In the fall of 2012, I was finishing up my third visit to the orphanages PAC DOC#1 and PAC
DOC#2 . Installing an Irrigation system, repairing old and drilling new wells, renovating the school, cleaning up the open sewerage ditches and, of course, building a volley ball court/soccer field, had filled my time for three weeks.However, the Director was making me uneasy.
I had just discovered that he had a ‘Lexus’ hidden down the street and when I confronted him, he screamed at me “cash is king”, making it abundantly clear
that what he wanted from me was US Dollars over which he had sole discretion. He disliked that I paid for all my materials and labor directly, which prevented kickbacks. He told me he did not value my “in kind” labor, he wanted cash… ‘feed kids, feed kids’…. he screamed at me.
I was crushed! I had completely misjudged my three year relationship with the Director.
This gentleman was a kind grandfather to the 40-50 children, but I was becoming aware that the kids were little actors in a ‘Disney’ production, put on each day for the tourists who dropped in to see ‘orphans’. One of the favorite tourist attractions in Cambodia, advertised by many hotels and tuk-tuk drivers, is a visit to a local orphanage.
Sorry about the negativity, but I have now learned the telltale signs and learned to be vigilant, and you should know that.
My tuk-tuk driver, Vet Toch, was also disheartened. He is a wonderful family man and has been my friend, translator, and driver for four years. He was heavily invested on an emotional level, as was I, with the PACDOC kids. As we sat here, dejected, Vet Toch suggested we visit Bridges International Orphanage west of Siem Reap. He did not know much about it, but said he had heard it was a serene, ‘polite’ orphanage and very poor.
Vet Toch and I packed up our tools and went looking for Bridges orphanage.
The kids prepared the meals, cleaned up afterwards, swept and cleaned the ‘dirt’ front yard, tended to the pigs and seemed engaged at all times.
A generous donor had just built them an open air kitchen, but the kids’ bedrooms, 13-14 boys and 13-14 girls in each space, were under a rusty, leaky old metal roof, wrapped in a blue tarp. The kids sleep 3-5 in broken down old beds.
I was enthralled by this place – quiet, happy, and I felt really at home.
Others interested in helping out at the orphanage were very active in supporting the kids individually and supporting programs like the English tutor. Prime among them is Janis Lindblom from Australia who is definitely the guardian angel of the orphanage.
I returned in the fall of 2013 to Bridges orphanage and stayed seven weeks. The Rotary Club of Bath, Maine, had invited me to speak and had, on the spot, said ‘we want to support your work at Bridges orphanage’, so my seven week stay was well funded and very productive.
Please see our Fall 2013 Accomplishments to see a list of what we were able to accomplish with the help of the Bath Rotary Club, the Toronto Rotary Club and Janis’ connection in Port Adelaide, Australia.
A few months after I left Bridges orphanage, the absentee owner of the property showed up, realizing, of course, that her $10,000 piece of land was now worth $125,000. She promptly kicked the Director, his wife and all 32 kids out on the street.
I will spare you the details of frightened, crying children being kicked out of their home and, in most cases, only able to take with them what they could carry.
Sitha called the police, but the ‘fix’ was in. Premeditation.
Fortunately Sitha had heard of a recently abandoned orphanage in an industrial area east of Siem Reap, and was able, within hours, to move the kids there. He agreed to take care of the 4-5 orphans that were still living in the abandoned orphanage.
- Large facility with ample common space
- Near schools, so the kids can walk
- Outrageous $400 a month rent (average wage earner in Cambodia = $30-$40/month)
- No lease (worthless anyway)
- Valuable industrial land. If demand arises, they will be out on the street the next day.
- Chicken farm across the road
- Crocodile farm behind the orphanage
- Flies by the millions
- All the roofs leak; a real issue in the rainy season
- Security issues – many break ins
- Kids sleep on floor mats as there is no room for beds
In the fall of 2014, I visited CIO to undertake some minor repairs, install a security system, do some rewiring, address the leaky roofs, lay linoleum in the common space to make a library and fill in some open sewerage areas. It was great to see the kids … for the third time, and yet, there was this shadow hanging over Sitha and Srey Mom. What if we have to move? Where will we go? Siem Reap has become a boom town with no room or compassion for poor orphans.
During my four weeks in Siem Reap, Sitha and I looked at land. Too expensive, poor quality, bad location, but none the less, expensive. Janis had also helped with the search for land to no avail.
Recently, we got some good news. Sitha has found a nearby village on the edge of growth where raw land is reasonable.
So, we are all motivated now. We need to raise close to USD 125,000.- to buy the land, build a kitchen/classroom, two dormitories, latrines, a residence for the Director and his wife, and put in utilities to serve the CIO family. (See Orphanage Budget) Any extra funds will be used to create an endowment.
Another point of interest:
Rotary International will not fund the purchase of land or the construction of buildings, but they will buy beds, clothing, furniture, support literacy programs, buy books books, outfit kitchens, etc. … just no bricks and mortar. So, when we get over this initial hurdle, we will look to Rotary International for continued support in outfitting the orphanage.