Straits Times story May 22, 2010
Child-trafficking fight in danger
A Singapore-based couple helping troubled families in Cambodia is appealing for help
By veronica koh
A niche charity in Cambodia run by a Singapore-based couple helping slum kids is appealing for funds, after a major donor who had pledged US$28,000 (S$39,400) pulled out.
The anti-child-trafficking Riverkids Project is a non-governmental organisation that depends on individual donations. It has set up three help centres, all located within a 15-minute walk of one another, for troubled families in the capital, Phnom Penh.
It was started in 2007 by a married couple, New Zealander Dale Edmonds and her Singaporean husband Jimmy Yap, who say they need US$45,000 to sustain the operations of the Riverkids Project for the rest of the year.
The Riverkids Project works with troubled families in urban slum areas who are at high risk of child trafficking. It is a big problem in Cambodia where impoverished parents, in desperation, sometimes sell their children for cash.
The headquarters of Riverkids is a 250 sq ft office here in Alexandra Village, where Ms Edmonds keeps in contact with the project’s 40 Cambodia-based staff by e-mail, phone and Skype.
Mr Yap, 42, who runs an editorial consultancy, and his wife, 32, live in a four-room HDB flat in Ghim Moh. The couple have four children aged between 10 and 19, siblings who were all adopted from Phnom Penh. Three of them go to school here, and one of them is home-schooled.
During the adoption process, the couple saw first-hand the problems of desperate parents and were moved to help.
Ms Edmonds said: ‘We identify troubled families with issues such as poverty, gambling and drug addictions, who seem on the verge of selling their children. From there, we assist them and work to rebuild their lives.’
Apart from providing food and weekly boarding, the three help centres also have educational programmes for children, health check-ups, counselling, vocational training, and help in finding jobs.
Riverkids reaches out to more than 200 families daily.
Late last month, a long-term donor who had pledged US$28,000 had to back out due to personal reasons. Since then, Ms Edmonds has sent out an e-mail to friends and acquaintances appealing for donations. The organisation received about US$10,000 in donations and pledges in the first week.
First Hand, a charitable organisation which offers support to welfare projects in Cambodia, has donated $5,000 and has pledged to donate another $35,000 for the year ahead to help pay for food and groceries.
The organisation, which consists of six expat volunteers, conducts fund-raisers such as bake sales. It will also be organising a walkathon in September to raise money for Riverkids.
Said vice-president of First Hand Cathy Clarke, 34: ‘We had visited the help centres three years ago, and seen the amazing work that Riverkids has done. When we learnt of how it was struggling, we felt like we had to do something.’
So far, the Riverkids Project has enough funds to last until October. However, while the project has pledges amounting to US$5,000 for each of the subsequent months, it will not be enough as the operating costs for the three centres amount to US$14,000 each month.
The couple have also identified a site in Phnom Penh where they would like to set up a new help centre, but are unable to proceed due to lack of funding. According to Ms Edmonds, only one teenager in that urban slum area is still going to school, while the rest have since dropped out.
Mr Yap said: ‘We are already being very strict about reaching out to the most needy because of our lack of resources. It would definitely be a great tragedy if we have to turn down more people.’
Ms Edmonds is liaising with local foundations to discuss grant provisions. She said: ‘It is a real struggle for us. There are more than 400 urban slum areas in Phnom Penh that require assistance and so far, we are working with families in 10 of them. There is so much more that we would like to do.’