  • Draft beer - $0.50 to $2
  • Meal in a restaurant - $4 to $25
Project History

This project was set up to help the Bunong people of Cambodia protect and preserve their culture and traditional ways of life that are currently under threat from modernization. Heroic efforts are needed to defend Bunong rights from the threats associated with the contemporary world. Bunong youth are eager to be at the forefront of protecting their way of life, not only by continuing it but by documenting it. Whilst many young Bunong recognise that they will not live in the same way as their ancestors did, they are proud to be from such a unique, incredible culture and are at the forefront of recording every aspect of it. They are balancing new modernisation interests with traditional culture.

The community

A new road connected Phnom Penh to Mondulkiri in 2010. Whilst this means that access to the town is now much easier for the volunteers, it has also exposed the town and the traditional culture to much more outside influence. The town is growing quickly with logging as the main regional trade and tourism, particularly in high season (July-September, November-January) also becoming a mainstay for local people.

Whilst much of the local community are aware of the longer term damage of logging, many have little choice and are driven to it through poverty. The effect for Bunong people who traditionally rely extensively on the forest is dramatic not only in access to food and medicine but also in support of their lifestyle as their spirituality, ancestral grave sites and knowledge bases are all located within the forests.

How the project is helping

The project works with the local Bunong community, helping to document as much of their culture as possible and preserve it for future generations. They also work with local youth tackling some of the problems they face in an education system which is essentially based on their second, non-native language. This includes providing free supplementary education and helping to build self-esteem by reinforcing the value of their own culture. 

Why the project need volunteers

The project receives no state funding, but through volunteer support, private donations and grants the project continues working with the Bunong community to preserve their unique culture and help them to transition into modern day life without losing touch with their heritage.

Volunteers bring much needed extra pairs of hands, new and different skills that can be shared with project staff and volunteers and can introduce new enthusiasm, energy and ideas into every day of your stay.

You can read more in our blog about The Bunong People.

Typical Volunteer Duties

Volunteers work 6 to 7 hours a day, Monday to Friday with all weekends off. This gives you plenty of time to relax, or take in some local sightseeing. Your week will mainly be based in the shared office with local staff cataloguing information which they have collected. There may be field visits to local villages to collect information on all aspects of Bunong culture and to assist staff and aid the volunteers' understanding and learning. This may be in the form of interviews but also through recording songs and videoing traditional aspects of the culture. 

Depending on the time of year, volunteers may also assist with conversational English and basic computer skills classes. There is also a strong focus on increasing computer, internet and other media literacy for Bunong youth. The volunteers will also assist with updating social media and the website.

This is a very varied and dynamic project and volunteers' skills will be used to the best of their abilities to support the project.

Volunteer Accommodation
Volunteers stay in a private room in a guest house in Sen Monorom. The room is en-suite with hot water. The rooms have fans but can be upgraded to air conditioning for an additional charge. Cable TV is available in all rooms with some channels in English. There is no restaurant on site however the town is quite small and local services are only a short walk away.

Sen Monorom is not for those looking for fast food chains or a developed nightlife, but volunteers with a sense of adventure, eager to meet new people, comfortable experiencing a different culture or those keen to escape the ‘rat-race’ will love the experience of Sen Monorom.

There are several tourist-friendly restaurants where you can order pizza, pancakes and burgers. Although there is an increasing number of tourists and volunteers visiting Sen Monorom and staying longer, the town is quiet, particularly in the evenings, but is safe for independent volunteers to walk on their own. It gets dark early here, between 6 and 7pm depending on the season, so be prepared for early nights and bring a torch. Electricity is also unpredictable with frequent power cuts. When it does work there is a fairly-good wi-fi connection at several of the restaurants in town, enough to send a quick email if not Skype!

Free time in Sen Monorom and Mondulkiri

Mondulkiri is renowned for its village visits and some of the largest waterfalls in Cambodia. Trekking forms the backbone of tourist activities in Sen Monorom, with incredible waterfalls, valleys and views all within easy reach of the town. For volunteers who are interested in wildlife conservation, we may be able to arrange a visit to our partner project at the Cambodia Elephant Sanctuary which is located very close to Sen Monorom.

Weeks £GBP US$
1 £630 $755
2 £720  $855 
3 £810  $960 
4 £905  $1,070 
5 £1,015  $1,195 
6 £1,120  $1,320 
7 £1,225  $1,440 
8 £1,335  $1,565 
9 £1,445  $1,690 
10 £1,555  $1,815 
11 £1,660  $1,935 
12 £1,770 $2,060 

Volunteer rated at
4.3 out of 5 stars (4.3 / 5)

Cambodia Indigenous Project Photo Gallery

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