18 Years with Friends – Oum Mean.

As Friends turns 18 years old today, we join our longest serving staff members who share their memories of joining and working with us over the years… living examples of the truth behind our tagline, ‘Together, Building Futures’, we thank them for their hard work and commitment over the years. Of course thanks also to you, our amazing Friends supporters, who enable us to keep our projects running through your support and donations, and through spreading the word on our work – here’s to the next 18 years!

Oum Mean has been working with Friends-International since August 1994. Oum Mean currently works as a chef at our Transitional Homes. This is her account of those early days…

In 1982 I owned a street vegetable cart and began selling and carrying vegetables from the Russian Market to the Russian Hospital. After some time I began to sell noodles as it allowed me to earn more money than selling vegetables. One day I had been visiting my friend’s house in the SvaySeaSaoPon district and had, by chance, been selected as chef for the UN who were here to observe the first national elections in 1993. After the elections, the UN observers did not stay long and I headed back to Phnom Penh to return to my life as a noodle seller. My son in-law, a Motodup driver, knew of a man by the name of Mr. Allan, a friend of Sebastien (Sebastien Marot, Founder and Executive Director of Friends-International). One day Mr. Allan came to visit my house and I spoke to him about my difficulty in finding another job, something other than a street seller. Mr. Allan said he had one friend running a project helping street children and he was looking for a chef. That was an exciting opportunity for me. Soon after, Mr.Allan and Sebastien came to visit me in my home to see my living conditions before providing me with work. From that moment I was selected to work with Mith Samlanh as a chef.

Oum Mean

Oum Meas, the cook of the ‘Little Friends’. Photograph taken in the very early days of Friends-International.

On my first day working with Mith Samlanh I felt surprised because it seemed a very poor project, not like the UN project I had worked with previously but I still admired Mr.Sebastien as he was a young man but had a willingness to help street children even though he had so little funding. He still continues to make the project run. As I remember my first day, Mr. Sebastien gave me five dollars for making food to support the twenty street children in the program. We didn’t have enough kitchen tools but we made do and improvised with what we had at the time. The total staff of Mith Samlanh at that time was five people; two teachers, one translator, one chef and one cleaner. We were a very poor project at that time and didn’t even spend on transportation costs, we walked everywhere. From day to day the number of children increased but we didn’t have enough money to support them. I decided to sell my earrings to buy the children food. Sometimes in these early days of Mith Samlanh I worked for free as Mr. Sebastien had no money. I was very happy to continue working with Mr.Sebastien to create better family conditions and help the street children who continued to arrive at the center.

Since that time Mith Samlanh has changed a lot. It is very successful in its work and has expanded to become a large project in not only Cambodia, but the region. This is a good result for Mith Samlanh and it makes me value our hard work over the years.

Oum Mean

Sebastien presenting Oum Mean with her 15 year service certificate.

My time with Mith Samlanh is filled very good memories which I will never forget. I want to tell everyone, especially those who have never known of Mith Samlanh that it’s a very good project helping street children and I can say there is no other NGO that can do as we do. I have now been working with the Transitional Home One (TH1) since 1994 and am certain this project is helping build futures for marginalized street children. Those who leave us always return to visit and talk of their improved situation. Sometimes they return with their children and tell them ‘this is your second grandmother’.

It really touches my heart.

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