On June 11th 2018, a team of four from First Hand departed for a 3-day service trip to visit our main partner Damnok Toek (DT) in Poipet, Cambodia. The purpose of the trip was to check in on DT’s local child-protection projects and see where help and funding are needed. Together, Annette, Gitte, Sandi and Tori brought along 120kg of school/sport/medical donations that we had collected from our supporters in Singapore (thank you!)
Poipet is a few hours’ drive from Siem Reap and is located right on the border with Thailand. It is not a nice place to visit and is notorious for its many casinos and as a hotspot for illegal cross-border migration and many forms of exploitation.
Overall DT are running six different programmes around Poipet to help vulnerable children and their families avoid exploitation at all the stages when they are at most risk. This starts with prevention at their drop in centre in the slum which offers a safe place for children to play and learn at all times of the day while their parents are absent or street children take a break from their own working day .
Many Cambodians come to Poipet with the misinformed idea that they can easily get a job, or they use Poipet as a base for working illegally across the border in Thailand – where they can earn up to triple a normal Cambodian wage. Sadly many of these workers are often exploited and end up being rounded up by the Thai authorities and dumped at the border crossing. Many of those deported are children, some have even been separated from their parents and don’t know their identity or where is home. Four trucks of deportees arrive per day, on average.
This is one of the ways that DT helps by immediately assessing these undocumented children, with their other agency partners, to try and reunite them with their families.
Once deported children have been assessed at the Childsafe Center, if they can’t immediately find their family then they can be taken into temporary care at the Reception Project. This is a safe space where they receive counseling, an education, learn handicrafts and enjoy leisure activities while family tracing is conducted.
The main goal is to reintegrate children into their families and offer follow-up support with income generation activities to create a sustainable family unit.
This is where the employment office project helps by showing parents and youths how to look and apply for jobs, use digital tools and find suitable job training. It reduces the risk of households resorting to their children’s labour to gain additional income.
Outside of the town we also visited the city landfill dumpsite. This was a distressing and heartbreaking experience to meet some of 13 families living in shacks along the precipice of the dump where they forage through the trash for items to sell and recycle.
Dr Heng from DT’s medical programme was on her weekly rounds offering free medical care to the children and parents who suffer from many ailments. We met a teenage boy who attends the DT Non-formal Education centre a few kilometres away. DT had provided him with a bicycle to help him make it to the school each day.
We were appalled by these living conditions but subsequently learned that sadly there are no easy quick-fix solutions regarding this tragedy. (Please read this article to learn more about this global problem: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/oct/11/hell-earth-great-urban-scandal-life-rubbish-dump)
Over at the main Non-formal Education (NFE) centre, hundreds of children who can’t afford/access public school each day enjoy free education, food, school materials and medical support for their families. This programme allows them to eventually catch up on school and ultimately integrate into the normal school curriculum.
In all, it was a massively impactful trip. We are deeply impressed by the amazing work being done by Damnok Toek. They are literally saving children and families in so many ways, every single day.
We are inspired to raise as much money as we can for them. If you would like to help keep vulnerable families together then please join us!
Photo credits to Hugo Barbazanges, Gitte Faldmo and Sandi Tonich.
For more photos from this trip please look at our photo album on Facebook: www.facebook.com/firsthandvolunteers