New Hope Foundation, Siem Reap, Cambodia
17.02.2012 - 18.02.2012 38 °C
To say that our time in Cambodia was life-changing or eye-opening is an understatement. It's been mind-blowing, followed by mind-numbing. This country is poor, in the lowest sense of the word. Unemployment is at 95%. Most kids don't get an education because their parents send them into the streets to beg, sift through trash for plastic bottles that they can redeem for money, or work on the farm if they're lucky enough to have one. 50% of the population is under 18 yrs old. 1 in 5 kids don't live past the age of 5 due to malnutrition or disease. Babies are fed rice water (which has no nutritional value) because their mothers are too emaciated to produce breast milk.
In this sense, it's been mind-blowing. The poverty; the begging children. But then comes mind-numbing: where you're just so saturated with it all, thoughts of wanting to help and how keep floating about in your head. Then you quickly realize, you can't do it all at once. We took a boat ride on the largest lake in SE Asia, Tonle Sap, to see the floating villages. That was a whole new level of poor. These people just live in stilt houses or boathouses on this massive lake, which is mud brown and filled with snakes and alligators. They have a floating school, and market. Some have turned their shacks into restaurants, and the big attraction is the alligator "farm." That's where they have a bunch of alligators corralled off of one side of the house, so they can't swim away, but they just hang out in their pen. Their water is full of trash. They use them to make various alligator items like belts and purses. On the menu? Probably. As our powerboat sped by, we saw lots of children playing in the water on the banks. A few houses down there was a little kid going to the bathroom right off the side of his house. Parents will send off their little 4-5 yr olds in a bucket, floating down the river, with a huge snake draped around their shoulders so they can beg for money from the tourist boats.
We stare and wonder, and compare our lives to the glimpse we got of theirs. Is this the lowest of the low? How could it be worse? Maybe the only thing that's worse is stagnation.
When you grow up collecting trash for money in Cambodia, you aspire to be a tour guide or tuk-tuk driver. They wear the "nice" clothes. One of those little boys promised to make a change. He picked through the trash for plastic bottles so he could pay his way through primary school. Eventually, he was able to buy a tuk-tuk. His business ran well, and he acquired 4 more tuk-tuks. Then, he decided to start an NGO to help other kids who were growing up just like him. His foundation is called New Hope, and with volunteers from Australia and all over the world, their organization grew.
One of the reasons I decided to go with G-adventures is because they support the local people with all their tours and through the Planeterra Foundation. On our tour in Cambodia, we got to visit the New Hope Foundation, take a tour of their school (even sit in class for a lesson with the kids) and enjoy a delicious local-style lunch (including crickets!)
I'll be honest in saying that I hardly ever support foundations, mainly because I don't know where my money is going. At New Hope, I could see exactly how donations were being used. They were finally able to build a new school - we got to tour their old location too (it was a concrete base with 2 shacks built on it).
For the kids that are a little older, they learn a trade, like sewing. They are also taught to run a restaurant and about western culture so they can find work in the hospitality industry.
The kids usually speak at least 3 languages - their native Khmer, english, and french. New Hope also built and runs a free health clinic. It's staffed by 3-4 nurses and one doc, all volunteers who come one month at a time.
What this foundation does, is teach children to become self-sufficient, educated individuals, gaining confidence and live a life with dignity.
When our bus first pulled up to the old school location (which now houses a couple families and battered women and children), we were greeted by the happiest little faces. 4 or 5 kids immediately ran up to us, hugging us and grabbing us by the hand. Waving us to come in. Mark and Sam became instant jungle gyms and the laughter and joy those kids had will forever echo in our ears. It's more evident than ever that you don't need much to be happy; it all comes from within.
I will fully support New Hope when I get back to the states, and if you have a moment of free time, check out their website and see for yourself what your donations could do.