New Futures Orphanage - Takeo

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Flag of Cambodia  , Takêv,
Monday, May 17, 2010

It took me a while to find a volunteering opportunity when I was back home, but down here it's a lot easier. I refused to pay something ridiculous like $800 or more through one of the "Adventure" holiday like agencies like I know some people with more money than sense have done. Firstly as only a fraction of that money goes to the charity themselves, but also I’ve heard bad stories about you being treated like a western guest as opposed to actually helping out. So after a bit of investigative work and some help I was put in touch with the charity Cam Kids, who in turn put me in touch with New Futures Organisation (NFO). NFO is run by an English chap and a Cambodian guy who only two years ago had to evacuate the previous house as a previous heartless character had ran away with all the Orphanage’s money, leaving them with 8 months rent unpaid. So after the eviction notice was served, Neville moved these 52 Orphans to a derelict house where he built it up from scratch with only $100 to begin with. I didn’t know quite what to expect as i’ve never done anything like that before and NFO itself was so unstructured. They basically just told me to go there and just do whatever I liked. I offered to help out with any manual work that needed doing and was told that if I felt like starting a project I should just go ahead and do it.  The Orphanage itself is a a fantastic place that’s been built up by various charitable people and groups. A group of American marines came through and built a dinning hall and playground. A team of 23 builders from Hong Kong came down and built a Kitchen and 4 bathrooms. And a few of the guys that were there at the same time as me  had just helped put a roof on a dry room.  The evolution was clearly visible and there were more works in the pipeline. 

Volunteers came and went, the number fluctuated between 5 and 14 whilst I was there and each had a different skill or strength. Some who’d worked with kids before bought paints and did arts & crafts with them. Others just played football in the courtyard. I bought a load of kids books up in Phnom Pehn including some of my childhood favourites Clifford, The Magic Bus, The Snowman to name a few. I loved reading with these kids. They were so hungry to learn from you.  The standard of their English was probably the best i’ve come across in the whole of Cambodia because of their constant interaction with the volunteers. There are English awards given out at the local school and normally more than half are won by kids from NFO. The main thing I tried to teach was the pronunciation of 'th’, ‘ch’ and ‘sh’ as the Khmer language is not a tonal language so they struggle with some of the harsher sounds.  I got so animated trying to get them to pronounce ‘THHHHHHHHHHHHHHHen’ that I was even amusing myself! As soon as I lost my inhibitions about how ridiculous I must’ve looked to an onlooker I got really enthusiastic and the kids took to me. They’re so astute and I reckon that if you are comfortable, they pick up on it and in turn become comfortable around you. My contribution was to suggest a dedicated reading hour as when I turned up with my books all the other kids would want to steal the attention which made it difficult for a single kid to concentrate. So one morning I wrote a big sign advertising a dedicated time and announced it at breakfast and rallied all the volunteers to be at the library at that time. The kids mobbed us. As soon as they knew we were there for that purpose they came and they read and they asked questions and they laughed and loved every minute of it. My reading hour last over two hours and at one point there were almost three orphans to every volunteer.  I was oh so proud. I sat down with one little girl, Sot Lina, and narrated the snowman to her which she was fascinated by as she could hardly imagine what snow was, and she was so engrossed I could almost see her lost in the story. It was the cutest thing I think I have ever seen.

I stayed for a week and spent about 6 hours every day at the orphanage either reading, playing hangman and pickup sticks, just chatting and more than an occasional amount of rough housing which they loved. I think I could have quite easily stayed for a month and not got bored. I was quite sad to leave.

But, onwards to Kampot with my new group of travel buddies from Orphanage, 5 UK'ers and 2 Dutchies.
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