Elisabeth Gjemmestad is a Norwegian living in Phnom Penh, a mother of two grown up sons, the oldest a well known Musher at The silent Way located in the North of Sweden and the youngest a successful businessman in Phnom Penh. She is also and a grandmother of six, soon seven children, a teacher, a volunteer and sometime a consultant for her son’s company in Phnom Penh. Even though she is officially retired, she is busier than ever!
Some of the things that Elisabeth loves are to be around children. Children have always been one of her passions. Her latest work in Norway was as an early childhood development specialist for the municipality’s Habilitation center in Tønsberg. Her responsibility, together with a team, was to supervise the community around a handicapped child on how the child could communicate and develop in the best possible way. She got one year leave from her position as supervisor, when her youngest son invited her to Cambodia to work with him as a General Manager at Interquess, Cambodia Yellow Pages.
After working fulltime for five years they agreed that she should take some time off her main job. Present she is contributing as a volunteer to different NGOs, institutions and as a teacher of Norwegian to the Norwegian school children living in Phnom Penh.
“I teach mother tongue at a private school here in Phnom Penh and in my home, to students both in elementary and secondary school, their age ranges from six to 14 years.” Elisabeth says.
“I still have an office at Interquess and am helping out when there is need for this, in a field of training or in the human resource questions.”
When Elisabeth is not supervising as a volunteer or teaching Norwegian Mother Tongue, she spends the afternoons coaching her eldest grandchildren’s homework.
“Being a Grandma is the best thing that has ever happened to me and we joke that my job now is to spoil them!”
Elisabeth is filling her schedule volunteering for UNHCR (United Nation Honorable Consul for Refugees) two mornings per week.
“The refugees are resourceful people, but some have little knowledge about child development, nutrition and general hygiene,” Elisabeth explains.
“I supervise the young mothers in how to take care of their newborn children, and we have talks with all the refugees about hygiene and how life can look like in a western country. Many of the children have never been to school and therefore need some structured and stimulating activities; we try to create a good and fun learning environment for them.”
“It is often very hard for the refugees to adjust to their new situation, after fleeing from their home country, hiding in the jungle, and now living in a second country, waiting for a third country to accept them. We have to try to put our feet in their shoes in order to understand and guide them so they can be able to adapt to this new and very difficult situation”
“I find this work very interesting and challenging, because as an advisor I have to use different approaches to different people with different needs,” continues Elisabeth.
Life in Cambodia
Although Elisabeth is occupied by tight schedule, she is however happy to be a fulltime grandmother and a woman of leisure.
“Another good thing about volunteer work, besides being with interesting people, is that I can take time off whenever I want. For on top of being a grandmother, teacher and volunteer I love to travel.”
When Elisabeth has free time she likes practicing swimming, yoga and meditating. She goes on holiday to Norway every year in order to keep close contact with her family and friends in Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
“Life in Cambodia is great. I like the climate, the people, and the lifestyle with the possibility to have a maid. Life would have been almost perfect if my oldest son and his family had lived closer.”