In the beginning of 2009 I was working at amazing project called House of Family in Sihanoukville, on the west coast of Cambodia. House of Family is a Slovakian organisation established in 2003. It provides medical and social care to HIV-positive orphans or semi-orphans living in Cambodia. The children are aged from 2 to 18 years, and often abandoned and discriminated by their community because they are HIV-positive.
There is a huge stigma surrounding HIV-positive children and now Cambodia is the hardest hit country in South East Asia, it is important to educate against this and encourage testing. The children are helped with getting education in local public schools, vocational training on special skills and learning English at the centre.
The reason it is called House of Family is because, as one of the ‘dad’s’ explained is that the people who work there consider the children their children and though the doctors are Slovakian many of the ‘mums’ and ‘dads’ are local Cambodian people who can then re educate other Cambodians and help fight the stigma faced by the children.
What I felt was so special about House of Family is that it really does feel like a special place, full of love, the children are not only cared for medically and educated but they are loved by their mum’s and dads, given hugs, have their hair brushed as they sit watching tv, generally the most well adjusted family I have ever seen. I think it is their holistic approach and the fact that they provide for the children’s combined needs- medical care, nourishment, education, security and a stable loving environment that helps them thrive as they do.
The children are also great at looking after each other, looking after the smaller ones, helping each other out and teaching one another skills. It is really important for Small Steps project to find out about these amazing charities and NGO’s and the best way of doing that is by actually going there and working with them and that is exactly what I did.
I worked at House of Family from when the children returned from school to bedtime, teaching English and play and art, helping with dinner time and getting the children ready for bed. a favourite game was Amy’s hair salon, where i would have a queue of ten little girls under a tree all waiting to have loads of plaits put in their hair before they went to sleep.
Obviously their was a sad side to being there, seeing the children in pain, or have relapses or feel unwell was upsetting and often when the children first came to the centre they were often in a bad state, but then in only a few weeks, seeing how much they improved with the fantastic care they got there was really pleasing to see.
I learnt some important things from the staff at House of Family, which started me off on my own small steps: when children with black hair have red/orange coloration to them, it may look pretty but it is actually a sign of malnutrition, once children with HIV are looked after and given proper medication they can lead happy lives and that…there really aren’t enough places like House of Family. And finally because there are so few places like House of Family and so many orphaned children who are HIV positive in Cambodia many of them, as a last resort end of trying to stay alive by scavenging and living on rubbish dumps.
People keep asking me for House of Family’s website, they don’t have one, and you will find that many of the best but the smallest charities don’t, people really doing the hard work on the ground don’t always have a web designer, ir a site or marketing or PR. Why? Because they spend their funding on those who really need it, that is what they are focussed on. This means that it is often the charities who spend the most on advertisement that get the most donations but unfortunately it may be easy to donate to them, but really, how much of your donation is going to those who really need it?
An important part of Small Steps is, as well as doing our own project, it is finding out who are the best NGO’s and charities and telling people about them and how to help them. How to volunteer for somewhere that really needs your help, without having to pay a company to tell you, it really upsets me that at every stage of charity people are making a profit and as we go down the chain bu the time we get to those who we really want to help, most of the money has gone on admin. So Small Steps will keep finding projects like House of Family and telling you about them and unlike Bono’s One Campaign, where it is alleged that £80 million was raised for the poor yet only £180,000 made it to the poor, we will try and make sure that people stop profiting from charity.