People scavenge at each waste disposal, working till late for a good day’s pay of 1.50 USD, just enough to get by and not enough to alter one’s own circumstances. It is at this site that Mech Sokha, a Cambodian man who was himself orphaned after the Khmer Rouge regime, has rescued over a hundred children whom were either orphaned or whose parents were financially unable to care for them. The children whom were lucky enough to have been rescued by Sokha, now find themselves in the safe haven of CCH- the Centre for Children’s Happiness.
I set out on a relatively sunny day to CCH and returned drenched in rain. I was blissfully unaware of it as I had after all, the pleasure of spending an afternoon with marvellous Cambodian children and made the acquaintance of a man whose heart was big enough to subdue the odours of the garbage dumps. It was not difficult to recognise Mech Sokha on our first meeting for he had an ageless quality about him, and looked as he did about five years ago on their official website. He smiles quietly as I introduced myself, surrounded by three or four smiling adolescents. There was a very warm and fatherly quality about Sokha and I could not imagine him in any other setting than here in this orphanage.
The orphanage itself consists of one large building with a courtyard and a dining area in the middle on the ground floor, flanked by boys’ and girls’ rooms. On the second floor, there is one large room, which is both classroom and library. In front and along one side, there is a garden. In the back, there is a kitchen, a water tower and a place to wash clothes. The standard of living is not what I’d be accustomed to, but then again my misfortunes pales in comparison. There is a sense of warmth in the centre and it radiates from the children, Mr. Sokha and the working staff, enough to make one wonder- just how does one do this? From garbage-picking at the Steung Meanchey landfill to the comfort of the orphanage, it is hard to imagine a present and future so full of promise for the children.
The children at CCH call Mech Sokha ’Papa Sokha’ for a reason, he has been the children’s main source of parental attention for the last seven years. When he is not in Phnom Penh and working with the children, he is overseas raising money with Friends of CCH. Ravuth, currently the head of the boys dormitory tells me with love and concern in his eyes that " Papa Sokha is tired, he works too much..." We studied Sokha from afar and I had to agree.
It had not occurred to me that Sokha was only human, and needed more than a couple of helping hands to run an orphanage of so many children. He is however, not alone in taking in Cambodian children in precarious situations, orphanages such as the Lighthouse Orphanage and the French ’Pour un sourire d’enfant’ are all dedicated to caring for the many children in need.