I thought I had best explain what it is we’re doing and why we are staying put in Siem Reap for 2 months. We are volunteering for an incredible NGO that is delivering exceptional work. Hard to believe in Cambodia, where every other NGO is corrupt, right? Not this one. Where we are working focuses on providing education and play for village children who perhaps would not ever get such an opportunity. Alongside this, we have 50 resident children. Now, do not get mixed up; this is not an orphanage. There are a team of social workers who are in the process of repatriating children back to their families, but only when it is absolutely safe for them to return home, and only with the child’s full consent – as ever in Cambodia, things are far from clear cut.There are currently 17 individual children with cases open and the repatriation process well under way.
Unfortunately, there is a huge problem with orphanages in Cambodia (but the purpose of this post is not for delving into this) however my place of work does not refer to itself as an orphanage as it’s focus is education for the growth of every individual who passes through the school, rather than ‘homing’ children. Whilst attendance can be up and down – many children from the local village, who are as young as 3, will also have to help with the daily work that the adults carry out such as farming or working on the rice fields – we give the very best to every child that comes through the door. We provide paid work for over a dozen Khmer staff, and are aiming to be completely run by Khmer staff within the next few years. Western volunteers are there to help make the lives of the Khmer staff easier and are never paid, nor do we pay the organisation; that is one thing I will never get my head around. Unlike tons of orphanages in Cambodia, bus loads of tourists are strictly not allowed to rock up and take pictures. If you were at a school in the UK, America, Europe etc there is no way you could turn up at a school and start hugging children whom you are a stranger to, and then take their pictures and sprawl them on the Internet. Just imagine if you did that at home! Nor do the children ever perform for their own benefit – they sing Christmas carols in December to raise money for the childrens hospital that treats them and that is all.
With regards to the actual work, myself and Ed are on play duties, assisting the Khmer teachers to ensure that the English they teach is correct, and (my favourite!) helping out in Kindergarten. Having been there a few weeks now, we are getting to know some of the little children and can see how they are picking things up already. It is amazing to be a part, whilst a very small part, of such an honest and integral organisation.