Cambodia – our partner explains how we are helping

By Sallie Grayson. Filed in project background, project news  |  
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This from our partner Concert,  Cambodia:

Michael and Nira

Crucial support for children and families in one of the world’s poorest nations

Following Sallie’s article in the summer newsletter headed “Cambodia Projects – Marmite and Bicycles”, I thought it may be useful to give some background to the circumstances surrounding our two Cambodian projects.  But before I do, it might be worth pondering on the lighthearted title of the summer report.

“Marmite and bicycles” actually illustrates the situation in Siem Reap very well.  It is somewhat unusual in that the town has all the amenities you would expect from a world renown tourist destination, servicing the needs of over a million international tourists each year who visit the Angkor Wat World Heritage Site.  Accommodation ranges from cheap, backpacker guesthouses to 5 star luxury, (our accommodation options are both very comfortable owner run boutique hotels).  There is also a wide range of international restaurants, spas, and other services to pamper weary travellers, and an expat like me can live in some comfort.  It’s true that electricity, internet, and water supplies can be a bit unreliable, though most things needed to keep a Yorkshireman happy are available, demonstrated very well by the fact that I requested a trivial item such as Marmite.

But two worlds touch in Siem Reap.  Great wealth and privilege rub shoulders with abject, grinding poverty.  Life in Cambodia often reminds me of a Charles Dickens novel and the extremes of Victorian Britain 150 years ago.  Over one third of the population of Siem Reap province, (county), some 300,000 people, exist on less than 30 pence per day, and if you do earn less than 30 pence per day, you’re never going to be able to afford a $32 secondhand bike.  This is why bike donations are so life changing. They enable children to go to school, and adults to find work, both of which are a little more serious than my jar of Marmite…

So, how are our projects helping?

In Cambodia, many of the basic things that are taken for granted, (sufficient food, clean water, housing, education, healthcare, electricity, sanitation, state support for families in crisis etc), are not guaranteed for many people.  Our Community Support in Siem Reap project is situated on the edge of Siem Reap and supports families from 3 poor villages, many of whom are subsistence farmers or fishermen living on the edge of poverty; many more have no work.  It provides a wide range of free education and vocational training to 200 children and young people aged 3 – 24 years, and their families: English classes; General Education; Computer and Vocational Training in Electrical Installation, Sustainable Energy, and Weaving.  It also has income generation schemes focused on the women of the community.

They also help families to keep their children at state school by providing uniforms, books and bicycles, and ensure the families have access to clean water, sanitation, health care and a weather proof house.

Much is heard about orphanages in Cambodia and there is increasing concern that many are not providing the best care for children and families in crisis.  Bodies such as UNICEF, Save the Children, and Friends International, believe that many centres needlessly break up poor families and divert funds and attention away from more appropriate community support based solutions.  Extremely vulnerable children are removed from their families and communities, and families on or below the poverty line are most at risk, especially mothers who are bringing up children alone. ConCERT shares this concern, see The manager at our Community Support project has been directly involved in combating this trend as poor families in the villages they support have been approached by orphanages in Phnom Penh, 200 miles away, saying that they will take care of their children for them.  She has been working hard to keep the families together, which isn’t easy as desperate families tend to believe the owners of such establishments when they say they will take care of their children and provide them with better opportunities.

And our Support for Child Prisoners project is helping with a particularly difficult problem as in Cambodia, children aged 13-18 are tried in the adult criminal justice system, and detained and imprisoned in adult prisons. It is not uncommon for women to give birth while in prison or to decide that the safest place for their young children (0-7) is to live in prison with them.

Approximately 95 children are confined in the Siem Reap prison. Numerous issues in this prison compromise the rights of these children, despite Cambodian and International Law to the contrary.  This project aims to address the educational rights of children (or children whose care giver is) in conflict with the law, and to promote and defend these rights.  Follow the link above for more details about this project, which is part of a wider programme, all of which is focused on education and works in close cooperation with the government.  I strongly feel that, difficult though it can be at times, increasing the capacity of government is the way forward for Cambodia, and both of our projects work closely with local and national authorities.

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