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Published: November 3rd 2012
Today is the day that I came away travelling for and what the last year has been building up to. I was finally on my way to Cambodia. After being picked up in a minivan, we were taken by ferry to the mainland and then to Poipet on the border of Thailand and Cambodia. Nothing could have prepared me for the border crossing. We were met by a guide who tried to con us into changing all our money into Thai Baht and then we were told we would change it for an excellent rate at the other side into Cambodian Riel. I have read about these scams before and I was not going to let my guard down, some however did and were royally ripped off! The entire group was even ripped off before we had even reached the border crossing as they offered to process our visas for us. I had done mine in advance in London, much to the operators’ dismay, as everyone was charged double the price for their ‘speedy’ visa (which you can get at the border anyway!). Fools should have done their research! So we were now officially in no-man’s-land between the two countries where
My hotel room
Side Walk Hotel
you are surrounded by casinos and hotels. Gambling is illegal in Thailand so there were many locals here doing their gambling. It was a very strange experience to say the least. So there we were, officially in Cambodia!! We were taken to a bus terminal and loaded onto our bus for Siem Reap. I had been told by my pals who went travelling a few years ago that it would be quite an experience on the journey to Siem Reap on a cramped bus with people sitting on plastic stools in the aisle and the bus breaking down. This was most certainly not the case for me as I had two seats to myself and the bus only made one scheduled stop. Having left Koh Chang at 7am, we finally arrived in Siem Reap at 8pm. I was told by Sok (the Director of the orphanage I will be volunteering) to give him a call when I arrived and he would take me to the hotel. As I was later than expected I decided to take a Tuk-Tuk and as it was only $1 it was hardly breaking the budget. I had the most amazing welcome when I arrived at
the Side Walk Hotel…..”Hi Helen, we have been expecting you, Sok was worried about you because he was going to pick you up but you didn’t call him”. What a welcome, they knew me before I had even arrived and Sok was on the phone straight away and we organized that I would be picked up at 9.30am the next day to go to the orphanage. The room in the hotel was much more than I could have expected. I have two single beds, a tv, fridge, hot and cold shower and free breakfast all for the grand price of $8/night.
Today is the day where I become a volunteer at Soks Cambodian Children’s’ Sanctuary. I arrived at was greeted by 35 smiling children who treated me to having my nails painted and my hair plaited perfectly. They are such a joy and I am really looking forward to being with them for the next 6 weeks. The orphanage isn’t at all what I expected, I thought the children would be miserable, uneducated and malnourished but I couldn’t have been more wrong. They are so happy and can nearly all speak almost perfect English, some can even sing a
Chinese song, so I’m told!
The next day, Sok took me to see some of the temples of Angkor. What an experience. The temples are so vast and it is easy to see why they are considered as one of the Wonders of the World. There is so much to say about them but when I can finally upload some pictures that will explain more than words can about this magnificent Temple City.
I am now in the routine of going to the orphanage every day and I really enjoy my time there. I am teaching two separate English classes each day and the children are so eager to learn, in all my years of coaching I have never had such a well behaved class! The rest of my time at the centre is spent playing and socialising with the children.
So I have now decided to change plans for my trip. As this is a once in a lifetime experience, I wil be extending my time here by 6 months. I will now be in Siem Reap until March, and then I will be doing a month in Vietnam with a flight out of Ho Chi
Minh City in April with a 4 day stopover in Kuala Lumpur before heading out to my final destination, Australia.
The experience I am having here is invaluable and when I’m not at the centre, I spend my days riding around on Betty (my new bicycle), going boxing, doing yoga and soon to start horse-riding once a week. We have also been on a few excursions with the children, one to Phnom Krom which is a temple on a mountain overlooking the Tonle Sap Lake where we climbed up it at Sunset and had a picnic. The views were really amazing and as far as you could see were wooden houses on stilts in the lake. The second was to Pre Rup which is one of the Temples at Angkor. We took a climb up the temple, again at sunset and unsurprisingly again had breathtaking views. I was also taken, along with some of the children, to see a government run orphanage. This place was so depressing, the children did not smile and all looked malnourished. This was what I had expected at Sok’s centre but was pleased not to see. Cambodia has massive problems with corruption and this
government centre was also a victim of it. The money given by the government was not spent on the children, but instead went into the pockets of the people that ran it. I was glad to leave the place and children were even more grateful for everything that Sok does for them. Also big news whilst I have been here has been the death of the Kings Father, Norodom Sihanouk. He was in charge during the Khmer Rouge and by most people in the country was very highly regarded. It is reported that over a million people lined the street in Phnom Penh when his body was returned from where he died in Beijing. He will be on public view for three months before his funeral so I’m sure there will be more big things to come when this finally happens.
The Director of the Cambodian Children’s Sanctuary is “Sok”, or Chinsokha. This is his story.
He was born on a farm 70 kilometers out of Siem Reap in 1980 in a very poor family. His father was killed by the Khmer Rouge when he was three months old as part of Pol Pot’s regime, as well as
his brother and sister. After his mother died when he was 10 years old he stayed in the village with relatives but virtually fended for himself. He had to work with no food and no schooling for them.
He left the village to find a monastery which saved his life and turned it around. Here he was able to get some schooling and a job working (without a salary) in a restaurant for five years. The owner just wanted the English speaking for business. Eventually on a wage of $35/month he managed to save enough to buy a motor scooter and was able to earn a little more money picking up tourists from the airport and taking them for a tour of the temples. The extra money enabled him to then complete high school and university with diligent application.
In 2006 he took the examination to become an official tour guide in the Siem Reap province. While working as a tour guide he met an American tourist who was so touched by Sok’s story, the poverty and the orphaned children she saw around Siem Reap that she invested in Sok’s dream and his life changed again. She saw
everywhere around Siem Reap abandoned children with no food, clean water, education or reason for hope and the possibility of change with the right kind of help.
After her return from an heart touching trip in Cambodia she resolved to raise money from her American friends and family to help Sok to realizes his vision to provide help and opportunities for others, the way he had received help when he most needed it.
They helped him set up the Cambodian Children’s Sanctuary and installed him as the Director. The initial aim of the CCS was to bring in children from the surrounding neighborhoods to teach them English, computer skills and Apsara (traditional Cambodian dance) with all the children going to a nearby public school.
Sok does not only work to benefit the children at his orphanage. He also extends his charitable work to the local community. He provides school supplies to over 500 children in the province each year and help the older people in the community by providing them with food and healthcare supplies. He has also enlisted the help of a Western doctor to administer acupuncture to anyone who is in need. The centre is
run by local staff who, more often than not, he cannot afford to pay so provides them with food and basic supplies like shampoo so they can look after their own families. Unfortunately orphanages in Cambodia receive an awful lot of justifiably bad press. Many are run for the profit of the Directors who drive around in flashy cars and don't spend their donations on the children and when visitors come to their centres, the children go around with begging bowls and are told to look miserable and have to perform a traditional dance for their guests. This is absolutely not the case for Sok's Cambodian Children. Every dollar/riel that is donated goes straight to befitting the children and the wider community.
Unfortunately, funding from the US has now stopped and Sok is having to resort to taking out bank loans to keep his centre running. It is frightening to think he is having to do this as there is no realistic way of being able to pay the money back but if he does not get the money from somewhere, the children will be back out onto the streets and will, inevitably, suffer gravely. If you are inetersted
in making a donation to the centre or would like any further information about the fantastic work that is done please get in touch. (Also if you are planning on visiting Siem Reap, he is a really fantastic tour guide and his fees go straight to the orphanage)
Here is the background of some of the children at the centre:
Aurn is 9 years old. He was born at Wat Ta Kam villge, Don Keov Commune,Pouk disrict, Siem Reap Province which is about 65km away from Siem Reap town. It is a very poor area in the province. Aurn has only his mother, but she is a gambler and didn't take good care of him. She didn't feed him and physically abused him when she lost what little money she had gambling. His father died of malaria as his village is a long way from a hospital and he couldn't get the care he needed. His grandmother helped him to get into the sanctuary and hopes his luck will change now. In the future he wants to be a policeman to help in his village.
Bopea is 7 year old. She was born at Phnom Krom village, Siem
Reap district which is 18 km from Siem Reap city near Tonlesap Lake .Bopea's mother and father went to Thailand to look for work and they never came back. No one knows where they are. Before she came the sanctuary she have living with the relative in the village . But the relative did not take good care of her and she had to scrounge for food in order to survive. Sok saw her many times when he brought the tourists to visit Tonlesap lake.When he realised her situation he asked the relative if she could come and live at the sanctuary and the relative agreed that she could live at the sanctuary.Now she very happy because does not have to scrounge for food anymore. In the future she wants to work in a big hotel.
Chenda is 8 year old . She was born at the Krolan village, Trapengsek Commune Siem Reap, 10 km from the city. Chanda's father died 3 years ago from the HIV virus. Her mother also has the virus and she will die soon too.Her mother is living in their village still but no one wants her living there because of the virus. Sok has
good friends who asked him to please take Chenda to the sanctuary. Chenda is very happy at the sanctuary and in the future she wants have a good job working in a hotel .
Daro is 10 years old. He comes from the Kampong Thom province which is on the way to Phom Penh city and is about 200 km from Siem Reap city . Daro is the victim of a landmine and had to have his leg amputated. He stepped on the land mine when he was working in the jungle watching buffalo and cows with his friends.Daro's father left him at the hospital in Siem Reap because his parents are very poor and did not know how they would find the money to care for Daro or give him a good future.
Sok had a friend working at the hospital and the friend asked him if he could take Daro into the sanctuary.Daro is a good boy and he is very good at his studies. He is very happy living at the sanctuary. He is not yet thinking about the future but he wants to be able to get a good job when he grows up.
Kakthai is 10 years old. She was born at the Phnom Krom village , Siem Reap district which is 19 km from Siem Reap city on the way to the Tonlesap lake. Kakthai has only her mother. For a long time Kakthia was living with her mother but she was working a lot to help take care of her brother and sister by selling the cakes at the market. She could not go to school because she was busy trying to survive and look after the family. A relative brough Kakthai to the sanctuary and she is now able to go to school. In the future she want to be a tour guide like Sok.
Som is 6 years old. She was born at the Keak Tum village, Rel commune, Pouk district, Siem Reap. Som cannot remember what happened to her parents because they left when she was a baby. She was living with her grandmother and her grandmother doesn't even know where her parents went and has not heard from them for a long time. Som has been working since she was very little. She cooked rice for her grandmother everyday,
and she collected wood for the fire everyday because her granparents are too old to get the firewood themselves. She also did all the laundry by herself without any help . She got good training from her good grandmother. Som is a very good girl and we are all love her. In the future she wants to be a teacher and help her village.
Sokphol is 9 year old. He was born at Angkor Wat temple complex about 19 km from Siem Reap city . Sokphol parents are very poor and have no money. They spend their days drinking rice wine and when they drink they hit Sokphol. Sokphol had to run away from his parents and went to some relatives to see if they could look after him but they said no. Because his village is not far from the temples he went there to find food to eat from the tourists visiting the temples . Sok found him at the temple and his parents agreed that he could go and live at the sanctuary. He is now very happy at the sanctuary.In the future he want to be a tour guide like
Sros is 8 years old . He was born at the Wat Takam village, Don Keov commune, Pouk district, Siem reap which is about 69 km from the Siem Reap city . He comes from the same village as Aurn and it is a very sad place. It is off the tourist route and it is a very poor place with many small houses, has bad water and is so far away from the market. There is no power or electricity. Everyone in this village is a poor rice farmer. Sros comes from a big family with seven children and he is the youngest. But his parents struggle everyday to get food for all the children or medicine when they get sick. Sros came to live in the sanctuary because one of the staff knew of his desperate plight. In the future he wants to be a tour guide .
Two is 6 years old . He was born from the Donhong village, Gakhas commune, Roslos district, Siem Reap Cambodia, about 50 km from Siem Reap city . Two has only a father now. His father drinks too
much rice wine and is not expected to live much longer. He hit Two's mother every day after drinking the rice wine and after sustaining blows for many years, she died, leaving two small boys.
Two was lucky because a relative helped him to get into the sanctuary. Two wants to be a tour guide when he grows up.
Vanna is 12 year old. He was born at Samsrong village, Kav commune , Jkeng , Siem Reap. Vanna had to walk 13 km to and from school from his village because his family are too poor to have any transportation. His father died and his mother is older and works very hard to care for everyone. Vanna was born with a bad leg and Sok met him when his mother brought him to the hospital in Siem Reap to have his leg checked. His mother asked the doctors if there was an NGO who could take Vanna and give him a better life. The doctors knew about the sanctuary and his mother agreed that he would go and live there.Because his leg is not strong in the future he wants to teach computing.
Pham Phon is the newest child at the sanctuary. He is 7 years old. He was born at Trapeng Sek Village Kokgheak Commune, Siem Reap province, 16km from Siem Reap town. Phon is physically and mentally disabled. He can't talk properly and he has a bad leg and is physically weak. His parents abandoned him with his aged and sick grandmother and she had lots of trouble caring for him. He was also picked on by other children in the village. His grandmother took him to the hospital in Siem Reap to see if an NGO could take him in and give him a better life. Sok has recently taken him into the children's sanctuary where he will be well taken care of. Sok does not know what his future holds as it is very hard being disabled in Cambodia.
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