We have been looking for a shelter or project for the children of the dump community at Sihanoukville since our last visit and finally we found Sareka House. We were keen to support a project that was a permanent presence in the lives of the community we had previously helped.
However, due to the change in location of the dump, it meant that the shelter was now out of walking distance for the children at the dump. We thought perhaps we could provide them with transport to get the children from the dump and into the shelter, which is also across the road from the nearest school. We also, as agreed with our other partner projects, provided all the children over 6 years old with new uniforms to encourage them off the dump and to stay in school.
Unfortunately when we did our site visit to Sareka it wasn’t quite what we were expecting. We discovered that Sareka House was no longer functioning as an ‘NGO’ and the building was in fact owned by the chief of the dump. The shelter was now being run by members of the dump community and there was no longer any paid staff.
This posed a difficult question for us- can we fund a project that isn’t being efficiently managed? No, however one thing was clear; there were over 20 very young, very vulnerable children living between the dump and the shelter but no one was in charge.
On our second site visit to the shelter, our inspection revealed some scary things: open boxes of insulin on the children’s bedroom floor, broken whisky bottles scattering the playground with used needles, a motorbike in the kitchen, filthy bathroom and no bedding or mosquito nets. And it seemed that the dump was encroaching on the shelter as piles of recycling and dangerous copper wires were piled up to be sorted.
We had a meeting with the five women who were at the shelter to find out what was going on and asked why was no one washing the children, feeding them and cooking and cleaning the premises. They said it was because they were not longer being paid. Sadly, they had become dependant on the NGO and now were lost without them.
Due to the strange nature of the situation we decided that, instead of offering financial support we would give physical aid, in the form of clothes, food, cooking utensils, bedding and mosquito nets to the women from the dump who were now living at the shelter and caring for the children. We hoped that then there would be no need for them to scavenge or bring dangerous materials to the areas where the children play.
Ideally it would be fantastic if the dump community itself could be self sufficient and able to look after it’s own children. However we felt that in this transitional phase they needed some support.
We then set to work getting the shelter ship-shape, tidy and clean with the help of the children and the women there.
Once we had got it clean and organized we gave them the aid, washed all the children, gave them new clothes and shoes and they all sat down for dinner with their new cutlery.
We really hope that they can continue to run their own center but we have decided to monitor them for the next 3 months and see how they cope and after the three months if we the children are not being cared for effectively then we will introduce them to the outreach programe that we will be delivering with our partner project in Sihanoukville.
We have also organised for social workers from other NGO’s to visit and together to make sure that this isolated community is looked after and supported.
We have already done one spot check since then and, so far, are pleased to report that there were only four children on the dump and almost 30 at Sareka House, being looked after by the women of the dump community, who, now having been given the things they need to look after and feed the children, don’t need to scavenge to provide those things.