From Steung Meachey to Centre for Children's Happiness

by on 週五, 22 五 2009 評論
 
Outside of the South of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, lies a mountain of waste that has provided the livelihood of many people- mostly children, who scavenge for anything of possible value that is otherwise classified as rubbish for us. The infamous Steung Meanchey landfill may not be poverty at its third-world worst, but it is a site of extreme human misery, of methane fires, drudgery, starvation and even death.

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.
 
Take a tour of the Centre for Children’s Happiness (CCH) with two exceptional members of CCH, Pho Phaneth and Huot Ravuth, young men striving to provide a better place for their family and friends and clearly on the way to a promising future. At grade 11 Ravuth drives the CCH van with ease and is in charge of the twenty-over boys in the building CCH II. Phaneth is now working as an administrator at CCH, whilst studying at a local university. The "no-use" building that the boys refer to in the video operates on donations and will be completed by December 2009.


Since its foundation in November 2002, Sokha started with only 16 children and houses up to 109 today. They now possess a total of three building, one for the girls, the other for the boys and one that is under construction funded by the donations. It is said that the construction should be finished by December. I have never seen such enormous progress in terms of architecture and education for the children, and over the span of seven years. Through the funds raised by their prominent donors known as Friends of CCH from countries such as the United States, Canada, Germany, Belgium and England, there are now more materials and staff available, not to mention education. Computing and Sewing is taught at CCH, and a few of the older girls are sent to a local NGO to get additional lessons in tailoring. It is not realistic for all the children to complete a formal academic education and Sokha believes they should also invest in skills with which they can eventually earn a living.

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.
 
Peacemaking is a gift that is bestowed on many, but only a few has had the strength to take it upon their shoulders. Mech Sokha is one of them.

The Centre for Children's Happiness website: http://www.cchcambodia.org/ 
 
In the following video, Alice tells us about her experience at CCH, Phnom Pehn, in December 2009.
Alice Lin (林炳秀)

Alice is a Taiwanese-born journalism major who spent most of her childhood in Windhoek, Namibia. Having left home at a young age for boarding school, she has since then lived in Singapore, New Zealand and France. She worked briefly as a translator for a Paris-based NGO and recently returned from a work placement in Morocco, where she freelanced for local papers El Watan and Morocco Today. She is now studying in France.


Alice worked as the English editor of eRenlai from December 2008 to June 2009.

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