A Place in my Heart. Dec 3 - 5, 2015
03.12.2015 - 05.12.2015 34 °C
Back in Seam Reap - It feels like I've come home.
Last week I had a chance encounter with Chunny, a former student at ACODO Orphanage , and my very favourite. She hailed me as she was biking in the town of Siem Reap. I was thrilled to see her and we arranged to meet later. I decided that I would also arrange to visit the orphanage the next day, Friday. The time has come.
ACODO Orphanage, Then and Now
I have visited Cambodia four times in four years and spent much of the time volunteering at ACODO . (Earlier blogs: http://sue-mcnicholas.travellerspoint.com and http:/sue-mcnicholas3.travellerspoint.com. I’ve found it so worthwhile and very fulfilling. Now I am heading back, knowing that there have been changes.
ACODO Orphanage is in Siem Reap, Cambodia, home to marvellous temples, such as the World Heritage site, Angkor Wat. The orphanage was founded in 2008, and when I taught here in 2013, there were 73 students living under its roof. At that time, many teachers came from around the world to teach English to small groups of children.
Over the past 2 years, there have been changes. Many of the older students have moved out together and are finishing school or working. Some have moved back with their extended family. I am in touch with a number of these kids, and delight in visiting them on this trip. There are just 14 students left in the school.
ACODO Orphanage has been criticized for having their students learn and perform cultural dances every night. That must have been tough, I'm sure. Other criticism centres on money donated that funds many items other than the children's accommodation, meals, clothing and studies. I cannot dispute this, and for this reason I no longer support the school financially, though I do sponsor one young girl who has left the orphanage.
I do know that my experience with ACODO was wonderful. Some students actually came from large, poor families or had lived in distant, rural areas where schools were not available and were therefore accepted into the orphanage. All of the students I taught already spoke English at a reasonable level. They all were doing their schooling in the orphanage, plus in a regular community school in the city for half of the day.
Pictures at ACODO from an Earlier Visit
Squeeky ducks,....................Performance of Rice Harvest Dance,..............School Time: English Class
Computer Class - collaboration...........Chunny with me.........2 little ones, Chantha and Sreidoeurn playing with a suitcase
What does GOOGLE say?
I consulted "Mr Google" to see if there are references to ACODO Orphanage. I now realize that I was looking for anything BAD said about the orphanage. This is one article, but I wish to present the other view of this orphanage too. Following is the beginning of an article published by 'Global Post' in 2014. You can read the entire article by posting this link in your browser. http://www.mintpressnews.com/cambodia-fake-orphanages-soak-donations-duping-tourists/194226/ or you can read part of it here.
In Cambodia, Fake Orphanages Soak Up Donations By Duping Tourists
Most of these ‘orphans’ still have living parents. The squalor they endure is often for show.
By Denise Hruby | July 21, 2014
SIEM REAP, Cambodia — Just before the sun sets over the enchanting Angkor temples in northern Cambodia, a group of children gets ready for their big show. Every day, according to fliers at restaurants and hotels around town, the children perform an hour-long “charity show” for tourists visiting the ACODO orphanage.
The spectacle makes ACODO, which stands for Assisting Cambodian Orphans and Disabled Organization, one of the most visited orphanages around Siem Reap, where more than 2 million tourists arrive annually to see the ancient temples.
Onstage the children, aged between 7 and 14, dance and sing. The girls are adorned like dolls, with heavy jewelry and fake eyelashes. The boys wear traditional costumes and face masks resembling monkeys.
The show, the fliers say, is “the children’s life.”
But none of them look happy. Instead, the children do what they were trained to do: generate profits for the orphanage’s owner.
“We are solely funded by kind donations from passionate foreigners … of course, the show is very good for that. The foreigners donate after the show, or more when they get home via bank transfer,” said Long Veasna, a manager at ACODO.
What he usually doesn’t tell tourists is that the vast majority of the children aren’t really orphans. “Most of them are from poor or divorced families. Orphanages here are different, the children don’t have to be orphans.”
In fact, the orphanage business is booming, and for curious reasons. Despite economic growth and slow but steady alleviation of poverty and disease, more and more children are living in these surrogate homes. ............
..........Savourn Morn, the founder of Children and Development Organization (CDO) admits that only a minority of children under her care have lost a parent, and says almost all were from a remote village about three hours from Siem Reap city.
“I opened this to help the poor children because if they stay with their families, they have no education and health care,” Morn said. For the children, visiting home is difficult, via a two-hour ride from Siem Reap, on an unpaved dirt road littered with potholes, before a one-hour hike through the jungle. In the rainy season the path becomes flooded and impassable.
In the UNICEF study, 99 percent of parents said that they agreed to place their child in an orphanage because they would receive better education — or any education — while 47 percent cited general poverty.
You are just going to have to decide for yourself. I went back to the "Net" to see what other opinions are offered. You should do the same. What I found was many Web users' absolute wonder at the beautiful cultural dances these children had learned about their country, and fondness for these beautiful children from volunteers and from visitors to the orphanage. I've heard much about the changes to ACODO Orphanage, and I'm due to be there today and see for myself.
Friday Afternoon Visit to the Orphanage
This day I arrived at the same time as a group of Chinese tourists. They had brought school supplies and candy. I did get a bit swamped by the kids, all of whom I had taught in my earlier visits. I was excited to see them, and the feeling was mutual. I was "snapped" many times, surrounded by these dear, lovely children. The camera toting tourists meant well, and I CONTEND that the kids enjoyed the visit and were happy to get some little treats. I stayed on for part of the afternoon, and agreed to return to visit again the next day, Saturday.
This is an after school evening. The children just "hang out" with each other and hopefully get their homework done. I was pleasantly surprised on my earlier visit when I looked over one student's homework and found that she was doing algebra that looked exactly the same as the Grade 10 stuff at home. No slouches, these kids! Since, these days there are many fewer children in the orphanage, there is no practice for the Khmer traditional dances, the evenings are a little bit quieter. (Good? - perhaps that is bad!) I had a wonderful chance to speak with some of the older children to ask where they were heading. All seemed to wish to stay to complete their studies and to graduate from high school. They are just like teenagers at home, but with much nicer manners! They are all so very dear.
Saturday Morning - Heading to the Farm
I arrived on Saturday morning. I spent a relaxing morning talking with the children. I know the classrooms need extra learning aids. I have picked out six laminated English posters of opposites, of the alphabet, of healthy habits, etc. Good posters were always used so much in the classrooms. All words found on the posters were words the kids really knew well. Vesna, who manages the orphanage rolled up the posters and promised to put them in the two classrooms.
The children had backpacks and were ready to go to the minivan. It seems that all of the kids are going to spend the weekend at the farm owned by ACODO. It is sort of like the Newfoundland version of "going to the cabin". I spent a weekend at ACODO farm two years ago. (You can see that at http://sue-mcnicholas3.travellerspoint.com The travel blog is CAMBODIA INSPIRES..... AGAIN, and it is the 2013 entry: Nov 30 ACODO Farm.)
The kids were in great spirits, heading out to the farm. They kidded and played then tumbled into the van, posing for pictures and flashing peace signs.
I wonder about them long after their van pulls away and the last waving hand disappears in the distance. Some of these kids would not get a high school education - or perhaps any education - back in their home village. Some would help at the family work - a shop, a farm or something else. Some are from poor or broken families. ACODO is one possibility - Ask yourself: "Is it better or worse than the alternative?" You will have to decide for yourself.
I've pondered this a long time. The children learned the magnificent Khmer dances - so exotic and graceful. They also became part of a network of friends within the orphanage, as they lived as brothers and sisters. Every one of the children has gained a valuable education. I am happy to have been part of that during my last four visits to Cambodia.
(What's To Love about Cambodia..........Be sure to click on "next" for the last entry of this travel blog : )
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