First Hand Service Trip to Mother’s Heart and Damnok Toek November 2018

First Hand Service Trip to Mother’s Heart and Damnok Toek November 2018

Service Trip Report by Melita Gerber, First Hand Volunteer.
Trip dates: 5th – 10th November 2018
Service Trip Participants: Tanaz Byramjee, Gitte Faldmo, Melita Gerber and Annette Woschek.

Service trips are an important part of First Hand’s programmes as they offer the opportunity to meet our partner organizations face-to-face to get a deeper insight into their work, to check on the projects we support and to be inspired to be their advocates on our return to Singapore. This trip we visited both Mother’s Heart and Damnok Toek, our two partners in Cambodia.

Firstly we met Emily Scott, who is the country director of Mother’s Heart, and her enthusiastic team of social workers at the head office in Phnom Penh. A big THANK YOU goes to all our generous supporters in Singapore for the suitcases full of baby equipment that we delivered.

Mother’s Heart is the first, and currently only, crisis pregnancy centre in Cambodia. It started off with a pilot project in 2010. Currently there are two main programs offered by Mother’s Heart to women who find themselves in crisis pregnancies:

  1. Crisis Pregnancy Counseling: it enables every woman to make informed decisions about their options e.g. parenting, alternative care, legal abortion, etc.
  2. Pregnancy Support Program: offers women access to support if they want to have their baby e.g. medical care, housing services, vocational training and job placement, day care services, education classes, foster care/kinship care, etc.

20 % of pregnancies in Cambodia are a crisis pregnancy. Crisis pregnancies have many backgrounds – the most common ones are rape, domestic violence, sex work, trafficking and incest. In Cambodia being pregnant and single brings social shame and loss of reputation which often leads to isolation, illegal abortion causing high maternal death rates or even suicide.

After our visit to Mother’s Heart’s head office the social workers took us on a field trip to meet some of the beneficiaries and to get to know the staff and kids at the daycare center. We were very pleased to see the enormous positive impact that the service of Mother’s Heart has on the beneficiaries like increasing self-esteem, giving hope for the future, social rehabilitation and reintegration into community, integration into work life, etc.

***for safeguarding and legal reasons we are not able to share any photos of beneficiaries

The second part of our trip enabled us to gain a personal picture of the tremendous potential, but also of the huge challenges of Damnok Toek’s disability program. First Hand have been visiting and supporting Damnok Toek for the past 10 years.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and World Bank’s World Report on Disability (2011) estimates that 15 per cent of the world’s population have a disability, of whom 2.2 per cent have very significant difficulties functioning. As a post-conflict country, Cambodia is subject to a number of risk factors which lead to high prevalence of disability. If we use the data provided in the World Report on Disability to estimate the situation in Cambodia, that would mean about 2.4 million Cambodians are living with disability. In Cambodia, people with disability lack access to appropriate, quality and affordable health care, rehabilitation, education and disability services. Women and children with disability are particularly vulnerable to disadvantage.

Since 1997 Damnok Toek has been operating a drop in center and a residential shelter in Neak Loeung to assist street-children and to fight child trafficking and other forms of child abuse. Many of the children welcomed in the centers were mentally and/or physically disabled. As there were no structures to support these children, Damnok Toek opened a disability center. At the moment the new centre has a capacity for 24 to 25 children, depending on the degree of disability.

The facilities in Neak Loeung provide vulnerable children with access to counselling, non-formal education, vocational training and medical care. The disability center’s most important aim is to reintegrate beneficiaries into society.


Unfortunately for children with severe mental and physical disabilities this is not always possible. As a result of this situation Damnok Toek opened a social farm business in 2017 in Kep, on the coast of Cambodia, which provides a safe environment for older youths and disabled adults. On the last day of our service trip we had the pleasure to participate in the official opening ceremony and ribbon-cutting at the beautiful new Kep centre. 

All things considered it was a demanding five-day trip with many unique moments and unforgettable experiences. We were deeply touched by the outstanding efforts and the extraordinary work being done by Damnok Toek and Mother’s Heart.

If you are interested in volunteering or would like more information then please contact us via e-mail, follow us on social media or attend one of our events.

Report by Melita Gerber, First Hand Volunteer.

Photos by Tanaz Byramjee, Gitte Faldmo, Melita Gerber