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Category Archives: Cambodia

Begging children in Cambodia

Since I’ve been back from my short visit to Siem Reap, I’ve had many conversations about the state of children begging in Cambodia. I’ve heard many, many stories of people who bought things from street kids, who simply gave them money, or who bought them things thinking that was better than doing nothing.

I won’t criticize any of these people because the emotion involved in these actions was completely justified and understandable. However, that is what the people running these kids rely on. It’s much harder to say “no” to children, but unfortunately that’s exactly the emotion that these entrepreneurial street kids’ pimps count on.

I will say that a travel companion of mine fell into this trap, and it was not until halfway through the transaction that we all really realized what was happening.

A child of no more than 12 was carrying a baby and begging passersby to buy the baby milk. “I don’t want money, my baby sister needs milk.” And the baby really did look like it needed something with its head lolling to one side as it barely looked conscious. So my traveling companion said, “Yes, follow me into the store (conveniently right behind us) and I’ll buy some formula.”

As we were standing behind her at the check-out, another older woman followed by a dirty street kid had picked up the exact same can of formula, but immediately after she paid for the formula, she pulled back the fresh seal. “So they can’t sell it back to the store,” she said with a sad smile as the child accepting the formula cringed and tried to push it back so that it looked un-opened.

$11 for a can of formula is a lot more than the $1 most kids get by selling bracelets or begging.

(While three of us moved on, one of my friends stayed on in Siem Reap and basically spent the next week telling tourists not to buy formula from these street kids)

There is little worse than thinking that you’re helping a good cause than to realize that you’re just feeding the problem. Often street kids who are working in cities like Siem Reap or Phnom Penh are not working for themselves, but for older street “pimps,” who might be providing meager food and shelter in return for the kids walking the streets night after night and hunting for some naïve tourist to rip off. (This isn’t me being harsh; I’m counting myself in this large group of people.)

The worst part of this whole situation is that you really are just perpetuating their misfortune. If a child is making good money begging on the street, whether it’s because they are an orphan, or because their parents have no other choice but to send them away to make money for the family, it is very unlikely that they will be able to get out of this situation. Because of the amount of money that they can make on the street they will not be sent to school, they will not be able to make the most of themselves and escape the life of the streets, and they will undoubtedly be exposed to predators or drugs.

Unfortunately, as long as tourists give to these children who pull at their heart strings, the circle will continue endlessly.

There are multiple organizations that are working to stop this circle of abuse; those are the places worth donating and spending time.

Because this is such a heavy topic that I may or may have provided enough detail about, here are some extra reading links that I found useful, albeit depressing:

A good article on Travelfish about why giving money to street kids is a bad idea.
An in-depth article about how voluntourism can go wrong.

And here are some links to worthy organizations working to prevent this cycle of poverty:
The PonHeary Ly Foundation
The Green Gecko Project

These are just a couple, but if you were as touched as I was by the overt poverty in Cambodia, or are planning a trip there, do your own research and decide how you want your dollars put to use.

C.E.S.H.E School in Siem Reap, Cambodia

After sorting out rooms and dropping off our bags, we headed out for our initial wander of the area we stayed in Siem Reap in search of dinner. On our way to popular Pub Street, we were stopped by a Spanish guy holding flyers. My initial response was to ignore him and his donation jar, but I’m glad we didn’t because it turned out that he was offering us a chance to visit the school where he volunteers.

The board out front

In August 2010 Cambodian English Teacher, Rure Rady, established the Cambodian English School of Higher Education (C.E.S.H.E) to provide free English classes and materials for students in the eight surrounding villages. Currently they have 270 students between the ages of 4 and 27 enrolled, 4 part-time Cambodian teachers and more recently a handful of travelers volunteering their time and English-speaking or book-keeping abilities.

At the time of our visit, which was only the second ever of a group of foreigners, there were two tuk-tuks full of people headed out to the school 7km outside of Siem Reap town. When we got to the school, the driver of one of the tuk-tuks turns around and introduces himself as the founder of the school. Our first lesson about the school; they receive no government funding and rely solely on donations and Mr. Rady’s income driving a tuk-tuk.

Rure Rady, founder and director, in front of the school

The children there were truly adorable, and while they had Cambodian teachers they were really anxious to learn English from a native-speaker. Something I’ve learned recently is that it really is best to learn a language from a native speaker, they understand the nuances of the language and it’s easier to model the proper pronunciation off them, picking up their accent at the same time. I’m still amused by this, but it makes perfect sense; they’re mimicking the way you say it. I still won’t forget Sam’s practice teaching classes where he had the kids mimicking his Australian accent.

What Rady Rure and his team of volunteers is doing is truly remarkable, offering free classes for village children who desperately want to learn English in a country where tourism is one of their largest source of income. We were given a chance to sit in on one of the highest levels and helped a row of children reading, pronouncing and understanding the meaning of the words.

How happy do I look?

The dedication these kids show, some attending three different schools in a day, well into the evening, just so that they can get a well-rounded education. For some of the students, however, this is the only education they receive, the only reprieve from their family farm. The school also acts a recreation centre, where village kids can come to stay out of trouble, play baseball with the volunteers, or simply hula hoop themselves into oblivion. They were all really happy to see us, and even happier to have their picture taken with foreigners. One picture turned into 100 as the kids were showing off their kung-fu, making funny poses for the camera and hugging us close as we posed for giant group pictures.

What they’re working on now:

Since they’re expanding quicker than their current space allows, they’re raising money for bricks to build another classroom 6×8 metres in size. They currently have 3 classrooms, meaning that the students can only attend 1 and a half hour lessons throughout the day. They have one toilet, a library with three computers and an open space for a playground.

One brick costs $1 and when I was there, they only needed $952. I’m happy to say that most of my Riel went into their donation box, and I truly hope that you, my loyal readers, can also see the value in this.

The entire cost of the project is broken down as follows:

2 tonnes of cement = $190
200 bricks = $200
2 cubic metres of sand = $80
3 buckets of paint = $90
10 8 metre long steel posts = $80
15 boxes of tiles = $90
12 sheets of metal roofing tile = $72
Paying labourers for 10 days = $150

They have more people willing to help than they can accommodate for; charging their volunteer teachers for only the basic room and board also makes it an appealing volun-tourism option. If I have a break from school and time, I would love to go back and help them build the classroom, or teach the kids English, or anything really that would be of any help. It broke my heart when almost every student hesitantly asked “see you tomorrow?”

How to reach them:

I know that I have friends, family and readers who care about causes that are real, who care about the well-being of children and who are passionate about bettering the lives of those less fortunate. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish the causes worth donating to, and even then there is the question of whether or not the money will actually do the desired action. I can promise you that this is something well worth helping. As you can see, they don’t need much, and they’re trying as hard as possible to be completely transparent by outlining where all the money goes. (Even by taking pictures of the receipts of purchases made and uploading them to Facebook!)

Of course, the need doesn’t stop there. Since the classes and materials they provide are all free to the students who may not otherwise be able to afford to attend classes, they are in constant need of money to purchase books, writing utensils and simply to provide electricity for those later evening classes when they can’t work by the light of the sun.

If you want to see for yourself, their facebook page is here: Ceshe Cambodia
The C.E.S.H.A website , AND another: Teaching English in Siem Reap

Rure can be reached by e-mail here: rady.rure@gmail.com

Money can be deposited directly into the school’s account, named Rady Rure at ACLEDA Bank Plc. # 3475-01-051075-15, Bic Code: ACLBKHPPXXX

Or sent through Western Union to Rady Rure, Thnol Chak Village, Kiensange Commune, Sotnikum district, Siem Reap Provice

Or, if you have an account, sent through PayPal, all you need is his e-mail, rady.rure@gmail.com

Make sure that you drop Rure an email to let him know about your donation so that they can put your name on the donors’ wall.

Welcome to Cambodia: Would you like a scam to go with your entry stamp?

Anyone who does any research about Cambodia may come across many helpful blogs and websites warning you of all the ways that you could get ripped off at the land borders. Unfortunately, the Cambodian police don’t do much to dissuade the amount of people running around and “helping” tourists, some of them even wearing official looking badges.

When I initially decided to stay longer than the length of a Visa run, I researched as much as I possibly could about everything needed to cross the border. How much it should cost, where to go, who to trust (mostly, don’t trust anybody) and all the different scams that have been in place over the years. Luckily, I didn’t have to do it alone having met a guy through some of the teachers in Ban Phe and a couple of his friends that we met along the way.

When our tuk-tuk dropped us off on the Aranyaphratet side of the border in Thailand, we paid him his 80 baht, collected our bags and ourselves and started walking. The first thing we came across was a long walkway to the left that presented the perfect opportunity to take pictures of the bridge announcing the Kingdom of Cambodia.

After getting our Thailand exit stamps, we kind of cluelessly headed into the street, and apparently noticing our cluelessness an official looking guy comes up and just points us in the direction of the Cambodian immigration office. Being the only one who seemed to remember the instructions about where to go, everyone wanted to ignore the tout and headed to arrivals, only to be sent back to apply for the Visa before they could get their stamp. Despite our insistence to ignore the guy who kept pointing us in the direction to go, he mercilessly followed us around, “helping” us find the proper locations. Not once did he offer to help us get an “express” visa by moving us to the front of the line, nor did he ever tell us anything that wasn’t the absolute truth (yet).

The only overpayment in regards to the visa was that they had written on a clipboard that the charge was $20 +100 baht. No idea why there was an extra charge and no amount of arguing would persuade them to change their position on the price.

After successfully getting our entry stamps, our trusty tout followed us onto the free shuttle bus that would take us to the passenger transport terminal where we could either catch a bus or a cab into Siem Reap. Throughout the ride he was charming and friendly, helping Ben with his learning of basic Khmer words and phrases so that he could charm the locals. The rest of us weren’t paying him any attention, and predictably once we got to the transport station he had gained enough of their trust (I say ‘their’ because I had a bad gut feeling) and we booked a taxi and they were convinced to change all their baht to Riel. (“They won’t accept baht anywhere in Cambodia” pfffft)

The taxi was the same price as the research we had done, and afterwards I remembered reading and ALL of the blogs and websites I had read said not to change money at the tourist transport center. Why? Because the exchange rate is awful and they don’t even USE Riel in Cambodia – at least not in the areas where we were, A.K.A the tourist areas. They seriously have EVERYTHING priced in US Dollars, and only use Riel because they don’t have any American coin, so if anything costs $1.25, it actually costs $1 and 1,000 Riel.

Despite the tout, there were very few other beggers or seriously annoying people hanging around, maybe it was an off day or maybe they have some sort of scam union where all the “helpers” work together, but we weren’t hassled too much. Despite being frazzled by the heat and the weight of bags, we were able to pretty much breeze through the entire process.

Did I mention that the douche tout asked for a tip when we were getting into our cab? I was able to skirt that quite gracefully as we were trying to organize ourselves in the cab, but others weren’t so lucky…