Chapter 4: A drop in the ocean
Our trip moves on to Siem Reap, home of Angkor Wat, which was named the World’s Best Tourist Attraction by Trip Advisor in 2015. 2.1 million tourists visited the temple from the 1100s last year.
Annie shares her story with representatives from Nordic Choice Hotels and UNICEF.
The booming hotel and restaurant trade helps to increase the socio-economic level in the city, and in the country in general.
This is great, but when we whizz past tourist-filled kiosks and bodegas, we notice that there is something else that characterises the city. Lucia explains that increased tourism results in more children on the streets. It is a paradox, she says, that while many have a better life, there are also a great number who have it far worse.
UNICEF Cambodia works with a number of different local organisations that help to remove children from the streets and into safety in various ways. The hotel we are staying at, Rambutan, is part of the Child Friendly Hotels network.
They work to inform tourists and visitors of the problem of orphanage visits, and of giving money to begging children. Rambutan also has a work experience programme for young victims of human trafficking. Here, they learn about hotel management, cooking and customer service, and build up a CV that they can use to get a step up in life.
We visit a day centre where children can come to sleep, learn about hygiene and contraception, and receive schooling. The cellar features a combined kindergarten and training facilities for struggling parents. Here, the children also learn to make products that actually sell, particularly to tourists.
We then travel southwards towards the Vietnam border. Here, we’ll visit the local organisation Children in Families. Children in Families works to place trafficked children in foster families. They collaborate with the local authorities in order to investigate the cases they are sent. It is important to ensure that there is no possibility for the children to be with their own families. We meet Annie, founder of Children in Families.
Her father was a professor who was killed when the Khmer Rouge massacred the country’s intellectuals. She is friendly and smiling, and what she has managed to achieve is incredible.
The village consists of 172 families. 38 of these are foster families due to Annie’s work. Her interpreter tells us that she has saved several hundred children’s lives.
We have to move on, and finally visit a transit centre, Goutte d’Eau, a few miles outside of Siem Reap on the border to Thailand. Many of the children who become victims of human trafficking in Cambodia end up in the neighbouring country. Here they are sent out onto the streets to beg, or forced to work in various primary industries. In the worst cases, they end up forced into prostitution.
Goutte d’Eau, which can be translated as “a drop in the ocean”, takes in children who the Thai authorities have sent back over the border, and has several departments. The first department is for new arrivals, and here the chances of discovering the correct identities of the children who come in are good. In many cases, it is possible to find a family member who can take care of the child, so that they can remain at home. This is one of the most important goals of the staff who work at the centre.
Children live in the other departments on a semi-permanent basis. For these children, the chance of being reunited with their families is almost non-existent, for a number of reasons: the family may not wish to take the child back, all members of the child’s family may be deceased, or they might have been responsible for the sale of the child in the first place. Here, the children receive simple meals, a roof over their heads, space to play and access to schooling, giving them the tools they need to manage life outside the centre.
The children are smiling – they have been given a fresh start. There is no doubt that the work being done here is important. In the bigger picture it might only be a tiny drop, but for every single child who comes here the centre’s work makes an ocean of difference.
We’ll continue our story next week.
Best wishes, Bjørn Arild