Managing Director, Children’s Future International
Learn How to Help Build the Next Generation of Leaders in Cambodia
Glimpse into challenges that face us globally.
Where was the spirit born within you?
Her and her husband are both social workers for 30 plus years. The UK, New Zealand and the United States. They have had a lot of travel and fascinating careers. They wanted to do work in a developing country to give back. Cambodia picked us. She didn’t want to go to Asia. Her husband got a job first in Battambang. A one year contract. It is the second largest city in Cambodia. It isn’t full of tourists. She feels like she is a student and receiving gifts. She feels lucky to be there.
How can someone in our audience go about finding employment in another country? There are a lot of young people that volunteer. People come for short periods of time and they build attachments and they do more harm than good because they have to leave. They have been here for 4.5 years. If people want to come and commit.
What about your upbringing? She was born in California. They moved when she was 1 year old to New Zealand. She is a kiwi kid. They loved to travel. An overseas experience was what she did after University. She has always traveled. This is the first place that hasn’t been an English speaking place. She is learning a new language. This is the norm in her life. What language are you learning? The Khmer language, the national language of Cambodia, is a member of the Mon-Khmer family of languages spoken over a vast area of mainland South-East Asia. Khmer Rouge
In the four years that the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia, it was responsible for one of the worst mass killings of the 20th Century. The brutal regime, in power from 1975-1979, claimed the lives of up to two million people. How has the genocide affected the people? Cambodians did this to Cambodians. It was born out of a communist regime. They wanted a Utopian society. Everyone would have the same status. It spiraled out of control. People got paranoid. That is when millions of people were killed. They were trying to neutralize society. They lost institutional knowledge. Anyone her age or older has lost mentors and guides and teachers. They were all killed. It is taking a lot of time to rebuild. They are building through tourism. It is cheap and safe! A lot of people will speak English. It is a great exporter of rice. They make clothes. The Cambodians love singing and they want to rebuild. Karaoke and dance and drama are big in the culture. There is a lot of hope about the future of Cambodia.
There is a huge gap between rich and poor. People live on less than a dollar a day. They work with the poor. Others are driving Hummers. The middle class is growing but they come from the NGO sector. Is it a good impact? We grapple with the work that we do is the work the government should be doing. They take away the need for them to provide it. It is an interesting conundrum. Are we solving the core of the problem? The issue is poverty. The impact of COVID is huge. There is an economic fall out.
Let’s talk about the children. Orphans is a huge industry in Cambodia. There were a lot after the genocide. It became a money making industry. They deliberately keep the kids in poor conditions so people would donate and the money would go straight into the directors pocket. There are faith based organizations that run the orphanage. UNICEF did an investigation. 80% of the kids in there had a family member alive. Orphanages are the best for their children because they are so poor. They were playing on the vulnerable families. There was a boom in orphanages. They are part of two big orphanage networks. They started out as an orphanage. Backpackers wanted to help. There is a much better way to help. If there is another way, they will keep the kids. They work with families. What do you need to keep your child? They put that support in. It may be fixing a house up. They give food supplies for three months so they can work on becoming independent. This is a reunification process. How do you help them for the long term? The next stage is to be a community based organization. The Buddhist culture there is about giving. They work on 3 month plans and then move them on. Sometimes it is longer. What do we need to do to make this family safe and independent? Safety is #1. Supplementary education and training so the next generation will be independent. They grow gardens, raise chickens and have shops in their homes. They are in a rural area. It doesn’t mean they have to stay there. They think about the future.
How do they respond to the framework? Is it challenging to buy into this framework? They changed the story. It isn’t about taking away, they are giving resilience. It is strength based. They celebrate the uplifting and powerful. They are proud and feel successful. The door is always open. A flood or drought can change in an instant for a family. They can come back.
What ages are the children? There is a public education system that is free. The family needs to provide a uniform and a bike. The priority is far down the list. It is hard if you are poor. The child is more valuable to work in the fields. They become dependent on the kids so it is hard to get back to school.
An uncle had abused two young girls. He was arrested. The family needed them to be safe. This orphanage came from 8 hours away. The Mother had signed the release forms for this orphanage. She didn’t do what they wanted. They had to put the girls and Mom in a safe house. They were being pressured. They carry trauma. The next step they had to go away. The Mother wouldn’t be able to see them. They would have lost contact completely. They worked with the Mom and found her employment. They gave her skills to empower her and they re engaged the girls in education. The teachers keep an eye on the kids. Everyone is doing great. The family unit is strong. Three or four generations live together. Grandparents look after children.
Poverty sends people to the Thai border seeking illegal employment. Thai promises a lot and they get there and none of the promises come true. It is modern day slavery in terrible conditions. This splits up families. They give us their passports. The work that they do is to promote safe migration. It can be a good opportunity and they help them migrate.
How many people do this work? They have two foreigners and they have a team of 43 people and they are all Cambodian, They want Cambodian leadership. Capability is there. The Khmer team helps her navigate. They will lift the country out of poverty. They support children from the age of 5 all the way through the university. They can apply for scholarships. They believe that vocational training is important too. They create employable people.
How can the audience support you?
They are keen to support partnerships.
Your money goes a long way in Cambodia! $10 a month can feed a child for a month!
Don’t stop coming but think differently. The monks teach in the community. There is a way to upscale in the community. They want skill development for the staff. Offering their knowledge would be great. Be conscious of the impact you have.
Parting words? There are so many good ways to help. Do research and reach out before you come and find the great ways to help in the right way. We know there are consequences of well intention and let’s just be mindful.
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