Volunt2Thai – Education Against Poverty

There are many reasons for why children, adolescents and young adults leading innocent lives at some point slip into a world of drugs, violence and prostitution – the underworld. This applies to the Western world as well as to Thailand.

There are some basic requirements that must be met in order to prevent this from happening and for young people to be able to pursue a selfdetermined path in their lives. Training and support of their unique skills and talents is the key to self-determination for the youth.

Social competence is very important in Thailand and is taught under the influence of Buddhist society and family. Thai girls are brought up to be good women and good mothers and the boys to be good fathers.

But not everything always goes well in life. Be it personal illness, an accident, a miscalculation, a bad harvest, dysfunctional family relationships, drugs, alcohol and gambling addiction or the sudden death of a family member, these are all reasons that drive families into poverty on a daily basis in Thailand. There is little protection, and in many cases owned land has to be pledged and the family is in danger of losing their only source of income.

In rural Thailand, the transition from being a child to becoming an adult with the associated responsibilities typically doesn’t go smooth and steady. Kids that had been Junior High School students the day before drop out of school when they reach a certain age to suddenly find themselves in a position in which they are expected to care and provide income for their families. Boldly many leave their villages and families to find work in Bangkok or in the nearest larger town. The typical age at this point is 15-16, sometimes even younger.

Now consider this: You are a Junior High School student from rural North-East Thailand – typically a girl, but the same applies to boys – and you are now in a position in which you either start working in the fields full time for almost nothing, or you find work in the cities to support your family, which many have done before with good success.

You leave your home with good advice from your parents, but are totally unprepared for the professional business world in the cities. You are lacking basic knowledge and training due to inadequate education in schools and the knowledge gained from home is typically useless in the tough and competitive business world.

To study further in High School or even University is unthinkable at this point because the money just isn’t enough. Helpless you submit to your fate, you have to fight and find a way to sustain your family, but what way to go?

Tourist hotspots offer an apparent solution. Many have heard that there is money to be made and that the demand for young women and men is great there. Naive and driven by good will you reassure yourself that you will make it somehow and you leave for the unknown…

With good intentions you arrive at the destination; be it Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket or Koh Samui. You share a room with others, typically three to four people or even more stay in one small room. You quickly connect with others who have the same background and the same problems and who share the same fate and suffering and you turn to them for advice. You try to keep a good appearance every day and go looking for a job. The pressure is high, because most of the little money you have, was already invested in the journey to get here.

At some point your money runs out… You have to take any job, even if the compensation is low and working hours are long. Maybe you can borrow some money from roommates or friends to buy food and pay rent, but you know that this is just a quick fix that only puts more pressure on you and potentially gets you in trouble. You work hard every day but in the end you can hardly support your own life in the expensive tourist areas.

You walk around the streets and you can see the strangers at full tables. They have money, they can afford anything, they sit with young girls and boys, they go shopping and they seemingly have everything. Passing by you see foreigners counting their cash… You think of the people at home that you love and that need the money so badly.

Returning home without money is not an option, you have to keep face, you have to come back with cash. Sex for money “…Well, that’s how it is now” you say to yourself. You just let it happen. Those who have been here for a while have experience and they show you how it’s done. It can’t be that hard, at least you are young and have a beautiful, healthy body, so use what you have. You can’t do anything else anyway.

The lack of education does not allow for other options and therefore self-determination. This kind of helplessness lets you forget about yourself and about your fears. Two or three days without money and food make it an easy decision. You just do it like all the others have done it before you.

Having just been a kid, adored by all around you, you now have to suddenly learn that your cuteness is an asset.

“Sex sells”, so you better be sexy. This breaks the young peoples’ psyche in the long run, because even though it is still exciting and thrilling to be sexy in the beginning, you are now reduced to your body, you forget your selfesteem and psychological barriers are disappearing.

Additionally you cultivate a distorted worldview and a wrong picture of the West through the strangers that you see. They are here on holiday, they behave like they own the world and have nothing to worry about. How would you know what holiday in a foreign country is and how people behave when they are actually back home…

So you pull yourself together. You are tough. You start as a “Coyote-Girl” and boost the sale of drinks with your company. You quickly learn that you can make much more money, much faster if you put in more “effort”. You are asked to “come along” every day by customers, at some point you give in to the temptation. You think about the money and about the people at home.

Bars pay an attendance fee to always have enough girls or boys “in stock”. A “wide variety of choice” for the customer is important. The bar offers company, you have friends, you can learn English and there’s party every day. You can quickly forget your worries and you finally make good money. The months go by and soon it is daily routine. After two years women are burned out physically and mentally. Drugs help to escape reality because at this point nothing matters anymore anyway. A distorted reality, no normality, but the money rolls. …

Guys also slip into this shady environment and the underworld offers great potential for them too. They join gangs, sell drugs, start to steal, or become “runners” for shady businesses. The struggle for money is omnipresent and determines the day-to-day life of so many of these kids.

Simple manual work in the daily wage, for example in construction, simply does not earn enough money to provide for the family at home. Only very few young women and men can keep up with the manual labor for many months.

A home with a healthy family, embedded in a functioning village community where young people can go home after a “defeat” in the business world is not often available. Often entire families are ruined by alcohol, poverty and disease. The lives of the children are then subject to constant worry from early on. They find neither protection nor education. Poverty rules their lives even to the level of food shortage.

Pattaya and the other locations are options that bear financial success for some, analogous to “from rags to riches”.

But most are destroyed by mental and physical disease and drugs, or they end up in prison along the way. They all have the dream of a better life. They are driven by the wish to not disappoint and let down the people who love them. It really is a kind of self-sacrifice out of responsibility which brings the girls and boys to Pattaya.

How can Volunt2Thai counteract this development?

The presence of Volunt2Thai volunteers, aims at changing the lives of the people in the villages sustainably over the next 10 years. The education in foreign languages coupled with a general understanding of the world and insights into foreign cultures will have a positive influence on the generation of the now 6-year-olds, including their parents, which will accompany them in their growth.

The fact that the project will draw attention to the region, will also lead to a long-term economic development in the villages. The fundamental objective is to ensure that the children of the villagers in adulthood have equal chances as their peers in the West or from wealthier families here in Thailand – chances for self-determination and career choice, even on an international level.

The positive experiences and interactions between “Westerners” and Thais create positive memories.

As a volunteer you are a role model for the society that you come from and you give the villagers a more positive insight into Western culture. You will leave positive impressions that will create openness to the formation of social bonds and friendships. English is and German will soon be taught as a foreign language through our volunteers in the local schools. This is a valuable cultural exchange that leads to intercultural understanding and provides the kids here with a very valuable and unique set of communicative skills.

Through our project, young people from this region get an improved education and good basic values by learning hand in hand from the Thai and the Western cultural perspectives. Stereotypes that have built in the heads of the locals over the years based on unilateral tourism will soon disappear. The long-term direct relationship between education and prosperity will be widely understood and appreciated here soon and misconceptions like “money growing on trees” in western countries will disappear.

The elementary school students of today are the working generation of tomorrow. Depending on their track of education they will be the next generation in the labor market in 10 -18 years.

We want to create best possible conditions for their future and enable them to prosper by equipping them with confidence, knowledge of foreign languages and a broad understanding of the world as well as intercultural experience.

By creating these conditions and as the project grows it will also lead to direct economic development in the villages and the whole region will eventually benefit.

It is important to learn foreign languages and to participate in intercultural exchange, in order to increase one’s chances in the global economies. The volunteers benefit as well, as they too further develop their expertise in various areas and they deepen their communicative skills and cultural as well as emotional intelligence.

Poor People Are Not Props For Our Philanthropic Photos


Posted: 04/02/2016 05:09 AEST
In 2013, armed with nothing more than good intentions and a need to ‘give back’ because of my own middle-class privilege, I ‘voluntoured’ at an education centre in East Bali for a month.

Voluntourism, the portmanteau of volunteering and tourism, has become a rite of passage for people who want to do something more meaningful with their holidays than laze by the pool. In fact, there is an entire industry that supports this interest and it is worth about US$170 billion annually.

It started as a competition among not-for-profit centres, as they balanced their original philanthropic goals with new methods of remaining financially viable. One of the ways to keep cost low and promote their cause is to recruit resources who are willing to work for free in exchange for ‘work experience’ on their CV.

This might explain why the centre I applied to never asked about my lack of teaching experience, lack of qualifications in teaching English as a second language or lack of security clearance to work with children. It is a stark difference from my own corporate environment, where I trained for years before my managers trusted me to maintain a financial database on my own.

That should have been the first hint that I could not possibly make a difference for these children.

Within the first few weeks, I began to realise that the volunteers’ presence might actually be more damaging for the students’ education. Sure, it was exciting for the students to have teachers from Spain, Romania and China because it expanded their environment and understanding of the world beyond just Bali.

But what if some of these teachers spoke neither fluent English nor Indonesian? Can the teaching and communication be effective or it is really a sham? There comes a point when communicating via sign language stops being amusing and starts becoming frustrating. The simple fact is, if we will not tolerate a monthly rotating list of inexperienced teachers in our own schools, why do we think it is acceptable for students in the developing world?

My own inexperience in teaching English as a second language was compounded by the fact that my students spoke Indonesian and Balinese, which are both simple languages. They have no past, present or future tense, no singular and plural words and are gender neutral.

Now, try teaching these students the complexities of the English language: the plural of man is men, but the plural of pan is not pen, read is both a present and past tense and let’s not even go into masculine-feminine nouns. As a native English speaker, I never thought of these oddities until I had to explain it to 10-year-olds and I did not have a better explanation than “that’s just how it is”.

Beyond the language is the ability to adapt education to fit local culture. Many education centres design a syllabus according to the students’ needs, and volunteers try to complement this by bringing along educational books from their home country. Perhaps they mean well, but a textbook from the UK is not easily adaptable to a Balinese classroom. It is almost comical to watch volunteers describe fruits such as blackberry, squash and zucchini to a classroom of kids who are more familiar with watermelon, honeydew and kangkung. It shows a complete lack of understanding of both local context and local produce.

This problem is not unique to the education sector of voluntourism — it extends to construction, infrastructure development and healthcare. The often-used example about unsustainable initiatives is the PlayPump, a merry-go-round pump that produces safe drinking water. Initially, it was lauded as the creative answer to the developing world’s water woes, but by 2007, one-quarter of the pumps in Zambia alone were in disrepair. It was later estimated that children would need to ‘play’ for 27 hours a day to produce the water the PlayPump promised.

To put it bluntly, I, like many others before me, were exactly what Pulp sang about in their song ‘Common People’, which mocked middle-class folks as they engaged in class tourism. I wanted to live like ‘common people’, I wanted to do whatever ‘common people’ do. I latched on to the patronising and dangerously simple concept of ‘saving the world’ by parachuting into a new environment that I knew very little about and assuming I could solve their decades-old problems instantly.

My takeaway is that voluntourism romanticises poverty.Think about the photos on your social media feed where your friends are pictured teaching a classroom of kids or kicking a football with giggly children. The hardships and difficulties in developing countries are problems that should ideally be fixed, but the people and the environment have become photo opportunities framed in ‘exotic otherness’.

When did people become props in our do-good lives, and why do we not call it out?

Making poor children wealthy (in knowledge) through reading books

(Phnom Penh Post – 9 January 2016)

While Cambodia has relatively low rates of reading, NGO Indochina Starfish Foundation is helping impoverished children and their parents by providing free libraries at four locations around Stung Meanchey

Ath Oeun and his 11-year-old daughter, Sun Chanda, are sitting crossed-legged on a concrete floor, pouring over a book packed with colourful pictures and text in Khmer.

“Children come here to read, and people like me, who collect rubbish, can use the books and relax,” he says.

Oeun is one of thousands of adults and children, who scrape a living collecting rubbish around Phnom Penh’s Stung Meanchey district, an area notorious for a vast stinking garbage dump which, until it was closed in 2009, was swarming with locals scavenging for anything of value.

Today, though, the 39-year-old is making use, along with other parents and children, of one of four community libraries set up in the area by ISF (Indochina Starfish Foundation), an NGO which helps impoverished children catch up on missed schooling.

“If I come across any books when I’m out collecting rubbish, I always give them to the library,” says Oeun, who, unlike many local parents, doesn’t send his daughter out to collect discarded items that can be sold.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

A range of Khmer-language books are available at the Stung Meanchey libraries. 
“Chhanda only goes to school, and studies English at classes provided by an NGO,” he says.

This library was started 12 months ago in the Stung Meanchey home of former policeman and schoolteacher Neou Thong, 68, who has added an extra room to his modest house to accommodate his fast-growing collection of books.

“Anyone from the community can come here and borrow something to read,” he says.

Thong also operates a mobile library from his Honda motorbike, which he loads with books, to encourage the wider community to get into the reading habit.

“I take books to popular places like coffee shops and pagodas, to encourage people to start borrowing them,” he says. “Often, people are suspicious and think I want money.

They take quite a bit of persuading that, in fact, they can borrow the books for free.”

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Neou Thong.


As well as scores of titles for children, Thong’s library, funded by ISF, contains books about Cambodian history, health, hygiene, the Buddhist religion and finding work.

A group of women are sitting around and discussing an open copy of the facility’s most popular volume – an illustrated guide to reproduction and childbirth.

“Only a small percentage of books borrowed from this library are read for pleasure,” Thong says. “The majority are for information.”

ISF started the four community libraries in Stung Meanchey, and another in Chbar Ampov district, because their experience of educating children showed that students got into the reading habit much more quickly if there was a culture of reading at home.

“We discovered that if we only worked with the pupils, and didn’t encourage their parents to read at the same time, the chain of success was markedly reduced,” says ISF country director Chourp Vicheka.

The task is made more difficult, however, due to a shortage of literature written in Khmer, especially writing for children.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

The most popular book in the Stung Meanchey libraries is about family planning.

“We like to change the books often, to keep the children interested, but we struggle to find new titles,” she says, standing in the library of one of two schools ISF runs, which are helping about 550 poor children fill gaps

in their education and re-enter state schools.

A lack of books in Khmer may go some way to explaining why Cambodia scores badly compared to other developing countries when it comes to how often children read.

In a study on reading habits among school-aged students published in August last year by Stanford University and NGO Room to Read, only 10 per cent of school-age children in Cambodia said they read independently every day, compared to 19 per cent in South Africa and 33 per cent in Nepal.

Similarly, only 4 per cent of Cambodian children said they had read with siblings in the past week, compared with 12 per cent in South Africa and 22 per cent in Nepal.

Room to Read country director for Cambodia Kann Kall blames the problem on Cambodia’s political history.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Ath Oeun (right) with daughter Sun Chanda.


“During the colonial period, most people didn’t go to school and knowledge was transferred orally,” he says.

“But after independence, in the 1960s, there was an increasing amount of literature available and readers to consume it.” But that all came to an abrupt end in the mid-1970s.

“When the Khmer Rouge came to power, they shut schools, burnt books, murdered writers, and there were virtually no publications apart from propaganda until as late as 1989,” Kall says, adding that an entire generation was turned off reading.

“Anyone born in the ’80s or ’90s was not exposed to books, and when you don’t have reading material, there is a natural tendency not to read,” he says. “It’s a vicious circle.”

Back at the community library, Neou Thong is passionate about the potential benefits to his friends and neighbours of picking up a book.

“I say to people who come here: ‘You don’t have land and you don’t own a house, so the only real option for you and your children to make your lives better is education.’ And that is why I run this library.”

SOLS 24/7 providing a ray of hope through education

SOLS 24/7 providing a ray of hope through education

Project 100 regional managers during a meeting at the SOLS 24/7 's headquarters in Sungai Besi. -Starpix/LOW LAY PHON

Project 100 regional managers during a meeting at the SOLS 24/7 ‘s headquarters in Sungai Besi

Growing up in a village in the jungles of Pahang, Rojana Juarum thought that her ambition t
become a tour guide was a pipe dream.

Without proficiency in English, Rojana felt it would be difficult for her to secure a job in the competitive market.

This all changed when she signed up for Project 100, a programme that seeks to teach marginalised communities English, computer and life skills.

“Learning to speak English has made me more confident in myself,” said the 23-year old from Kampung Pos Iskandar, an orang asli village in Bera.

Rojana’s confidence has increased since joining Project 100.

Rojana said she found it easier to learn English through the programme compared to school.

“We communicate in English with each other during the programme, which helps a lot,” she said.

Project 100 is one of the initiatives under the Science of Life Studies, better known as SOLS 24/7, which is supported by Tan Sri Vincent Tan’s Better Malaysia Foundation.

Amelia Brown, a Project 100 regional manager, said they had been successful because communities want to be part of the programme and nominate themselves for it.

“A key individual, usually someone of influence in the community, will act as laision between us and the community.

“The key individual is really useful as she supports the centre, helps the community development officers (CDOs) and volunteers to get around,” said Brown.

She explained that it also helped that many of the CDOs and volunteers – individuals from more than 40 countries – also try to learn the local language to integrate more with the communities.

“Learning a new (local) language helps volunteers empathise with the difficulties faced by students learning English,” said Brown, a Briton who was stationed in Ayer Hitam, Kedah for a year.

SOLS 24/7 co-founder Raj Ridvan Singh said the next step for the non-governmental organisation would be to open a university-college to provide affordable education for Malaysians.

Raj wants to provide tertiary education at a fraction of the cost of current options.

“The cost of (private) education in the country is ridiculous,” said Raj, adding that SOLS 24/7 plans to make fees 70% cheaper than current market rates.

As for Rojana, she has now moved to Kuala Lumpur to work with the Malaysian SOLS 24/7 chapter, to acquaint herself with the working world before pursuing her dream of becoming a tour guide.

“I’m more confident now. I feel that my dreams are now within reach,” said Rojana with a smile.


Voluntourism – doing good?

Boom in “voluntourism” sparks concerns over whether the industry is doing good

Why I am Ashamed to Call Myself a Volunteer

Why I am Ashamed to Call Myself a Volunteer


Have you ever felt ashamed to tell people what you do for fear of being judged? For the past 3 months I’ve been doing voluntary educational consultancy work for a very well reputed charity in Nepal. Yet, when people ask me, ‘Oh, so you’re volunteering?’ I feel myself getting defensive.

It’s almost inconceivable to think that the connotations of devoting your time and expertise free of charge could be perceived negatively. But sadly, until there is better regulation of the volunteer travel sector, I believe that there are a worrying number of reasons to fear association with this market.

The industry is irresponsible. And the messages it sends to attract prospective volunteers are damaging, not only to the communities these volunteers seek to support, but also to the very notion of what it means to be a ‘volunteer’.

This realization came from personal experience. From feeling ‘part of the problem’. From travelling South-East Asia naively circling ‘activities’ such as Orphanage visits in my guidebook on route to joining the 2 month volunteer teaching project which would become my real awakening to the perils of volunteering abroad.

Despite my best efforts to choose a project that suited my skills and qualifications; a duration that seemed responsible; and an organization which emphasised the importance of pre-project training, within hours of arrival it was already clear that the situation was hopeless. The ‘training’ advertised was merely a handover from the previous volunteers who were so desperately under-qualified that they remained blissfully unaware of the fact that the impact of their efforts was negligible.

“You should try ‘colours’!” they’d suggest, as I fretted about how it could be possible for students to make progress without any form of curriculum for volunteers to follow, “We did it with our class yesterday, and they were really good at it!”

Should I have enlightened them that after 2 years of monthly volunteer teachers the reason for this success was surely that their students had been ‘taught colours’ at least 24 times?

Should I have suggested they think for a minute about whether they could conceive of sending their own child to study a language for 2 years only to discover they were still learning ‘colours’?

Working with vulnerable people requires the utmost professional knowledge and awareness, and yet this practice of ‘volunteering’ tells us that it’s ok to flout that provided that we do so for free and that the people and communities we ‘serve’ are poor. We send volunteers abroad to do jobs that we wouldn’t dream of letting them do back home and then congratulate them on achieving the kind of minimal results that would outrage us if it was the standard of service we were delivered ourselves.

There are already articles galore exposing how unwitting volunteers signing up for orphanage projects are actually fuelling the separation of children from their families; how skilled, local tradesmen are losing their livelihoods at the hands of ‘free’ volunteer labour; and how transient teachers and social workers not only hinder children’s learning, but can also contribute to life-long emotional attachment issues.

Yet, every day I still meet volunteers working on projects that they have absolutely none of the necessary skills or qualifications to carry out responsibly. And the saddest thing about all of this is how avoidable it should be. How antithetical to the notion of wanting to help. The irony that these people are dedicating their time to ‘do good’, but can actually end up causing harm just because this message is still not getting out to them.

So, what to do? I’m not suggesting that we stop all volunteering. Ethical, professional and effective voluntary work; where skilled volunteers in collaboration with reputable organizations are helping to address real areas of need, does exist. What I am suggesting is that we have an obligation to re-think our current attitude towards volunteering.

We need to wise up to the reality of our impact as volunteers, and to speak out against this damaging trend towards the ‘glamorization’ of volunteering in order to return it to being centred around needs, skills and quality of service.

We need to help reinvent the term ‘volunteer’ as distinct from the connotations of incompetence and exploitation that it has grown to embody, in the hope that companies and organizations will be pushed to re-think their projects, application criteria, and training procedures to ensure that whatever ‘work’ volunteers are doing, they are equipped to do well.

We need to re-professionalise the practice of volunteering, by standing up to the ‘no experience necessary’ providers and accepting only opportunities that we can honestly say we would be fit for taking on back home.

And when we do that..? Then I’ll feel proud to call myself a ‘volunteer’ again.








An Extraordinary Gift to the Children of Cambodia

The NCA: A World-Standard Education Facility for Impoverished Children
ABOVE: The Neeson Cripps Academy, due to open to students in late 2016. 

Cambodian Children’s Fund and Velcro Companies have revealed plans for a landmark education facility in the heart of Phnom Penh’s former garbage dump community.  The Neeson-Cripps Academy (NCA) will provide impoverished Cambodian children with high quality education opportunities through enhanced learning spaces, access to the latest digital technologies, teacher training, a focus on STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and designated study spaces all within an environment conducive to critical thinking and gaining an understanding of the world.
The construction of the Neeson Cripps Academy is a gift from Velcro Companies. Velcro Companies is a technology-driven organization that provides solutions for businesses and consumers around the world, and is committed to advancing education and improving the lives of children across the globe. The building is named after Robert Cripps, former Velcro Companies Chairman, and Scott Neeson, Founder and Executive Director of Cambodian Children’s Fund.
 This landmark building will provide a progressive and targeted education program, at a level normally limited to private schools. The NCA will fill the need for safe learning spaces, teacher development and digital technologies, and provide a hub for the local community. Those in higher education will find a smoother path to earning a degree in the sciences, engineering or technology and into a high-demand employment environment” said Neeson. “I am grateful to Velcro Companies for their unwavering support and to the personal support and shared vision of Robert Cripps.”
“We feel privileged to continue our work with the Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF) and establish the Neeson Cripps Academy to educate children who otherwise wouldn’t have access to world-class teachers and resources,” said Fraser Cameron, President and CEO, Velcro Companies. “Through this partnership, we’re also inspiring the next generation of innovators and honoring our long-time former Chairman, Robert Cripps, and his commitment to leadership.”
The landmark building has been designed pro-bono by acclaimed New York firm CookFox Architects.The ecologically integrated design and sustainable strategies will help create a healthy environment for learning and limit the school’s water and energy usage. The building will feature low energy lighting, natural ventilation, open-air learning spaces, and integrated bamboo and terracotta solar shading.
 The rooftop features a garden that will minimize solar heat gain, reduce stormwater runoff, and provide educational opportunities, and a covered, multi-purpose athletic court to facilitate outdoor activities in all conditions. Using biophilic design principles, the school will incorporate natural and biomimetic materials. Exposed concrete will be patterned with a design inspired by traditional Khmer textiles, imprinting the school of the future with a connection to the rich cultural history of Cambodia.

NCA-Existing-820ABOVE: The existing site of the Neeson Cripps Academy.

 “Our studio believes deeply in the concept of global citizenship. We are thrilled to design a state of the art educational environment  to support CCF, Velcro Companies, and Marshall Wace’s passion in training the next generation of leaders.” said architect Rick Cook.
 “The children and youth in the largely impoverished Steung Meanchey communities have hungered for an opportunity to study. To meet that hunger with a quality education and the prospect of a university degree, we will give children the tools they need to lead their family and community to a better life”, said Neeson.
 “The NCA will introduce a new level of science and technology education in Cambodia.  All high school students enrolled in CCF’s education program will use the facility, and it will serve as a teacher-education centre and hub for the local community.”

 nca-courtyard-820ABOVE: The courtyard of the NCA.

 European hedge fund managers Marshall Wace have contributed to the fitout of the building, which will include international standard science laboratories.
 “The enormous opportunities this pioneering facility will soon provide to thousands of students and teachers is simply unparalleled in Cambodia and testament to the vision of Scott Neeson and his team.” said Chris Pearce, C.O.O at Marshall Wace Asia. “We look forward to the NCA becoming a commanding flagship for all the excellent work being done to educate local children by CCF, as well becoming the first centre of excellence to develop the local teaching community.”
 The key objectives of the NCA are to provide:
  • International standard science laboratories
  • Support e-Learning throughout the facility
  • Open and flexible study areas
  • Building layout focused on collaboration
  • Large, flexible areas for community use – including community education programs
  • A teacher training hub, to be used by both CCF and public school teachers
  • Virtual international exchanges
 The ecologically integrated school will provide Cambodia’s most impoverished children with a high-quality education that includes a robust English language program, STEM subjects, and access to the latest digital technologies and global connectivity through e-Learning.
 The building’s sustainable strategies will help create a healthy environment for learning and limit the school’s water and energy usage. Operating costs will be reduced by low energy lighting, low flow fixtures, abundant natural light and integrated solar shading. Programmatically, the building is conceived in two parts. A long, east-west oriented wing takes advantage of the local climate conditions with natural ventilation, open-air learning spaces, and a shading screen of bamboo on the southern facade. The north-south wing contains the school’s science and technology spaces, which are conditioned by highly efficient mechanical systems and shaded by deep terracotta horizontal and vertical fins.
 A significant portion of the five-story building is dedicated to flexible gathering spaces designed to encourage long-term social networks and collaborative learning, and to provide meeting areas for the wider community. The ground level is open to provide a covered gathering space with a visual connection to the large courtyard garden, and to minimize the school’s vulnerability to flooding. The rooftop features plantings that will minimize solar heat gain, reduce stormwater runoff, and provide educational opportunities in the curriculum, and a covered, multi-purpose athletic court to facilitate outdoor activities in all conditions.
 Using biophilic design principles, the school will incorporate natural and biomimetic materials. Exposed concrete will be patterned with a design inspired by traditional Khmer textiles, imprinting the school of the future with a connection to the rich cultural history of Cambodia.
Cambodian Children’s Fund transforms the country’s most impoverished kids into tomorrow’s leaders, by delivering education, family support and community development programs into the heart of Cambodia’s most impoverished communities.  Today, there are more than 2,300 students enrolled in CCF’s Education Program.
CCF believes that with the right education and support, one child has the potential to lift an entire family out of poverty and that a generation of educated children has the power to change a whole society. Through intensive, long-term investments in children, CCF is helping students build the skills, confidence and integrity they need to become the progressive spokespeople and leaders of change in their community.
Through 6 core program areas – Education, Leadership, Community Outreach, Healthcare, Childcare and Vocational Training – CCF take a holistic, on-the-ground approach to developing integrated yet simple solutions to the complex issues of poverty.

Can Cambodia’s Orphanage System Be Reformed?

Can Cambodia’s orphanage system be reformed?

Many orphanages ignore government orders or operate under the radar, and there are only four inspectors nationwide.

About 2,000 Cambodian children live in Foursquare Children of Promise orphanages [Thomas Cristofoletti/Ruom]


Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Three years ago, Cambodia’s minister of social Affairs announced 70 privately run orphanages would be closed, effective immediately. An investigation, he said, had found these centres did not provide basic care and security for children living there. They had to shut down.

The announcement came on the heels of a UNICEF-supported study on orphanages in Cambodia, which showed their dire state. Funded by well-meaning foreigners, orphanages had become a lucrative business model. The majority of children – a whopping 77 percent – weren’t even orphans.

In most cases, their parents agreed to send them to an orphanage because they were too poor to provide for their basic needs, mostly education and healthcare.

For too long orphanages flourished and operated without any accountability and now the government would carry out rigorous controls, shut down orphanages, and start reintegrating children with their families.

But more than three years later, little, if anything, has changed for the better. In fact, Cambodia today has more orphanages than in 2011, UNICEF told Al Jazeera.

“Despite government efforts to close the institutions that do not meet the Minimum Standards of Alternative Care, or have incidents of child abuse, in 2013 the number of residential care facilities continued to grow,” Denise Shepherd-Johnson, chief of communication at UNICEF Cambodia, said in an email.

In 2011, officially registered orphanages numbered about 210. Today they are up, at 225.

“There are many different types of orphanages and each may have different motives behind their orphanage model,” Shepherd-Johnson said, but many of the newly established centres were faith-based and funded by overseas donors.

‘Church orphan homes’

With a total of 106 “church orphan homes”, Foursquare Children of Promise (FCOP) is one of the largest providers of orphanages in Cambodia.

“We just opened seven new ones up north for the tribal people,” FCOP co-founder Sou Olbrich told Al Jazeera, referring to ethnic minorities in the remote Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri provinces.

In its 2014 brochure, FCOP described how the organisation is “building the kingdom of God” with the help of the Foursquare Youth, residents and former residents of “church orphan homes” who hold “youth evangelism crusades”.

Olbrich said more than 2,000 children are under FCOP’s care, though how many are actually orphans is not clear.

Some orphanages, where the conditions were very bad, I ordered them to shut down, and a year later, they come to me and ask for help because they can’t take care of the children anymore.

– Oum Sophannara, Cambodia’s director of child welfare

Olbrich said she’s serving the country “by God’s grace”, and she doesn’t understand the criticism of the orphanages – pointing out they have an understanding with officials to do “whatever the government says”, and that the children there were free to leave whenever they wanted.

And as far as the Ministry of Social Affairs and the director of child welfare, Oum Sophannara, are concerned, the government did close 70 FCOP orphanages in 2012 – FCOP “church orphan homes” that still operate, but are now considered community-based care centres.

“I don’t think it’s really an orphanage, because the children come to eat and pray and to stay there during the night, but they don’t have to stay there,” Oum told Al Jazeera.

Generally, Oum said figures on the subject are misleading, as many institutions operate as orphanages, but aren’t labelled as such. “If the number [of orphanages] decreased or increased, it’s hard to say,” he said.

A mammoth task

Oum is confronted with a mammoth task. The government believes orphanages should be a last resort, but Oum operates with a total of just four inspectors, and some institutions simply ignore orders, he said.

“Some orphanages, where the conditions were very bad, I ordered them to shut down, and a year later they come to me and ask for help because they can’t take care of the children anymore. So they never closed,” Oum said.

Provincial authorities continued to permit new orphanages to open, with many not registered at all.

When Oum’s team and UNICEF worked on the 2011 study, they found about 60 orphanages that were operating under the radar.

“Of course that’s against the law … So why do we not shut them down? Because, how do you reintegrate all those children? That’s 3,000 children. How do you reintegrate so many? You can’t just send them back. You have to follow up with the families and make sure they are okay,” he said.

Orphanages must work to reintegrate children with their families, he said, even if that meant they would work towards putting themselves out of business.

Some orphanages have asked UNICEF for assistance and genuinely tried to reintegrate children, Shepherd-Johnson said.

“At the same time, other orphanages resist and even in some cases disturb the process of family reintegration, trying to convince families to send their children who have recently been reintegrated back to the orphanages,” she said.

Grace Zhou, lead researcher from Duke University of a forthcoming report on reintegration from institutional care centres, also found proper reintegration is rare. Zhou told Al Jazeera although most institutions she had worked with in Battambang province had reintegration policies, the process often only started once children threatened to run away, or families demanded their return.

“Of the 25 participants in our study, only three were intentionally reintegrated,” she told Al Jazeera in an email.

Funding for such reintegration processes and community-based care of real orphans, or children living in poverty, was an issue, she said.

“The key for both child institutions and the government is prioritising and improving reintegration practices … [I]nstitutions should only admit children into residential care when there is no community-based alternative. In many cases, a child can live at home with support. Poverty should not be the reason to separate a family,” Zhou said.

‘Children are not tourist attractions’

While the government is trying to get the orphanages under control, NGOs are aiming to discourage foreigners from supporting a system that divides families for financial profits.

In developed countries we strive to keep kids out of institutions, and provide social and family support structures. And there’s no reason why this can’t happen in countries like Cambodia.

– James Sutherland, Friends International

Children Are Not Tourist Attractions” was the headline of a widely successful ad campaign from Friends International, a child welfare NGO working with vulnerable and marginalised children. In the ad, two young children are sitting in a glass cubicle, swarmed by tourists taking photographs.

“We ask them [tourists] to think of being responsible tourists” and to not support a flawed system, James Sutherland, the international communications coordinator at Friends International, told Al Jazeera. About three million tourists have seen the ad, Sutherland said, and orphanage tourism is now frowned upon by many.

The next step is to tackle overseas donors who, like tourists, often act with the best intentions, but lack the necessary information to see that they are keeping an exploitative industry running.

“What we say is, ‘support the organisations who are working with families, who are creating job opportunities in villages and education opportunities’. If the resources are not spent on institutions but on family-based care, we would see kids thriving in their communities,” he said.

“In developed countries we strive to keep kids out of institutions, and provide social and family support structures. And there’s no reason why this can’t happen in countries like Cambodia.”

Follow Denise Hruby on Twitter: @nisnis

Source: Al Jazeera  –  Denise Hruby – 29 September 2014