The streets of Wagga – where are the people?
On 6 June the Wagga Daily Advertiser (Wagga is a town in New South Wales) reported this human interest story concerning Chloe Flanagan, a 25 year old local beauty therapist:
Sweltering in the Cambodian heat, Chloe Flanagan is surrounded by people riding motorcycles. She’s in Phnom Penh, home to around 2.2 million people. The city, which still harbours pain from the relatively recent devastation caused by the Khmer Rogue, houses grand elaborate buildings – temples decorated with gold. Drive down the main boulevard and you could mistake it for Paris – but … Phnom Penh harbours some dark secrets. Millions of young children are exploited in Cambodia every year.
Ok, so the prose is a little overcooked, but it’s not every day you find a beauty therapist from Wagga in the grim suburbs of Phnom Penh. It goes on to tell how Chloe “purchased a one-way ticket to Asia and volunteered for three months at a Cambodian orphanage.” There she saw that orphanages are a business and have some very unsavoury things going on . “Often in these institutions the children are kept in deliberately poor conditions so the managers get more money from the generous, misled western tourists.”
Chloe moved on to Laos, where she received “an urgent and distressed call from 22-year-old Srey On,” who had been at the home Chloe had worked at. She was now on the street, on the run from her former orphanage “mother” who was attempting to track her down, hassle her and intimidate her. “She has polio and wears a full leg brace, she still has parents but she is from a small rural village one-and-half hours out of Phnom Penh and there are no opportunities for her there. Her parents sent her to live at the orphanage so she could study.”
(This, incidentally, is very common – many “orphans” are not orphans at all, and find themselves in institutions for all kinds of reasons).
Srey On and nine children were living in an apartment paid for by a kind-hearted Singaporean woman, with no money and no food. Chloe flew back, organised accommodation, and set up a small orphanage. “Bethel Children’s Home Cambodia was born.”
You can read in the article about the ways Bethel helps the kids – it’s pretty heartwarming and more strength to Chloe. (Here’s a nice piece about how crowdfunding helped meet the needs of one handicapped little boy – his mother tried to abort him but did this instead; kids in this condition are mostly in a hopeless situation in Cambodia).
Anyway, I think I like Chloe. Which makes it all the more disturbing to read in the Phnom Penh Post that less than three weeks after that article in the Wagga paper the police raided the orphanage and arrested Srey On – the same Srey On who phoned Chloe – who is its manager.
Em Chanmakara, a secretary general of the Disability Action Council at the Ministry of Social Affairs, said three boys and one girl, between 5 and 10, were removed from the home in response to a complaint made by Chloe Flanagan … The document states that director Soy Srey On, 23 – who was arrested – and her boyfriend, Ung Sras, 24, neglected the children’s hygiene and hit children with sticks, including a child who is mentally and physically disabled. “Both [parties] are involved in beating the children, forcing them to clean toilets, and clean the centre, which is overwork for children,” Chanmakara said.“They even had sex with each other and let children watch.”
Chloe made a bad error of judgement in trusting Srey On. That said, I can’t guarantee that I wouldn’t have done exactly the same. But please, Chloe, closer supervision from now on, ok?
If you’re interested in helping Chloe, Bethel has a Facebook group for supporters.
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I can’t help thinking that for as long as an unregulated orphanage industry continues to substitute for a social welfare scheme, these abuses will continue.