“Suffer the little children” is a post on Rupert Winchester’s blog The Mighty Penh. He talks about orphans in general (in the Cambodian context of course) and specifically about a trip he’s taking around Cambodia for a charity he works for (he’s doing the annual reports for donors who sponsor individual kids). Very interesting stuff. I’ll quote it in full, with Rupert’s permission, as it’s not very long.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been travelling around Cambodia talking to orphans, for the annual sponsorship reports sent to people who stump up a small monthly amount of cash via the charity I work for, to help pay for a child’s basic needs: rice, soap, cooking oil, salt, washing powder, education and so forth.
Oddly, most of the children aren’t actually orphans: their parents have given them up as they’re too poor to look after them. Which makes my mind boggle a bit. The children range in age for about six to 19. Some of them are very disabled and will never live an independent life; others are bright and motivated and bursting with life and enthusiasm, waiting to get out into the world and become engineers and dentists and translators.
One orphanage is set up for kids with HIV, which you might imagine would be rather bleak, but the children are so funny and playful that they’re a delight to be around, even if it’s only for half-an-hour or so each once a year. They’re clean and just-about fed, and all of them are provided with anti-retroviral drugs. Nevertheless, two of them had died of AIDS-related illnesses since I saw them last year, which was a bit of a shock.
Orphanages here in Cambodia can be snakepits. Unscrupulous locals set them up, look for poor children, take them off their parents and open their doors to tourists who want to coo at the little people and hand over donations, which quickly disappear into the owner’s pockets. The government occasionally bust one of these when the children’s conditions get too bad, but it’s rare. Even worse is when a predatory paedophile from the West arrives and sets up an orphanage, giving him ready access to lots of delightful little children. It happens more than you think.
Of course, all the orphanages I deal with operate at the very highest standards and with the utmost probity. But that can be a rarity in this country. Travelling around the provinces with my colleague Saroen, it was fascinating to hear first-hand about the corruption so many people here take utterly for granted. Like which chains of petrol stations are owned by which government minister’s wife and so pay no tax. Or how that police car (pointing at a proper police car) is actually a fake, and is used for transporting illegal luxury wood to dealers in Vietnam. It was quite an eye-opener.
But later, sitting by a quiet village pond watching swifts dart across the skies and the vast thunderheads well up in the far distance across the perfect deafening green of the Cambodian countryside, or sitting in a roadside shack at dusk eating boiled corncobs and watching out for rock pythons, it seems like there are probably far worse places to be.
Unless you support the Cambodian football team, who lost 0-6 last night to Syria. Syria! Go Angkor Warriors!
Cambodia playing Syria? The world is a small place.
Very interesting indeed.
I was told at Wat Opot recently that JK Rowling, who made fame and millions courtesy of her own orphan creation Harry Potter, wants to close all orphanages down. It’s a real shame to know that someone in a position to make a proper difference, would be so black-and-white about a complex issue of poverty and destitution.
Looking for this guy’s blog now.
Closing ALL orphanages would be a bit drastic. Wat Opot is a very inspiring place.