Small Steps Project (SSP) returned to Cambodia to revisit the dump in Sihanoukville where we delivered an aid distribution project in 2010 and in Siem Reap in 2011. This year we wanted to work on our second step, which is, after distributing aid, assisting children off the dumps and into education.
There are two ways this can be done: partnering with already existing projects and supporting them so that they are able to care for the dump children or building our own facilities. We decided to look into both options.
As soon as we arrived in Phnom Penh we met with the incredible 80-year-old legend, Bernard Krisher. A former holocaust survivor, Bernard has lived a successful life as a journalist in New York and, feeling great empathy for the survivors of the Cambodian genocide, he decided to give back by building over 500 schools to help rebuild Cambodian society. Bernard Krisher’s project www.cambodiaschools.com enables donors to sponsor the build and creation of new schools in poor, rural areas.
Like Bernard, we see education as the most important part of the next step. Before we start to think about building our own facilities we need to investigate those already existing in areas close to the dumps. Hopefully, through collaborative projects, outreach projects and partnering with projects on the ground we will be able to break down the process into small steps and reintegrate all the scavenger children into education.
We know this works because when we revisited our first ever project in Phnom Penh in 2010 we reintegrated the last children left on the dump into Pour Sourire D’Enfant (PSE) and they are now going into their third year of education there. You can see what happened here.
Our second distribution project was in Sihanoukville so we started by investigating other projects, close to Sihanoukville dumps. First we went to the place where SSP all started, House Of Family, a Slovakian funded HIV hospice. This is where I worked prior to starting the Small Steps Project. One day I asked one of the doctors what happens to all the other children with HIV, she told me that they go to the dumps. It was then that I first visited the dumps and was so shocked by what I saw that I started the Small Steps Projects.
Returning to HOF three years later, and they have triple the amount of buildings and children. Without their facility many of those children would not be cared for and might well be scavenging, but here they receive free medical care and education.
Since our last trip to Cambodia, the doctors at HOF told us that, after showing the children our documentary, the children decided that they would deliver their own small steps project! They used their pocket money to buy presents and shoes for the dump children and went on a trip the dump to deliver it! Quite incredible!
At HOF we provided a grant to buy shoes for the 65 orphans. We also paid for dentistry for all the children. Unfortunately the cost of a dentist is a lot higher for children with HIV and so we provided that service as part of our medical project.
The next project we worked with was the Cambodian Children’s Painting Project (CCPP), which provides a crèche, art therapy and education to over 170 children, most of whom are former street scavengers.
Like SSP, CCPP started as a very small project and has grown to care for so many children. Felix Brooks-Church was the man who transformed it into the incredible center it is now. He raised the funds to pay for a larger facility by putting on exhibitions and auctions of the children’s paintings. One of these we did together at SOAS university in London, and screened Small Steps: Phnom Penh.
Now the new director, Sandi Basset, runs this fantastic and well-equipped center with social workers and wants to create a crèche where girls or mum’s (who would normally have to stay at home to care for babies or siblings) can leave the babies while they go to school or work. It also has an education center as well as a feeding program and reintegrates scavenger children back into school. It has transformed the lives of children who were once collecting cans but who are now getting an education as well as supplementing their income and family through the sale of the paintings they do at CCPP.
To ensure that all these 175 children could continue to attend school we provided them with new shoes and uniforms.
As well street scavengers we really want the children on Sihanoukville dump to be able to go to school and have access to this facility. Therefore we are putting together an outreach project in partnership with CCPP, to help the children from Sihanoukville dump and other vulnerable scavenger children attend their project. Small Steps hopes to provide financial support and transport by doing another celebrity shoe auction this year.
During our stay in Sihanoukville also visited the dump community frequently, checking which children were still there from last year and also investigating the center close by that was supposed to be caring for the Sihanoukville dump children, but it wasn’t quite as it seemed, find out why in the next blog…