Friday, October 07, 2011

Riverkids


I'd like to post one more time about Riverkids, the wonderful organization I have had the blessing to work with while in Cambodia.


The Riverkids Foundation began informally in 2002 as an outreach to children in the Bassac slums of Phnom Penh with a small school room to serve children. Since then Riverkids has expanded services and offerings to support over 400 Cambodian and Vietnamese children living in Phnom Penh who have been identified as highly at-risk for child and sex trafficking.

Riverkids was developed upon discovering the Toul Sang Ke community located along the Mekong River in Phnom Penh. There are approximately 230 families, including approximately 700 children, ages 4-23, at risk for human trafficking, forced labour, sexual exploitation, drug abuse and domestic violence living in this community. Having become aware of the suffering and vulnerability of these children, the Riverkids Foundation was formed in order to help prevent child trafficking and exploitation by providing education, life skills, food, healthcare, and vocational training to women, families, and children in the community.


I was personally taken on a tour of the slums that Riverkids serves. Seeing the conditions in which some of these people lived brought me to tears more than once. Riverkids chooses to operate within the neighborhoods and slums, rather than take the children away, or out of town to "orphanages." They believe in keeping families together, and giving the whole family the chance to succeed. 

I won't pretend that at first I was very intimidated to find out I would be working in an office with former sex workers. What could I, naive, innocent, blond girl from Virginia, possibly ever have in common or have to say to teenage prostitutes, drug addicts, etc? Working with orphans I was prepared for. Working with trafficked women? That took some adjusting. I spent my first week in Cambodia walking around in a daze, spouting off strange statistics to my housemates. 

But every day I went to work, crossing right through the classrooms to get to my office. And every day the same thing would happen. These women who intimidated me so much would bow to me, or get up the courage to say hello in English to me. I would smile as I passed by and not much more. But before long, they were no longer shy about saying hello- in Cambodian or English. And then they would smile and giggle at me. Or wave me over to show me what they were working on. 

And then I realized, I wasn't afraid of them. I felt bad for them. I was ashamed by how much I have and how little they have. And I wanted to make it better.

If I had a few thousand dollars to spare, I'd donate it all to Riverkids and never think twice about it. I've seen their budget. I know where their funds go. I know that their staff operates on a shoestring budget, using old classroom desks made for children, instead of nice big desks meant for computers and files. I know that they sit in small office spaces, 5 men in one room, sitting side by side, and shoulder to shoulder, not complaining, so that the children and students can be in the better rooms for classes. I've watched as the vocational students proudly bring up their sewing projects for approval. And oh have I listened as the little kindergarten students recite their letters in English and Khmer, and sing songs. And the best part of my day is every morning when I cut through the kindergarten and the little kids all get excited to bow to me and whisper their few words of English, just to show me they know some. 

When I saw them in the office it would become easy to forget that these are the same children and women who go home to the slums. That they live along railroad tracks, and eat food we wouldn't feed to our dogs. 

And so my friends, I am asking you for a favor. If anything I have said to you over the past month has touched you, or if you wish you could be the one out there doing humanitarian work but you just can't make it happen right now- make a donation to Riverkids. 

You can make a tax deductible donation to Riverkids via Paypal. Just $10 goes a long way in Cambodia. I'm not asking you to give much. And I'm not asking you to tell me if you do make a donation. But if there's a spark in you to make a difference, I can promise this is a worthy organization. 

If giving a few dollars isn't an option for you right now, then at least become a fan of Riverkids on Facebook. Help get the word out to others about trafficking and poverty with just a simple Facebook click. 

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