At Center, Street Children Get Second Chance at Childhood, Life

siem reap town – Several dozen young children sat on the floor of Anjali House’s main room one recent morning, wearing brightly colored clothing provided by the youth center. They listened patiently to their teacher giving morning instructions. Most of the children used to live and work on the streets of Siem Reap until they got the opportunity to study and play at the center, Anjali House director Sam­uel Flint said.

Over the course of last year, however, funding for the center has become difficult to secure, Mr Flint said, adding that the center is now eagerly searching for support to sustain its activities.

Most of the children come from poor families living in two impoverished communities in Siem Reap, Wat Svay and Wat Damnak, and many of them used to beg or sell books or small, handmade souven­irs to tourists, he said.

Meak Srey, 13, a fifth-grader, said that she and three other siblings joined Anjali House one year ago. Before she came here, she and her 13-member family used to move around from town to town to find work, she said, adding she arrived in Siem Reap three years ago.

“Before I came to Anjali I used to beg near the Old Market or sell books for three years,” Meak Srey said, adding all her brothers and sisters were now living with various support organizations, as her parents could not afford to take care of them.

Founded in 2007 by the organizers of the Angkor Photo Festival, Anjali House supports 75 children by paying for their school fees and arranging school transport, providing them two free meals per day, and offering additional educational programs such as English, computer, sports and arts classes, Mr Flint said.

The cost of running of the center, however, has risen due to high inflation in recent years, while fund-raising has become noticeably more difficult in the current economic climate, he said.

“There are [corporate donors] I have talked to who wanted to support us, but they just asked me to come back later…they said: we’re still laying off ourselves,” Mr Flint said. He added he also noticed the number of grants and grant amounts offered by donors had been cut back, while the slowing of tourism in Siem Reap meant a reduction in direct support from tourist visitors.

As a result, the center is forced to cut down on maintenance and has halted the implementation of planned programs, such as vocational training, he said. Food was the biggest cost, according to Mr Flint, adding Anjali House spends $1,600 to buy 1100 kg of rice per month to provide the children with meals and 5 to 7 kg handouts rice per week to children of the poorest families.

Sixteen-year-old Chan Sokdam said he came to Anjali House two years ago, after he lived with a youth gang for three months in Siem Reap. Chan Sokdam said he had traveled alone from Preah Vihear province to Siem Reap, as he was living in Preak Kek village by himself after his mother left to work in the border town of Poipet, Bant-

eay Meanchey province.

“I stayed with my friends, but they were gangsters,” he said.

Now, Chan Sokdam is one of several children who also stay over-

night at the center and a foreign volunteer is providing him with individual training to become an electrician. “It is a safe place for me and in the future I hope I can get a good job; I want to become an electrician,” he said.

 

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