This boy needs love, attention and a role model

This guy needs love and attenton

Within any group of children there will be one or two who want extra love and attention. This young man is one of the needier kids at SOC and I recognise him from two years ago as “the boy who loved being picked up.”  His name is Sorm and his family circumstances are very poor – his mother unable to afford his care and his father is no longer part of the picture. This boy craves a father figure.

Latching onto a visiting stranger is not a long term solution though this boy is aware of the continuity of care – from sponsors who return, from visitors who have been here before. Better still, his life has structure at the SOC with friends, with daily chores, with regular mealtimes and with school classes: a far cry from his early upbringing where there was not always food on in the bowl.

Visitors to Cambodia almost always remark on the smiles on all the faces; but these days I’m more aware of the broken homes and tragedies that remain hidden from tourists. This boy is being given assistance and a relatively strong level of support – but growing up without a father is far from ideal.  We owe it to these children to provide them with steady, dependable role models.

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The boy who was nearly sold.

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A small kid with bigger dreams. Kadang was nearly sold and put into full-time work at age 10. Today he’s looked after by Savong and at 16 has found his niche. He wants to train to be a mechanic.

I know him as the boy in red, because of a photo I took in April 2009 of Kadang, pictured above. He has a compelling face, a mischievous smile and a clear sense of direction.

I first encountered his story when he was age 10. A slight boy, who comes from an utterly poor family, Kadang first approached Savong in his role of headmaster at his Bakong-based school. “I need help,” Kadang said.

The boy told Savong the awful news of how his mother was facing such poverty that she was going to take the only option that she could see open to her: to sell Kadang to a family in town. I’m not talking human trafficking here in the cynical sense – I’m talking about a woman, desperate, and willing to engage in a social contract that her son would be looked after by the other family.

But contracts come at a price, and Kadang would have been put to work, full time work, perhaps in a cafe, clearing tables or in a laundry. I hope somewhere decent. For girls the prospects are less certain.

To his credit Kadang wanted to stay with his mother if possible, or at least stay in Bakong to be near her, and he didn’t think it was fair to be put to work at age 10. “I’m just a child,” he told Savong. “I should be at school.”

And so Savong considered the situation and really that was one of the triggers in 2007/2008 to build a children’s home which he did thanks to funding from the Quill family in the USA. Today, with extensions and new toilet facilities it houses more than 50 children in situations not dissimilar from Kadang’s. Kadang was among the first students here, and when I met him in 2011 he was heading home the next few days because he was missing his mother. She lives around 1km away.

One particularly vivid memory was of one evening in April 2009 when we took Kadang to Siem Reap one evening for a medical check the next morning. He’d been feverish and so Savong asked me to make room on the seat of the Honda because we’d take Kadang on the motorcycle as well.  It was evening and Siem Reap was lit up for New Years festivities, and Kadang’s eyes were large with wonder as we journeyed through the streets.

Now the story has a slight twist. The SOC children get plenty of schooling – morning classes followed by schooling at the local primary or secondary schools – and volunteer Alex passed on a verbal comment made by the staff at the local primary school: about how well the SOC children are doing. They tend to be near top of their various classes. But having fought for schooling over fulltime work, Kadang never proved all that fond of schoolwork. He preferred working with his hands.

So what of little Kadang today? Well, he’s still in the care of the SOC though he’s 16 now, and free to leave school. What he’s doing now is an apprenticeship with a garage in town, working on cars with fellow SOC student Buntheourn.

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Now at age 16 Kadang has found what he really want to do – he’s immersed in learning all about auto-mechanics, and he loves it.

Same mischievous face, same winning smile but definitely now a young man who is enjoying his work. When I pulled up to the garage he was up to his elbows in sump oil, and helping strip an engine back for repair. He was in his element. On another evening I was driving past the garage when I spotted Kadang pulling up on a motorbike; the young man fully engaged in his work. He’s the one piloting the bike; no longer the little guy hanging on to the driver as he did in 2009.

Make no mistake, he has a way to go. Apprenticeships are not easy and there is plenty to learn. But with a burgeoning number of cars on the Cambodian roads, and with an awful environment for motors (the heat, the dust, the accidents) that can only mean one thing for Kadang’s trade, and within a few years he’ll be on an income of $300-$400 per month, which is very good by local standards. And he’ll be happy.

I’ve always admired Kadang because he had the courage to fend for his own future back in 2008. He saw a problem and brokered a solution for himself. I’m not fond of referring to anyone as the “poster child” for this or for that – but Kadang is as close as I’ll come to saying that Savong’s organisation has a poster child. He illustrates the hope and the options that open up to children who, on the face of it, lack both.

By the way, if you don’t know me, my name is Duncan Stuart and I’m a New Zealand based writer and researcher and supporter of Savong’s School in Cambodia. I love to write and would love your company – how about clicking the “follow button.”  Thanks!

The hanging tree. A sudden memory.

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This photo of three children at the SOC looks full of joy, but when I opened it up on my computer  just now I suddenly remembered an incident that happened a few paces from this place: which is on the small cycle track that leads to the entrance gate of the SOC.

It was a suicide, and a local woman had hung herself from a nearby tree. Some of the children told me about this and they had been quite shaken by the event.  What were the circumstances? I have often wondered what might have driven that woman to take her life. It is not a route in any way favoured by the Buddhist religion.

I post this brief blog in response to my previous message. Life in Bakong can be pretty sweet – a daily rhythm governed by the rising and setting of the sun, and backed by a chorus of insects and frogs and rural life.

But Cambodia is never far away from tragedy. Next time I visit the children I plan to ask the older ones about the story and be sure that they have processed the tragedy in a way that leaves no sad, frayed ends in their hearts.