Conducted with the input of UNICEF, the Cambodian Government commissioned a report in 2011 for the Ministry of Social Affairs to examine the role of residential care – orphanages – in Cambodia. Entitled “With the Best Intentions..” the 76 page report can be downloaded here. It underscores much of the recent Government activity around raising the standards of orphanages, and closing down certain operators.
The criteria to support an orphanage are quite clear: are these really filling a gap that cannot be met by the family of the child, or their direct village community? Likewise, are the residential care units assisting the child, beyond the basics of food and shelter?
I find in the report the seeds of the discussion around the growth of NGO numbers in this sector over the past decade – and the assumption that somehow this is a growth industry motivated by money. Oh really? Perhaps there is another way to frame the story: that social care NGOs have multiplied in direct proportion to the growth in tourist visitor numbers and what these visitors have seen -in terms of poverty and need – has motivated the growth of social welfare organisations. Yes, there are exceptions – those organisations that leaflet tourists and using children to lure tourist dollars – but for the most part the sector is addressing needs that poor communities are, without adequate resourcing, unable to meet themselves.
Still, the paper is very thoughtful and helps sponsors, volunteers and supporters put some perspective on what we are doing and how we might best achieve our goals of helping this next generation.
One of my goals next time I go to Cambodia is to learn a few more words in Khmer. How amazing is it that these students in one of the poorest rural regions in Cambodia learn conversational English or Korean or Japanese? How challenging it must be to play hangman (or the similar Khmer game whereby the challengers are taken down steps to the waiting crocodile) in a foreign alphabet belonging to a foreign translation. No wonder the classes cheer so gleefully when I try, and fail, to beat them at English word games!
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Link here to the Cambodia Online Newspaper. A good service!
Orphanages in Cambodia occasionally get blanketed with bad press due the failures of some of these organisations. This week’s stories have again unleashed latent criticism (not all of it very informed) about the role and standard of orphanages across Cambodia.
In fact the Cambodian Government is working actively in the sector to lift standards. As this Al Jazeera report shows the sector has at least 500 orphanages and of these only around half, 270, are formally registered with the Ministry of Social Affairs. So the Government is taking an aggressive shape-up or ship-out stance towards the sector with an overall intention of reducing the number of children in foster care.
This has been the recipe promoted by UNICEF, but the story isn’t so simple. In a nation with no real safety-net for needy families, and the number of Cambodians living below the poverty line estimated to be one third of the population (92% of whom are rural dwellers) the UNICEF objective of returning all children to their families simply doesn’t address the core problem: how will the children of the poor receive adequate food, care and education?
Until adequate safety mechanisms are in place the role of orphanages (who need to openly discuss that most of their children have at least one parent) must be rated as necessary.
In the meantime the Government’s policy of promoting and, if necessary, enforcing higher standards of care and management is to be applauded. For Savong’s organisation these steps have led to more compliance-related paperwork.
We do think that this will accelerate the need for volunteers to be required, in future, to produce police clearance forms of similar, from their own countries in order to help vouchsafe that volunteers have no dubious back-history. See also: Savong School child safety policy.
The big question is – how do you provide adequate food, care and education for today’s vulnerable children?
Role of Women in Cambodia
Here’s an interesting recent article from the Phnom Penh Post interviewing different generations of women and asking about women’s rights in today’s Cambodia. Well worth a read.