How can you look a child in the eyes and deny them food and water, especially when it is within your means to provide it? When the children on the streets of Cambodia tell me they are hungry I believe them. This is how Judy and I ended up having lunch with eight Cambodian children one afternoon. For $16 American dollars, we were all fed and watered.
I will not buy from the children who sell postcards or other knickknacks for tourists or give them money for begging. It perpetuates the cycle of poverty by encouraging a dependency on foreign hand-outs rather than priorities being placed on sustainability through formal education and vocational training. Children will continue to be exploited if sending them onto the streets continues to prove as a viable way for the people that control them to earn money. Some of the children on the streets selling and begging have families, but many of them do not and the money does not always go towards their immediate needs or well-being. I am also concerned about the safety of these children who approach strangers at all hours of the day and night asking for money. Sex tourism, particularly in impoverished countries, is a very real threat. Who is keeping a watchful eye on the children who work the streets in Cambodia and across Asia?
It started with just two boys who tried very hard to self us a pack of postcards. They asked us where we came from and then proceeded to recite facts about our country such as languages spoken, population and governments. Is this the education they are receiving? Memorizing facts that can potentially help them secure a sale? When we continued to say no to buying their wares they asked if we had any food they could have. We, in turn, invited them to have a seat at our table and order themselves each a dish of their liking. When other children working the streets noticed the two boys devouring curries, fried fish, rice and mango smoothies, they too requested food. Again, I ask the question, how can you deny a child food and water when it is within your means to provide it? Another table was pushed over and attached to our four top and six more bellies were filled.
We caught the attention of another diner, who told us “that is really nice of you”. He then asked us if we’d like to join him in visiting an orphanage after lunch. Judy and I agreed that we would, and so, after finishing lunch we departed with our new acquaintance and headed to an orphanage. Our driver stopped in front of a center with a huge billboard that advertised daily dance performances. The slogan read “dancing is the children’s lives”. We did not get out of the tuk tuk but rather stared at the billboard. A small man came running out of the center waving his arms dramatically and telling us the show started at 6:30 and would we like tickets? We told our driver that this was not what we had in mind. We were not looking to be entertained by orphan children but rather looking to entertain them or provide needed supplies. I couldn’t help drawing parallels between the monkey shows advertised throughout Asia and these dancing orphan children who perform daily.
Our driver seemed to understand and he then took us to another orphanage. There was no billboard. We were greeted by a friendly man who firmly denied us entrance to the grounds. He told us we needed to go to the main office and speak to the co-ordinator. I felt an immediate sense of relief knowing that we were being screened, which meant that the children were being protected.
We went to the main office and spoke to the co-ordinator of Cambodia Orphan Fund. He provided us with information about the orphanage and other community work being done through the organization. He spoke about the importance of providing orphaned children with access to their original villages to celebrate important cultural festivities in order to develop a sense of identity and belonging and of efforts being made to keep struggling families together. He agreed to accompany us to the orphanage to meet the children. First, we stopped at an art supply store and stocked up on crayons, paints, paper and other craft supplies.
We spent several hours in the company of the children at this particular center. They have all been through many hardships in their short lives but remain very much what a child should be: carefree, creative and playful. They are all enrolled in private school and will be given vocational guidance as they reach adulthood. They will never go hungry or be sent to beg in the streets.
If you are reading this and would like to support the global community by sponsoring a child or family through this organization then please visit www.cofcambodia.org for more information.