At least 4 million Cambodians, according to the best available figures, are living below the poverty line. Most of these – 92% in fact – are farmers dwelling away from the main towns and cities. Go just 14kms out of Siem Reap and you will travel into communities where agriculture is a precarious means of existence – dependent on a good harvest of rice, for example, or on fair prices. One bad season can spell ruin. It only takes one.
From within this background I was contacted via Facebook today. We often luxuriate in our friends’ chitchat don’t we – but this same medium puts us just one or two degrees, now, of some of the world’s poorest. I think with the luxury comes a responsibility.
The boy who contacted me is 17. His father is no longer alive, and his mother – a farmer – is finding it hard to make ends meet. She has married again, but the new husband does not get on with his step-children. He doesn’t want to support the boy through schooling which costs around $US20 per month. A new semester began today and he is being asked to stay home rather than go to school. “My mind is unhappy,” he told me.
How should I respond? After some thought I told the boy to contact Savong, and then I contacted Savong to ready my friend for the call. Savong was very clear-headed. He set out a step by step process to ensure that his NGO would be supporting someone deserving.
1. We send staff to see the boy and his family – to interview them.
2. We will ask chief of village and commune about their background and living conditions too .
3. If everything is true then we will send information to you.
It is necessary, of course, to assess needs before we hand out money, and even if we do go ahead, we need to ensure the money goes toward the schooling for the Grade 9 student, and does not get diverted elsewhere.
Having never met the boy in person, I cannot be sure, yet, what Savong’s verdict will be – but I do know that Savong has a very clear purpose for his NGO and in his email to me he stated it bluntly:
Our goal of NGO to support poor people not rich people. If I support rich people it would be wrong goal of our NGO and the government will complain.
So stay posted and we’ll see what happens. I do admire the boy however. He doesn’t have many resources, but he does have access to social media and he’s followed our websites etc to find a possible solution to his crisis. He has shown initiative and, like so many young Cambodians has expressed his desire to further his education – that’s all he dreams of.
Post script: We found a supporter for Moeuncheat and he is proving to be a stellar student. This week (March 2014) he scored 150 out of 150 in his maths exam. Surely he is heading to University. However there are many more students such as Moeuncheat who could do with you help. Email me if you’d like to be part of one of these wonderful stories.
Duncan Stuart firstname.lastname@example.org