I took the photo above in 2011 and it is one of my favourites because it captures life in Roulos near the school and the children’s home run by Savong. The motorbike gets a hard life navigating the local roads, but life looks happy. That wave and smile is what amazes visitors to Cambodia.
A few months ago Savong came to a difficult decision to move the children’s home away from this area, and into Siem Reap. I must admit I felt a pang of regret. A children’s home in town must by definition be walled-in to be secure. There’s less of the rural rhythm and where the children currently know the faces and families of the rural neighborhood; in town they would not be so anchored into a stable community.
The reason for the decision was the regulatory environment that all people in Roulos face: they live in a heritage area, governed by the Apsara authority, and this governing body has the laudable task of helping preserve the heritage status of the region which is the home to the first of the Angkor temples. (Imagine having the Roulos temple just up your street?) But one downside for locals is that progress is very hard to achieve. In Savong’s case they did not permit planned extensions to the existing children’s home which has badly needed extra bedroom space and additional toilets. No way, said Apsara. So over last December and January Savong began announcing plans to shift into town. It was going to be expensive.
That was a few months ago, but due to the upcoming Cambodian elections in July there appears to have been a window of opportunity to gain permission for building extensions. I’m not sure how it works in Cambodia, but governing authorities sometimes grant “permission holidays” when things that are not normally permitted get the go-ahead.
So Savong has moved quickly. This last week he was written to a number of supporters outlining his proposed extensions and setting out a budgetfor the renovations and improvements to the existing children’s home in Roulos – the place we’ve known as the SOC.
These plans look good. They provide for much more bedroom space, with an extra room for boys and and extra room for girls. Each new room would have a toilet facility also.
On the roof, instead or iron – which is oven hot during most of the year – the proposal is to use clay tiles which are durable and a lot more comfortable.
These changes are for the better. Visitors are sometimes struck by how basic the current resources are, but this is limited purely by funds we can raise overseas for the project. Now there is is some certainty about the direction for the SOC we encourage gifting.
Got a spare $500? It could do a lot of good giving 40 children some home improvements – while they enjoy the peaceful life of the Roulos countryside.