kampot town – When you have virtually nothing, something as unsentimental as a mosquito net can brighten your day.
At Aspeca Orphanage Center outside of Kampot town on Saturday, children received mosquito nets from the Ministry of Health’s National Malaria Center.
Within 10 minutes, the residents, who range in age from 4 to 16, had unfolded the blue nets and strung them over their beds.
“Oh, they’ve started,” said orphanage coordinator Em Sovanny with a laugh.
One young boy, Sok Sopheak, played with the plastic bag the net came in, throwing it into the air and watching it float to the ground. His older brother, Sok Thet, grabbed the bag and carefully folded it.
Since arriving at the orphanage a year-and-half ago, the two boys and their older brother, Sok Sokunthea, have collected a few pieces of clothing—more than anything they have ever owned.
The eldest of the three brothers, Sok Sokunthea, said the three were originally from Kampot province. But that’s about as much history the brothers said they remember. They did not remember their ages; Em Sovanny guessed they were 10, 11 and 12, respectively. They did not remember when their mother died. They also did not remember when their father remarried and took them to live on the streets near Phsar Daum Thkow in Phnom Penh.
What the brothers did remember were the fights and the beatings. Sok Sokunthea said their father hit them repeatedly. He also said he remembered the day he decided to take his brothers and leave. If Em Sovanny’s guess for their ages is right, Sok Sokunthea was 10 when he took his two younger brothers and begged a taxi driver to let them get on a cart going back to Kampot town.
Em Sovanny said he found the three young boys collecting soda cans, plastic bags and bottles in Kampot’s garbage piles to resell for small amounts of cash.
Now the three brothers spend their days studying at the orphanage’s school. On Saturday, National Malaria Center’s Vice-Director Dr Duong Socheat taught them a little about malaria—a mosquito-borne disease that affects many Cambodians.
The Ministry of Health estimates about 170,000 Cambodians had malaria in 1997—a 60 percent increase from 1996.
The nets at Aspeca were among 1,600 donated to areas in the province from The Cambodia Daily Mosquito Net Campaign. Last year, the National Malaria Center recorded about 24,000 malaria cases in 1997 in Kampot province—double 1996’s figure.
While Duong Socheat explained how tiger mosquitoes transmit the parasites that can cause malaria, the children at Aspeca Orphanage Center fiddled with the mosquito nets they had just received.
And for at least one day last week, the mosquito nets and even the bags they came in brought a little bit of joy.