Cambodia: Service Learning Expedition 2012

by Steven Dee Wrigley, Global Outreach Alliance Director

Mother-Daughter Teamwork

Mother-Daughter Teamwork

Margret Ellwanger manning the first-aid table.

Margret Ellwanger manning the first-aid table.

SALT LAKE CITY, USA — We’re back from another amazing service learning adventure to Cambodia. Already we’re missing the good people there who radiate so much goodness and love.

Villagers ready to move in to their new homes.

Villagers ready to move in to their new homes.

We again partnered with Tabitha and forPEACE to help get 10 families off the streets and into new homes through the culmination of a micro-savings program.

This has to be one of the most joyous scenes…witnessing the joy that comes from simple efforts to improve quality of life.

A previous volunteer said: “All of us were changed by the profound exchange of love and service: we had given them new houses to live in, they had given us a new way to understand living.” We come with open eyes and ears to learn and absorb the lessons our friends in the global village have to teach us.

Our team was also able to spend some quality time at CICFO. CICFO is a children’s home in Phnom Penh that we (Global Outreach Alliance and forPEACE) work to support. They are a remarkable organization ran by two wonderful, miracle-working volunteer Khmer “mothers.” This children’s home, which cares for 31 children, is unlike any orphanage we have seen before. We do not always support orphanages as their model simply creates “orphans” and dependency on donor dollars–then, the cycle continues–more and more orphans pile in and more donor dollars come to support its viscous cycle of “feeding” children. Consequently, transparency suffers, and well-intended people soon are funding institutions that pocket money and neglect children’s pressing needs for long-term, sustainable development and education.

CICFO Family

CICFO Family

However, CICFO is different. They have self-reliant enterprise projects (e.g. chicken coup, organic mushroom farm, hand-made bracelets and greeting cards, and a fruit tree garden), all of which help lighten the load of donors and allow them to educate their children about future possibilities for generating income and self reliance. They focus on education and teaching skills all while preserving their beautiful culture. They even work to get the children back to their families or in responsible families’ homes (which is unheard of with most orphanages). They are not the typical “institutionalized orphanage.” They create a wonderful home for these children all on a shoestring budget of $1.85 per each child, per day. That is remarkable considering that it includes everything to take care of the children (i.e. rent, utilities, medicine/checkups, nutritious meals, clean water, education and private tutoring, school uniforms/books, transportation to/from school and activities, etc.).

Many orphanages we have seen conversely rip your heart out and then stomp on it because they are mismanaged and solicit additional donor dollars by purposely downgrading the level of poverty–they keep the facilities dirty and unsanitary, they don’t feed or clothe the children adequately, they don’t educate, etc–all because if things were better looking, then they could possibly lose funding. In orphanages, double dealing and corruption often runs rampant–not to mention the most mind-blowing disease of all–sex and labor exploitation of precious children. It sickens us! But not here at CICFO. It’s a home. It’s a family. It is a wonderful breath of fresh air! It truly is a small heaven on earth.