13 February 2022 - Finally back in Cambodia!
I am finally back in Cambodia after nearly five years.
I first visited back in 2010 and it is truly amazing to witness how much the country has changed in 10 years. The rural regions of the country remain poor, but there are substantial improvements to everyday lives.
Back then, having a couyonne (a local tractor) or mobile phone meant you were well off. Nowadays, you will see farmers with a couyonne, smart phone and even a few solar lights!
Sadly, debt still remains a pressing issue for families; they do not realise the consequences of borrowing money and will buy a house that brings along 10 years of debt. Locals work as day labourers with no fixed salary, resulting in a struggle to pay off debt and accumulated interest remains high.
This is why Children of the Mekong want to focus on educating children, so that they can provide for themselves without having to rely on others’ money.
a very warm welcome
Upon arrival to our Samrong Education Centre, I receive a very warm welcome from the whole team and all the children. There are a total of six adults and 70 children.
The staff also manages 100 additional children in eight sponsorship programmes in remote villages of the Otdar Meanchey province. Today, they are orchestrating the monthly distribution of essentials. A tuk-tuk and two motorbikes are filled with shampoo bottles, laundry powder, toothpaste and masks!
A very inspiring team at Samrong Education Centre
Our most senior member is an awe-inspiring woman named Sochea, who has dedicated her life to supporting the children, day and night. Sochea has been with us since 2010 as a social worker for the centre. She is the mother of two very intelligent girls and all the other children address her as “Ma” or mummy.
Sochea works alongside a young man in his late twenties by the name of Sopheap. You can tell how much he loves his job and that he truly cares about the children and families Children of the Mekong support.
Both Sochea and Sopheap come from a poor family background and had the privilege of being sponsored by Children of the Mekong as children. They have wonderful success stories and we are so grateful that they choose to help promote our cause.
We also have Ratha and Sophornn, a couple living in the centre with their seven-year-old son. Ratha is the Samrong Education Centre’s chef and cooks a variety of delicious and healthy meals for the children six days a week! Sophornn is the guard, who helps with gardening and repairs. He is a great husband and will also sometimes help out Ratha in the kitchen. They are like role models for the children.
The last of the staff members is a French couple named Etienne and Julie who are our year-long “bamboo” or volunteers and coordinate the centre’s activities. They have learnt the Khmer language in order to acclimate with the staff and children and have settled in very well.
Learning and playing to build up well-rounded individuals
Life at the centre is well-organised, children sleep, eat and study in their boarding house; there are two houses for the girls and two for the boys. During the day, children will attend the local “secondary” or high school and will return to the centre for lunch and extra courses such as mathematics and English.
The children at the centre come from the poorest families and often live far from even the closest schools. If not for the Samrong Education Centre, most of these children would have to drop out to help their families.
All the children are very disciplined, polite and dedicated to their studies, they know that this education is the best opportunity to achieve their dreams! That said, they enjoy their spare time by playing football and volleyball. On Saturday, we played games like “Chief” when the heat from the sun was less intense. Also on Saturdays, is the weekly movie night and then on Sunday it’s “Cultural Night” and there are many games and activities organised by staff. It is safe to say, the children in the centre will never get bored!
It's already time to say goodbye
When it came time to say goodbye, I was very surprised to see a girl come up and ask to hug me! Cambodians are not known for their hugs and a few minutes later, I had hugged 20 girls wishing them good luck and studying hard. We all hope to meet again next year!
Now when I’m back in London, sitting in front of my laptop having received yet another grant application rejection, I will look back at my trips to the Samrong Education Centre and remember what a rewarding experience it is and what great work Children of the Mekong is doing for Southeast Asian children.
I implore you, if you want to support our life-changing education programme, please donate now or get in touch with me!
COO Children of the Mekong