From lilies to lotus…midlife volunteering in Cambodia

Written by Sue Round on .

Kate working in the school office with Mealea the new admin assistantKate working in the school office with Mealea the new admin assistantKate Howard, who has run the London Road florist shop, Hedge Rose, for ten years, is just back from a five-week volunteer project in Cambodia.  She will give a talk about her experiences on Wednesday September 4 at 7pm in the Merchant’s House - free admission, use the side door.

Kate told “Having a milestone birthday and reflecting on the ten years I had spent running my own business and not taking much leave prompted me to volunteer.”

Kate Howard outside her florist shop, Hedge Rose on London Road MarlboroughKate Howard outside her florist shop, Hedge Rose on London Road MarlboroughShe was placed in a volunteer project in a small village just outside Siem Reap in Cambodia, which is a major tourist centre and the site of Angkor Wat.  “I chose to use the company People and Places because they have an ethical approach to volunteering, carefully matching volunteer skills and experience to the project abroad.”

For five weeks Kate worked in a community centre and school and stayed in a nearby guest house.  Each day she braved the ‘crazy traffic’ to cycle to the project. 

A Cambodian Lotus flowerA Cambodian Lotus flowerShe was able to use her business, retail and marketing skills to advise one of the community projects where groups of women were sewing craft items to sell to tourists.

She helped to create a display to sell the products such as shopping bags, purses and T-shirts aimed at visitors to the centre.  She was able to suggest other items that could be made.

She also helped the school administration with photographic records of students.  In a country where only 50% of the population is literate and it is not compulsory to go to school Kate was made aware of just how valuable education is. The school had a huge focus on learning English as this is important for jobs in tourism.

Kate is determined to return as a volunteer to Cambodia.  “The Cambodian people are so warm and friendly and so eager to learn and to make life better for themselves and their fellow citizens.  They work long hours for not a lot of money.  I loved using my business experience to help them.”

“The experience made me very grateful for what I have here – my family and friends and the country I live in.  It gave me greater confidence in my resourcefulness and my own ability to handle new situations and to meet new people.”

“I have made some life-long friends and I will go back.  They are unique people.  Their history is so very very sad.  Two million people were killed from 1975 to 1979 and they are still living with the legacy of that.”

Now Kate is back in Marlborough and is looking forward to the autumn and Christmas season in Hedge Rose.  “We have new stock such as plant containers and we are booking weddings in for next year.”

If you would like to find out more about Kate’s volunteer experience attend the talk.  The company she travelled with is:

If you would like to visit the community project go to