It was with much excitement the first 3 First Hand families set off for Phnom Penh on Labour Day, taking our huge bags of donations that had been collected in the run up to the trip. Wednesday afternoon saw us visiting the sisters at the Missionaries of Charity in central Phnom Penh. On the way we stopped at the rice market and supermarket to stock up on supplies – baby milk powder, nappies, floor cleaner, crackers. We then spent about an hour in the small room full of cots playing with the toddlers and babies that live there. We helped the younger ones with their dinner of chicken and rice (seconds were available for the hungry ones!) – all the children were in clean clothes with bottles of milk and ready for bed when we left.
Thursday was the Riverkids day. We went down to the centre in the slum area of Phnom Penh and worked with about 30 children aged around 5-8 years old. While Qamariah and Nori, the two artists who accompanied us on the trip, got to work on the wall mural, the children themselves did some painting and then some tie dying on plain white t-shirts. The results were very colourful and the children were pleased to take them home at lunchtime along with beaded necklaces we had made with them and of course their painted faces.
We visited the slum areas on the banks of the Mekong where many of the families live who are supported by RiverKids. The houses are really unstable, small and the area is frequently flooded during the rainy season. We were shocked to see the amount of floating debris under and around the wooden shacks and walkways where people live and the children play.
On Friday, more First Hand families arrived and we travelled in minibuses for an hour and a half outside of Phnom Penh to Neak Loeung, a centre run by Swiss charity, Goutte d’Eau. The centre is responsible for approximately 30 resident children plus over 150 local younger children who attend morning or afternoon classes, plus 40 teenagers who are offered vocational training (such as mechanical work, carpentry, hairdressing, sewing) . The morning children spent time with us saying hello, playing and sharing songs. After lunch, we organised various activities including: tie-dying with the residential children who came up with some excellent designs, a mini Olympic Games with the younger school children, ‘Poi making’ with the vocational children, and football, volleyball, face painting for all. Our wonderful artists painted two beautiful murals at the centre – a colourful rainbow in the residential area and a wild flower garden by the classrooms. Again, it was a privilege to be able to visit the centre at Neak Loeung to see evidence of where First Hand contributions are being used and to see what wonderful work Goutte D’Eau is doing to help change the lives of families in an area which is far out in the countryside, extremely poor, and very scarce on resources.
By Saturday, 7 First Hand families were in Phnom Penh and it was time to visit Goutte d’Eau’s special needs centre. Lots of the children at this centre have known the First Hand team for many years so we received a lovely warm welcome to their new premises. Many of the special needs children there are very artistic (this is where the artists who provided the paintings for our 2012 Art Exhibition live), so they were keen to join in with Qamariah painting the wall mural. Tie-dying and necklace making was also a great success. It was great to see the new art room with the childrens’ works in progress hanging on the walls.