Caroline and Sven's Geriatric OE 2012 travel blog

Night market in Phnom Penh. After ordering your food, you move next...

Preparing the food parcels at the start of the CHOICE trip.

Offloading the truck in the roadside village.

Little boy looking after his younger sibling in a hammock at the...

Little blind boy looked after by his grandmother.

Baby Lili, just three weeks old, born in the house beside the...

The twins and their mother who are being supported by CHOICE.

Innovative toy car made by the boys in the roadside village.

The houses have been constructed with materials they can find nearby plus...

A few of the children in the village, dusty but seemingly happy...

Our last two days in Phnom Penh have been spent helping CHOICE

(Charitable Humanitarian Organisation in Cambodia by Expats).  It was started in 2006 by an Australian man Ross who resolved to help the poorest of the poor. He supports four small villages by providing them with some food and basic necessities once a week and providing them with clean drinking water every second day.

The people in these villages are squatters who have either lost their land or never had any, and who live on the dusty roadside with dirty water canals and rice fields on either side of the road.  They do not own any land, have no clean water or sanitation.  

We started the day  in Phnom Penh home base at a restaurant packing up the food parcels, then about 12 of us travelled in the back of the truck an hour's drive to the villages.  A Doctor and nurse accompany the truck each Sunday, holding a clinic where any sick people are treated, or if it is something serious, taken back to hospital in Phnom Penh.

There are many inspiring stories about how CHOICE has helped the people in the villages.  One is about a  lady with twin boys.  Ross found her distraught one visit with her newborn twins (she already had two other children) and begged him to take her babies as she couldn't feed them.  CHOICE's philosophy is not to remove children and put them in an orphanage but to support the family so they can be kept at home with their extended families.  This mother continues to be helped each week.  Ross organised the building of a house for her on some nearby land (the husband had disappeared) but a few weeks later was told that the house could not stay there, so arranged for the whole house to be moved beside the other squatters where he is paying the $100 cost of the land off at $9 per week.

Another baby had a huge abscess on the back of her head and had to be taken to hospital for treatment.  She is now fine again and we met her also, along with a toddler with horrific scaring from burns resulting from falling into a cooking fire.

A while ago the women of the village approached the nurse who accompanies the Doctor each week about family planning.  After contacting a Family Planning clinic in Phnom Penh and having them come to visit the villagers and bring information about various means of birth control, 30 or 40 women in the village opted for various methods of long-term  birth control, again funded by CHOICE.

A little boy was born blind because his mother had a STD when he was born.  He is being cared for by his grandmother and she is getting food support.

In Cambodia orphanages abound, but a survey has shown that only 4% of children in orphanages are truly orphans.  Others are there because the family is too poor to look after them, or the solo mother can not cope with more children.  It is estimated that it costs eight times as much to keep a child in an orphanage, rather than support the family at home to enable them to keep their child.  When children are taken into orphanages they often lose contact with their extended families.  And more disturbingly, many orphanages in Cambodia are money makers for the owners, tugging at people's heartstrings, but much of the money is used for things other than the children, like a large fancy car and the latest mobile phone.  

Our second day with CHOICE was mainly spent helping to fix up buildings that Ross has rented near the villages, close to a local school, and doing a water run, filling up plastic containers with clean drinking water.  The parents of the girls are too afraid to have them walk the 5km to school as many girls are snatched and taken away to be sex workers.  Ross is about to solve this  problem by having a motorbike pull a cartload of 50 children to the center he has rented where he will give them breakfast before they attend school from 7 am to 11 am.  After school, the children will return to the center for lunch and spend the afternoon there learning English, helping with a garden, doing homework etc. before being transported back to the village at the end of the day.

So it was a thought provoking two days, where we mulled over the pros and cons of orphanages and saw another NGO (non-government organisation) operating.  CHOICE Cambodia has a website should you wish to find out more about the organisation.

On to Laos in a few minutes.  I'm finishing this at the airport.

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