Volunteer Stories

Testimonial by Helen and Becca Mackinnon

England/Australia, April, 2019

The first thing that struck us was how happy, at ease and comfortable the children are at Kep Gardens. Janine and Andrew have created a delightful atmosphere – the resources built up over time are impressive and the classrooms bright and colourful. It was wonderful to be able to contribute. 

The opportunity to work one on one with the students – from number, colour and image recognition with the very small children, to reading through various levels for the primary children, to conversations with those in classes 5&6 – was very special, and lots of fun. Being able to give intensive individual time to children to help them practice their English is so beneficial for their communication skills and understanding. Some of our favourite moments were of taking class 6 for conversation and learning about their lives and what they hope to do. 

Anyone choosing to spend some time as a volunteer at Kep Gardens will have a wonderful and rewarding time making a real difference to these lovely young people. You may be in a gap year or retired, stay for a week or months – you can be assured of a very warm welcome from Andrew and Janine and will have a time you will remember forever.

Review of Kep Gardens Association by Matilde Carreira

Portugal, January 2019

A love letter to Kep Gardens and Cambodia: sharing is caring

So, the time has come for a debriefing on my first volunteering experience.

Having nowhere in mind to go, I checked the
GivingWay Volunteer & Travel Advice page to search for a suitable place to start. I knew I wanted something to do with education, especially in a place where the means to learn are yet to have their finest hour. So, with that in mind, I applied through the GivingWay platform for a place to teach English in Cambodia and waited to hear from them.
I was bug-eyed when just the day after I applied, I was accepted. Afterwards, came the planning. Seen as I went alone, I had to know all the details by heart and be ready for any bump in the road. Surprisingly, it was only when I got on the first flight that I realised I was really and utterly alone!

I had already been in contact with Janine and she made me feel at ease from day one, we actually spoke a few times and she always proved available to answer to all my questions (believe me, there were a lot of those).

When I arrived, the environment was just as I expected. I felt at home the moment I stepped out of the car and Janine instantly gave me a hug. Just like: you’re home.
Getting to know the kids was hard due to the language barrier but it was also so easy because they are used to it so they just go with the flow. From the little ones to the older they were all so open-minded towards these strangers constantly intruding their space. It was comforting to be around them.

Nothing nor anyone can or ever will make me feel the way I felt during my two-weeks stay in Kep Gardens Association, Cambodia. My colleagues, which I can call friends, were so nice and I finally felt like I was understood. I wasn’t alone in trying to make these kids lives better. It wasn’t “pointless” like society makes people believe.

Janine and Andrew played such an important role in making me feel at home, such souls should be cherished forever. The Kep Gardens Association concept is so beautiful and fulfilling, I can’t wait to see the day when I’ll go back to the little province and see about their progress. Every move, word or gesture Cambodians make is respectful and it amazes as well as infuriates me how the world doesn’t recognize their potential and civility.

I learnt many things, but of one thing I’m 100% sure, there is no such thing as language barrier. You ought to make do with what you have and that’s also one of the things I’ll forever take with me.

To those who gave me so much, I thank you, with all my heart, for making this first (of many) experiences so heartwarming. At a point in my life where there was no meaning to keep on fighting for what I believe in, you filled in the blanks and made me whole again.

I didn’t write about this before because I didn’t want to acknowledge it was over. It will never be goodbye.

See you one day my lovelies, wish you all the best,
Yours truly,

Review of  Kep Gardens Association by Lori Mcleod-Goodroad

United States, January 2019

Last day volunteering at Kep Gardens. I’ve thought for a long time how to describe Kep Gardens, but there is no description that could fully encompass everything that Janine and Andrew have developed. To describe it as an English school doesn’t do it justice.

Kep Gardens is located in the Kampong Tralach village outside of Kep, Cambodia. Children ages 1-4 have playgroup, there is a kindergarten class, reception classes, and 6 levels of English classes for ages 5-20+. They offer life skills classes for students and parents on topics like personal hygiene, social responsibility, drug awareness, road safety and child protection. The students participate in drama classes, debate team competitions, traditional dancing, football (soccer) and volleyball.

Volunteering was primarily spent one on one with kids working on conversation skills and reading. Watching the kids grow more and more confident in the answers to the daily list of questions was a real joy.

Thank you Janine and Andrew for the opportunity. I hope I added my brick

Review of Kep Gardens Association by Ruth van Caesbroeck


An unforgettable experience!

After 4 weeks of volunteering, I can say Kep Gardens was really like a second home for me. I enjoyed all parts of it!
Every morning, you are woken by laughing and well-motivated cambodian kids who are screaming “goodmorning teacher”!!! The kids always brought a smile on my face. I felt very useful and I really liked the daily routin at this project. Also, there is a good balance between work and rest. I would recommend everyone to go to Kep Gardens. It’s a well-structured project with a nice vision, lovely people and all of this in a wonderful green environment.   

Review of Kep Gardens Association by Rosa Lambert


Kep Gardens – home for everyone     

 I volunteered for 4 weeks in Kep Gardens. I’ve met lovely people, nice kids and most of all, I’ve found a place that everyone could call his or her home. Although there is work to do, I really found peace and rest in this place. As a volunteer, you feel very useful because there are specific tasks and programes organised for you. The people who work at Kep Gardens take very good care of you, you can always communicate your needs or desires in a non-judging atmosphere. You live close to the jungle, in the middle of rural Cambodian life. This makes your experience even more authentic and valuable because it is in no way similiar to what you are used to at home. I would recommend this place right away to everyone who likes to travel alternatively, who wants to contribute to the local community and who doesn’t bother to live in basic conditions.
(Also, the food is really delicious!!!)    

Review of Kep Gardens Association by Orel Aivas


lovely place ❤️

 I volunteer in kep garden for tow weeks during my trip and it was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had! Amazing attitude, always taking care of you there, the children are so polite and so charming that you just dont want the day will end!      

Reference Letters

29 Sacramento St #2 Cambridge MA 02138


To whom it may concern,

I first encountered Kep Gardens in early 2012 on a trip studying the work of non-profit organizations in Cambodia. Of all the organizations we surveyed, Kep Gardens stood out for its integration with the community, its flexible and holistic approach, and the dedication of its staff to realizing its vision: bringing education to Cambodia’s most vulnerable youths.

Kep Gardens is a response to the most pressing development need in rural Cambodia: the absence of the knowledge, skills and contacts that would allow local people to benefit from the dollars flowing into the region. Through free training in English, hospitality, and other practical skills, the children in the community served by Kep Gardens are able to access the industries that provide the greatest opportunities in Cambodia today.

Achieving these goals in the rural communities of Cambodia—in the context of extreme poverty, disease and a wide range of development issues—requires more than just running classes. This reality is reflected by Kep Gardens’ flexible, holistic approach to education and community development. Kep Gardens’ work has expanded to provide everything from life skills as basic as oral hygiene; accommodation for at-risk female students; access to modern medical care; and new agricultural and construction techniques to local workers.

This ability to closely adapt to community needs as they arise has allowed Kep Gardens to become a trusted and respected institution. Locals regard it as a life-changing project that can, on the long-term, transform this disadvantaged and disconnected part of the world.

I strongly believe in the value of Kep Gardens’ work and cannot provide firmer endorsement for sponsorship.

Reuben Finighan

Fulbright Scholar

Frank Knox Fellow

Harvard Kennedy School

Master of Public Policy candidate

Email:   Reuben_Finighan@hks14.harvard.edu

Kep Gardens has been part of the community of Kampong Tralach Village, Prey Thom Commune for 10 years.  Whilst the country continues on its strong growth path there are still people in the country areas who do not have access to skills training.  Kep Gardens provides this much needed education free-of-charge, targeting the underprivileged in their local community.

The English school has gained a highly respected reputation in the area as have the hospitality students working in local businesses.

The Cambodian Government and the local people value and appreciate the skills education Kep Gardens is providing and strongly support any fundraising programme they conduct to ensure the project continues to provide a high standard of training to our people.

Prum Chamreun

Deputy Governor, Kep

Tel:  +855 12561956

Email:  chamreunprum@yahoo.com

October 12, 2012

Re:Letter of reference for Kep Gardens Association

I have been working and living in Cambodia for the past 16 years, the last 11 in Kep Province.   I worked for 6 years.  After our final project, the Community Legal Education Center, was transferred to Cambodian management, I retired and moved to Kep.  I have been a volunteer English teacher for monks at 2 Buddhist wats and for several groups of young civil service personnel.

When I moved to Kep in 2001, there were almost no foreign language education or vocational training opportunities for children and young people in Kep, particularly young people from poor rural subsistence farming and fishing families.  This resulted in very little in the way of employment opportunities by which they could earn a sustainable living and help their families improve their living standards. As Kep has been developing economically over the past decade, with a rapidly expanding tourism sector, the need for young people to acquire language and vocational skills has become critical.

I became acquainted with Janine and Andrew Judd and their work at Kep Gardens about 3 years ago.  They are actively committed to providing the young people from the villages around Kep Gardens with opportunities to develop their skills through language, educational support and vocational training.   They have very sensibly developed projects at Kep Gardens based on the assessed needs of the village families and individual students and which are suited to the local environment and developmental progress.  They and the Kep Garden staff then work diligently to ensure that a project is solidly established and stabilized before moving on to the next stage or initiating a new project.

Kep Gardens is one of the few organizations that provides free English language, hospitality services, vocational skills and agricultural training to children of rural village families in the area. For each young person participating in one or more of the Kep Garden projects, this means an opportunity for a future they could otherwise only dream about – to become employable, make a decent living and develop their interests and potential.   Kep Gardens has a positive impact, not just on the individual young people, but on their families and their local communities.

It is very difficult to fund and operate a small scale, local organization like Kep Gardens.  Most donors emphasize broad programs on a regional or national scale and remain largely urban-based.   That typically results in very little benefit trickling down to the 80% of Cambodians living in rural areas.

The work of Kep Gardens, on the other hand, focuses on the positive impact on the present and futures of the individual young rural people, their families and their villages.

Janet K. King

Resident, Kep Village

Kep Province, Cambodia