NGO Seeks Couples To Raise ‘Golden Children’ To Lead Nation

kandal province – Wanted: Thirty-three college-educated, English-speaking, married Cam­bo­dian couples without chil­dren, aged be­tween 23 and 35, to raise 264 or­phans into young adult­hood.

Housing, food, utilities, medical care and a stipend will be provided by the NGO Sovann Komar, found­ed by Elizabeth Ross John­son, heiress to the fortunes of US healthcare giant Johnson & John­son, until the orphans are young adults and enter college.

Sovann Komar, meaning “Gol­den Children,” is not simply an or­phanage; it’s a community, Exec­utive Director Sothea Arun said on Monday.

The 33 couples will each live with eight orphans in a five-bedroom traditional Khmer-style home made of wood, bamboo and concrete in a “village” that is currently under construction in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district.

The community will include a medical clinic, computer lab, li­brary, nursery, football field, swimming pool, performance hall and communal barbecue area.

The total cost to build the village and a school for the children on a separate nearby plot of land, which is currently at the center of an own­ership lawsuit with land giant Phan­imex, is between $10 million and $15 million, said Bretton Scia­roni, well-known US lawyer and shareholder in the Sovann Komar Corporation, on Sunday.

Those figures do not include the cost of raising and educating the 264 orphans through to college age.

Johnson was inspired to found the charity by her friendship with Sothea Arun. Sothea Arun said he met Johnson in early 2002 on her first visit to Phnom Penh, and began spending more time with her later that year when he went to New York to study international development at Columbia Un­iversity.

“The Khmer Rouge…killed my family. I am an orphan. That’s why I started Sovann Komar,” Sothea Arun said. “[Johnson] has a great heart. She cried all the time when she learned about my background.”

In a promotional pamphlet for the project, Johnson explains her philosophy.

“These children have the po­tential to create social change. To start companies. To run for gov­ern­ment. To change the whole fu­ture of their country,” she states.

“Give them all they need to be healthy, productive citizens of Cambodia.”

To that end, the couples are chosen carefully. All the couples should have finished university, speak English well and have a strong commitment to work with the children, “to approach our ob­jective,” So­thea Arun said.

“The couple [will be] on probation for six months…but in case something happens, we have other couples for replacement.”

The surrogate parents will also have to make certain sacrifices.

“They should work with us for at least three years. Then they can have their own children.”

But, he added: “We don’t allow them to have more than two [children of their own].”

The rules could be bent in special cases, such as the unpredictable birth of twins when a couple already has one child.

One of the surrogate parents, usually the woman, will be an em­ployee of Sovann Komar and work at home, while the other par­ent will be free to seek em­ployment outside the village.

“They get well paid by us, and I believe they can save, because they don’t spend anything,” he said, adding that parents would be paid a stipend of between $175 and $200 per month.

Each home will be additionally staffed by a well-educated nanny.

While the village is still under construction, there are already 54 orphans under the care of the NGO’s 41 staff, most of whom are nannies.

In the beginning, most of the children came from government or­phanages and areas around Phnom Penh, but now a majority are coming from poor villages far from the city, Sothea Arun said.

A group of the children, all be­tween a few months and five years of age, played together in one of the two buildings being used as temporary housing on Mon­­day.

Also present was Israeli nursing professor Vered Kater, who is volunteering to teach more than 40 staff, nannies and surrogate parents basic first aid, hygiene, nutrition and discipline.

“Can I look in there?” a five-year-old boy asked in excellent En­glish when he saw a reporter’s notebook.

He, like all the children in the Sovann Komar project, bears “Sovann” or “Golden” as his family name.

Sothea Arun said the boy was one of the first orphans taken in by his organization, which means he has been raised by English-speaking nannies since he was three years old. As a member of the “Golden” family, he is already being prepared for a college education.

“I know that all the children come from a suffering background like mine of 30 years ago,” Sothea Arun states in his NGO’s promotional material.

“We need to change that. I be­lieve this young generation can change the future of Cambodia.”


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