My name is Arthur R., and I recently graduated from a master’s degree in bio-industries at the Haute École Charlemagne in Huy.
I chose to do my end-of-studies placement in Cambodia with Eclosio, an NGO that supports food sovereignty in developing countries.
My project focused on developing a new feed for local poultry. The aim was to replace the industrial feed heavily used by local producers with a more natural and sustainable feed with similar productivity.
My project focused on developing a new feed for local poultry. The aim was to replace the industrial feed heavily used by local producers with a more natural and sustainable feed with similar productivity. This was a major challenge, as it also involved finding a location for the experiment, communicating with the local people, adapting to their culture, etc.
How can an industrial engineer work on a cooperation project in a so-called “southern” country?
Between my humanities studies and my higher education, I spent 1 year abroad learning languages. During that year, what I enjoyed most was discovering another country, a different culture and a different way of life. Since that experience, travelling has always been one of my priorities. That’s why, to complete my studies, I preferred to have an experience abroad.
Yes… But where?
Before this internship, I had the opportunity to travel around South-East Asia, particularly Cambodia. I came back from that trip with lots of good memories. I was particularly touched by the welcome and the joie de vivre in this country (even though 31% of the population is still living below the poverty line). That’s why, when I had the opportunity to go away to do my end-of-studies work placement, I went straight to Cambodia.
After several weeks of research, a friend told me about an NGO (Eclosio) that organises projects in ‘southern’ countries. After finding out more about their activities, I quickly agreed with Eclosio’s vision of food sovereignty, particularly through agro-ecology. The project proposed by Eclosio was an autonomous project with weekly monitoring by the local team in Cambodia.
A project that requires a lot of hard work and commitment
At first, I didn’t think I was up to the task of running such a project independently in a foreign country, especially as animal feed wasn’t my first speciality. So it was essential to prepare myself before I left! So I got in touch with several specialists in the field of animal nutrition, including Dr Nassim Moula, a professor at the University of Liège.
At first, I didn’t think I was up to the task of running such a project independently in a foreign country, especially as animal feed wasn’t my first speciality.
To carry out such a project, I tried to plan my trip (as far as possible) in advance. So, before leaving, I knew the important information to collect, the analyses to be carried out on the new feed, the number of samples I would be experimenting on, etc.
Regular contact with my supervisor, Sothet Chhay (Eclosio’s Programme Manager in Cambodia), was also necessary to gather as much information as possible in order to prepare for the experiment.
An unforgettable experience
I arrived in Cambodia a week before the start of the course to acclimatise and recover from the time difference. Leaving a country at 3°C and arriving a few hours later in another country with 30°C and a 5-hour time difference wasn’t easy. I was able to adapt quickly to the local culture as I had already been there 2 years before. Fortunately, because the local currency and means of transport in Cambodia are quite complicated.
The following week was devoted to meeting the Eclosio team on site, the local farmers I was going to work with and presenting the project.
I did this placement in collaboration with a Cambodian student, Mr Menghuy, who was also completing his studies. Working with him helped me a lot linguistically, culturally and in terms of how to approach a problem.
I did this placement in collaboration with a Cambodian student, Mr Menghuy, who was also completing his studies. Working with him helped me a lot in terms of language, culture and how to approach a problem. I remember, for example, the time we had to find a quick solution to reinforce the fences, because the chickens were wandering from one sample to another. He showed me a technique they had developed and 2 hours later, the problem was solved.
However, culture shock also has its downsides. There were sometimes differences of opinion that made the work more complicated. We had to be flexible and open-minded to overcome this problem.
A high-quality welcome
Cambodia is a safe and pleasant country to live in. The welcome, one of my motivations for going to Cambodia, was exceptional. My project took place in the province of Takeo, 70 km south of Phnom Penh. During the week, I ate lunch every day in a small family restaurant on the side of a commercial road. Although the family doesn’t speak English, after 1 month I was invited to one of their family reunions to thank me for eating with them. Their food was excellent and their generosity was second to none. I sat at their table not as a guest, but as a friend. It’s one of my fondest memories.
I stayed with them almost every day and never felt like a stranger. Once again, an impressive quality of welcome.
Another family who welcomed me generously was a local farmer, Mr Thy, who agreed to let me carry out my experiment on his farm. He was open-minded about how to carry out the project and didn’t hesitate to help me when he saw I was in difficulty. He didn’t speak English and yet we understood each other, even if the dialogues weren’t very elaborate. I was with them almost every day and I never felt like a stranger. Once again, an impressive quality of welcome.
For me, apart from the personal richness of this course, it was this kind of encounter that made this trip so attractive and unforgettable.
What more can be said !
Doing an internship in an industry is not complicated. But doing an independent placement in English in a foreign country, with a real purpose in the hope of making a difference to the daily lives of local producers, that’s a challenge.
As I said, this kind of project requires a lot of hard work, commitment, adaptability, patience and courage… but at the end of the day, when you leave that country, all you want to do is go back.
A few tips…
If I had to give some advice to future trainees, I would advise you to prepare the trip properly: find out about accommodation, the local currency, means of transport and their prices, vaccinations, passports, mosquito nets, etc.
Prepare rigorously for the project too: document yourself on the subject, get in touch with the Eclosio team, draw up a table of contents, prepare a list of questions that will help you to carry out the project successfully, etc.
During the internship
During the placement, keep in regular contact with the Eclosio team locally and in Belgium about the progress of the project. During the experiment, don’t hesitate to ask whether the people involved have fully understood the idea you wanted to convey.
I would also advise you to take as many numbers as possible relating to the Eclosio staff on site from the start of the placement. Not all Cambodian people speak English, and for any questions or negotiations, it is preferable to leave your Cambodian counterpart to discuss things.
On a practical level, it’s a good idea to keep a local taxi number for the weekly trips between Phnom Penh and Takeo. I would advise you to use a taxi instead of a shared bus as it is cheaper, more comfortable and quicker, especially as it is also possible to negotiate the pick-up point with the taxi.
The experience was a complete success, both in terms of my studies and on a personal level. I have some unforgettable memories and only one wish: to go back.
I hope I’ve helped Eclosio to find a way to develop a new poultry feed that will contribute to a slight improvement in the standard of living of these people.
I found that Eclosio’s supervision was very good and that they put a lot of effort into the students. I’d like to thank this NGO for giving me this opportunity.
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Picture 1 : Preparing feed for chicks aged 0 to 6 weeks with Menghuy and Him Nob (Arthur Rossolino, 2018)
Picture 2 : Finishing and transporting bags of feed for poultry aged 6 to 10 weeks with Menghuy (Arthur Rossolino, 2018)
Picture 3 : Cutting Chaya leaves for the new feed for poultry from 6 to 10 weeks old (Menghuy, 2018)