Dozens of young children lined the entryway to the Future Light Orphanage recently to welcome a 23-ton rice donation to their orphanage in Choam Chao commune on the southern outskirts of Phnom Penh.
The donation by The Cambodia Daily’s rice crisis donation campaign brings much-needed relief to FLO, its director Mrs Nuon Phaly said, as the 50 kg sacks of rice were unloaded in the orphanage’s lush green 4.5 hectare compound amid excited children.
“We can’t imagine we would get this donation, we are very surprised,” she said, adding that raising enough funds for FLO had been “very, very difficult” in recent times, in particular since high inflation rates kept pushing up the cost of running the orphanage.
FLO provides food, shelter and pays for school fees, while also providing additional educational programs such as English, computer, arts and mathematics and science classes to 256 orphans and children from poor families, she said, adding the orphanage spends around $1,000 per month to buy 3 tons of rice to feed all the kids.
Mrs Phaly said she established FLO in 1987 at the Site 2 Refugee Camp along the Cambodian-Thai border, the biggest of the 10 refugee camps in the border area, under the name the Khmer People’s Lib-
eration Relief Center. At that time, the center aimed at helping abandoned and orphaned children and the sick and traumatized, she said, adding that the center received some support from the UN.
In 1995, the center was reopened as FLO in Phnom Penh, Mrs Phaly said.
Since then, children from all over Cambodia are sent to FLO by local officials such as village chiefs, who send applications to FLO to get some of the poorest children in their communities admitted at the center, she said.
Currently, all the children at the center are supported by foreign foster parents, while FLO also raises funds through its employment of 10 silk weavers who weave several hundred women’s scarves per month that are sold abroad at trade fairs or on specific orders, Mrs Phaly said.
Po Sela, 13, a seventh grade student from Prey Bang village in Kandal province, said he and his two younger brothers had been staying at FLO for seven years after his single mother could no longer afford to send them to school. “I could not go to school because I had to work with my mother and do jobs such as cleaning the house. We also had no money for school supplies,” he said.
Eighteen-year-old Sok Maty is a grade-ten student who arrived at FLO three years ago. “I came to FLO because my family is very poor,” she said, adding that two of her seven siblings live with her at the center.
“When I stayed with my family I went to school only sometimes. I always stayed home and worked,” she said. “At FLO I am happy and very proud to stay here, we get very good education. Now if I study hard, I am confident I can get a good job.”