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Supporting Cambodian Children

March 26, 2012

Launch of 'Cambodia - Our Vision', a book of photographs taken by the children of Anjali House

“In July 2007, you would have found 11 year old V. under the glare of the neon street lights selling postcards to tourists in Siem Reap to support his family. He never attended public school. His father and step-mother, both suffering from HIV, have difficulty working and feeding the whole family. The father, handicapped in one leg, (a result of stepping on a landmine) begs or collects rubbish every day only to come home with less than 1 dollar a day. Today, V. is more likely to be found at home in the evenings, tired after a long day of public school, English class … and workshops.”

This is a case study from Anjali House, an NGO in Siem Reap. In tourist towns many children do not go to school, instead earning money for their family by selling craft, postcards, books or begging in the street. Anjali House assists such families with food support, micro-loans and health care to reduce the pressure for their children to work. Anjali enrols the children in public school, providing uniforms, books, bags, stationary and covering all fees and costs. The kids also get lunch and clean water, personal hygiene, medical and dental care, English and IT classes, art activities and physical education.

This non-residential care is an alternative approach to that of orphanages. Orphanages can give children the education and opportunities that their families are unable to provide (most children in residential care are not orphans), but NGOs like Save the Children and Friends-International question this approach, because of what they see as the needless break up of poor families. They are also concerned about orphanage tourism. “Children are not tourist attractions,” says Friends on their ChildSafe Traveler Tips website. “Think twice before visiting an orphanage.”

Tuk tuk drivers can be trained in child safety and then join the ChildSafe Network

ConCERT, the NGO that guides people who want to help (see previous post), says: “The best long term solution is to work with the communities, helping them to better take care of their children. In the shorter term, and for extreme cases where there are limited options, a residential centre may be the only choice.” This page from the ConCERT website argues that, while orphanages were needed in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge years, they are no longer the solution. Other pages on the site link to organisations providing non-residential care and education for children and support for their families, such as Anjali House.

Children who live or work on the streets are at high risk of being abused. Travellers can support hotels, restaurants and tour operators who collaborate with the ChildSafe Network, managed by Friends-International. Visit the site for a list of ChildSafe members.

The plight of children stirs our emotions, and we want to do something immediately. But we should investigate carefully before acting, and make sure that our “helping” does no harm.

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