First Hand update on help provided to desperate family

Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Soriya and Sovanny are a mother and daughter living within one of the communities close to the Riverkids project in Phnom Penh. Soriya has worked as a sex worker on the streets for a long time, she is in her late thirties and her daughter is turning 14.

Soriya is HIV+ and has 3 children, son aged 20, daughter 13 and son 5. Only the middle daughter Sovanny is living with her the others are with the father.

We met her whilst visiting the slum communities, when she came into the Riverkids Alexandra centre with her daughter. She had been pushed off a motorbike in the night by a client who didn’t want to pay his bill. She had really nasty wounds over her knees and legs and looked incredibly frail.

At the time there was not much we could do for her so we left her in the care of the housemothers at Riverkids, but invited her to come for lunch with us when we took the children out after the morning tour. Our guide Soklee suggested that we could interview her after lunch so that we could pay her for the interview and therefore give her some money. So we continued our visit and then met up with the Riverkids, Housemothers and Soriya and Sovanny and took them all for lunch and ice cream.

After lunch we talked to her and found out her desperate story. Soriya had been locked out of her house for not paying her rent. (Later we found out that she had actually been locked out for 3 nights already) She needs just $1.25 US a day to survive, to pay for rent ($0.75 c US) and have electricity and water, she was earning 7000 – 10000 riel per client ($1.75 – $2.50 US) as long as they paid her! But was desperate for money especially because this last client had not paid.

Her daughter, Sovanny had been attending the Riverkids six month Get ready program for teenage girls, but had stopped going a few months previously to look after her mother when she had got sick. We explored if there was any way to help her get a job but the guide explained that no one would employ her because of the HIV. We also tried to talk to Soriya about Sovanny returning to school.

She seemed to be in such a lot of pain that we decided to take her to the hospital to get her checked out. It was a terrible place and the staff really didn’t do much for her at all apart from giving her a tetanus jab.

The First Hand team gave her some money so that she could pay the rent and buy food while resting for a few weeks.

We took her home after and watched their joy as they had their home unlocked (by an child of around 8yrs old) whilst her neighbours described how horrible the guy on the bike had looked and how she was lucky to still be alive!

It was an incredibly eye opening experience that will always stay with the 5 of us.

The main concern for the First Hand Team was the impact for her daughter. As a rule we do not tend to support isolated cases like this and try to provide support which will benefit all of the children within each centre in Phnom Penh. But we felt personally involved with this case and wanted to reach out and help the family. We were very concerned that Sovanny was at a particularly vulnerable age and really wanted to see her back in school.

First Hand discussed with Riverkids Management how we could help change their situation. First we wanted Sovanny to return to school and on that condition we have supported Soriya through a period of rehab while she recovered and then had a month of training arranged by Riverkids so that she can work as one of their Baby Room housemothers. This provides safe daycare for working mothers and abandoned babies.

First Hand have sponsored Soriya for 3 months:
We have provided her rent, and food box each month and also provided her probation salary.

We couldn’t have managed to do this without the help of Riverkids project and they are confident that in January 2011, Soriya will begin to pay her rent herself, and then the amount of support she needs can be reduced.

We hope that we have been able to help transform the lives of this family into one that is safe, healthy and with a future full of hope.

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