The Centre for Orphans and Poor Children

February 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

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The Centre for Orphans and Poor Children is sandwiched between the road and a housing area. A long and narrow strip of land, there is a driveway, an open shelter that was to function as our classroom and a building with a large communal area for eating and prayer, one room for the small boys, one room for the big boys, one room for all the girls and one room for the director and her husband. And that’s it. Around the back is an open kitchen where everyone washes and the older girls take turns to cook. There is also a ute that is taken to the small bit of land they have on a farm to grow food. Contrary to popular belief orphanages aren’t just for orphans. Today there aren’t  a lot of orphans in Cambodia as there were 20 years ago after the Khmer Rouge – though there are still too many, the majority of the children in orphanages are poor children and their stories are no less tragic. For example among our small orphanage there are 2 brothers – Ly Heng and Ly How. There parents left them at the orphanage 3 years ago so they could go to Thailand in search of work. They have not returned and the boys haven’t heard from them since. Unfortunately this tends to be a typical case. In many cases parents believe, as hard as it is, that their children would be better off in an orphanage where they have regular meals and are able to go to school. CVF believes this is wrong and try to discourage it as they say nothing can replace the love of a family. It’s a fine line between what is right and wrong. There are a lot of orphanages in Cambodia, many are run by international benefactors or religious groups with rather deep pockets, some are faux-orphanages that rent children from local poor families on a daily basis to extort money from visiting foreigners, and some are like our orphanage are local and independent with no external funding only a meagre amount of funding from the government. There is no website campaigning or asking for donations, only a small sign above driveway. There is no large grass areas or play equipment here, the orphanage is run simply and provides the best they can for the children, simple meals three times a day, a school uniform and maybe 2 changes of clothes. Not everyone has a bed, most sleep on the floor – some of the older boys sleep on a plank of wood and everyone shares what they have – including beds.And before everything sounds too bleak and hard done for, I would just like to say that these are some of the happiest children I have ever come across.

IMG_2258Chun Lykhana (11) and Chun Rothana (8) – brother and sister with the biggest smiles I have ever seen.

IMGP3227This is Sister Borin. She is 61 and the director of the orphanage. She began learning english 2 years ago and sits in every class with the children to learn, and is always the most enthusiastic with the craft. She and her 53 year old husband run the orphanage independently. Sister Borin’s story is amazing and she’s not shy to tell it in her own special way, which is fantastically dramatic. Sister Borin was a mid-wife before the Khmer Rouge, when they came to power she was sent to a working farm. She said she worked hard all day everyday with only a spoon full of rice to eat and she cried everyday. She said she would birth babies in secret because if the mother went to the hospital then the child would have its throat slit. Not to mention if she was caught she would have had her throat slit.  She started the orphanage with only a few children on her own 9 years ago, and now has 24 kids that range between the ages of 7 and 19. They are all Christians – hence the sister – but not because of an external missionary benefactor, it’s because they want to be. I am not a particularly christian person at all and am sometimes suspect of its presence in developing countries, however in this case religion gave them so much happiness and strength that it was obvious that it was such a positive thing. Sister Borin is tough on the kids and brushes off a lot of affection but it is clear she loves these kids more than  anything and clearly she lives for them.

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IMGP3234This is our classroom, a volunteer before donated extra whiteboards. Zoe and I ran 3 classes a day, as education funding rather stretched and there are more children than schools, here children only go to school in the morning or afternoon. And as we were not teaching in a school we working with the children who were not at school. Most children take English in a private class as its not taught at regular school and is particularly important now as it is a prerequisite for most jobs. The orphanage already has a deal with the school for the children to learn with consideration and they cannot afford English lessons and so that is where we step in. IVHQ volunteers had only been coming to the orphanage for 3 months by the time we got there so not long at all. Sister Borin is determined to give them the best start in life despite their Orphanage status.

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Van Nigh – the youngest of the orphanage and yet she had the most vivacious character of them all.

IMG_2484As the children were of different ages and levels teaching was hard. All but 2 of the kids couldn’t read and as in all classrooms some hard more of an aptitude than others. Unlike others working with IVHQ we had no supervising teacher, no syllabus and no resources. In fact sometimes we didn’t even have paper. Neither of us being trained teachers it started out challenging but Zoe and I found the best method for us would be to pick a topic a day and just totally exhaust it. We stared with vocab, played matching games, copied sentences, filled in the blanks, songs, labelling games, dances and then always ended with a craft – after we’d made a trip to Battambang for supplies. Usually we were hard pressed to find a lack of enthusiasm which helped enormously. Our goal was just to make it as fun as possible and if anything I gave them 2 new favourite words – submarine and helicopter.

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IMG_2480The kids often elaborated on our lessons

IMG_2463Nhhiang (9) the first child Sister Borin took into her care

IMG_2479Zoe and one of her favourite men, Sok Vy (9)

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