Sunday, April 4, 2010

My experience volunteering at the Cambodian Orphanage


Wow.  How do I even begin to describe my experience at New Futures Organization in Cambodia?  Volunteering with orphan children has opened my heart.  I have deep admiration and respect for these kids, who have absolutely nothing but they are so cheerful, and they want to share everything they have with you.  They are really intelligent and I was continually surprised by them.


When we arrived in Phnom Penh in Cambodia, I was shocked at the overwhelming number of beggars on the street.  It was kind of scary, as our bus pulled in, it was surrounded by locals.  Everyone wanting something from you, whether it was a tuk tuk driver, children, disabled people, landmine victims.  It was overwhelming.  I was most shocked by the beggars in the wheel chairs, with disabilities oh and the kids carrying babies around.

In the Lonely Planet it tells you not to carry even a bag around at night because you don’t want to attract negative attention.  Cambodia was a place I was considering skipping because I thought it may be too dangerous.  And walking around the streets at night, there were definitely times I was worried that something bad might happen.

Having said that, nothing bad happened and we came out safe.  When we arrived in Takeo town, which is where the New Futures Organization is located, it was a completely different vibe.  The people were super friendly, and they truly want to help you.


When we arrived at New Futures, all the kids came out to greet us.  There were 54 of them, all shaking our hands, asking our names, and where we came from. They were so adorable, they didn’t ask us for nothing.


It’s a well run place, and you can tell there has been a lot of love and attention put there.  There’s a couple full time workers that cook for the kids, and for the volunteers.  There’s a classroom with a chalkboard, and pictures everywhere.  There’s tonnes of Lego, toys, a volley ball net, a soccer field.  The kids range from 5-19.  But the thing is they all look so young.  Some of the kids that were 15, seriously looked like they were nine.


These kids have nothing.  They are usually there either because they have no parents, or their family can’t afford them.  But yet you get there and they are so well adjusted, they’re happy, they’re smiling, they want to share everything with you.  The two pictured above were “my girlfriends.”   One of them offered me some of her food – crispy rice which I politely declined.  But she insisted, please, please eat some.  And she was so happy when I took a bite.

We played soccer with all the boys, and I saw the most incredible thing.  They were given a tiny little can of some type of sweet drink.  They put a little straw in it, and they passed it around and everyone got a sip.  There was like 35 of them! 

I went to the market and bought them a bunch of Mango and Lychees.  And everyone only took one piece and no more.  There was a whole bunch left over, and they wouldn’t eat it unless you took it and physically handed it to them.


The orphanage is amazing.  They were able to send one of the girls off to University this year which was a proud moment for the orphanage.  They are all really good at English, and they have ambitious professional goals.  Most of them want to be doctors, teachers, business owners.  And when you ask them why, usually its because they want to help people.   I thought that when I went there I would be able to teach the kids a lot, but I think at the end of the day, I learnt more from them then I could ever teach them.


One of the little ones, Ty is so adorable.  He is the youngest one there.  He is really tiny and sweet.  He was brought there by the villagers because his mother passed away, and his father was an alcoholic.  When they found him, he would pick up garbage off the street and eat it.  When he first arrived at the orphanage, he wouldn’t talk to anyone and wouldn’t play with the other kids but after a couple of months, he is the happiest, most social kid you would ever meet.


  One of the highlights was when we took a tuk tuk 40 minutes out of town to a village school called little pai.  There’s a Cambodian university graduate that teaches a class of about 100 kids of all ages English.  And we went there to teach them “Itsy Bitsy Spider.”  And they are so eager to learn.  Their teacher has amazing crowd control, they are all at attention.  You walk in there and they all ask you how you are at the same time.  And they sang all the songs they knew to us, from Old Macdonald to Mary had a Little Lamb, and You are my sunshine!


On the day we left, we joined them for their morning exercises which is about 15 minutes of stretching at 5:30 AM in the morning.  The girls made me and Katie promise that we would go.  We ended up pinky swearing them and of course we had to live up to our promise for our last day.  After the exercise, they played music on the loud speakers and we danced and played games.  When it was time to go, they all walked us out, gave us big hugs.  One of the kids gave me a bright colored bracelet he made which I never take off. 

I have to admit I cried when I left. I’m not a cryer, I never really cry over anything.  But I was so touched by them.  I felt a kind of love towards children that I never had before.  It left me with a feeling of wanting to do more.  I have the question in my heart, of what can I do for these kids?  When I get settled in back home, I may consider sponsering one of them. 


Also, one of the things I didn’t expect was my attitude towards having kids myself at some point.  I never really thought that I would want to have kids of my own, or that I had the capacity to take care of one.  But after this, my perspective is changing.  They have so much love to give, and I feel like Sebastien and I could have a lot to offer – whether it be to a child we adopt or decide to have ourselves.  I feel it was a major growth experience, and I do intend to go back for a longer duration at some point.