Cham Chao – where inner city issues meet the outskirts of the city

In this post James, our Communications Coordinator, goes on a field visit to the Kaliyan Mith Cham Chao project on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, to find out how inner city problems are being relocated to the outer parts of the city, and what Friends is doing about it.

“It’s not that often I get the chance to pull myself away from my computer and desk here in Phnom Penh, so when the opportunity arose to visit part of our Kaliyan Mith drug program in the city, the Cham Chao project, I jumped at it. I was going there with one of our new Australian Youth Ambassador volunteers, Vesna, who was on her orientation week with Friends.

The dusty main road to Cham Chao

To say the Cham Chao project is ‘in the city’ is a little misleading. The area is outside the city main boundary, beyond the airport, and as the long tuk-tuk journey came to an end at times it felt quite rural, cows grazing by the roadside, people working in rice paddies, but always, just shimmering on the horizon were the outlines of the factory buildings, amongst some of the main employers in the area.

Kaliyan Mith Cham Chao Center

After getting briefly lost and nearly ending up in a paddy field (negotiating a huge construction truck which was right in the middle of our track) we arrived at the center to be greeted by social worker Chantrae and her team. There were quite a few children in the center when we were there. Chantrae explained that today was a school holiday, and that many of their parents were working (in the factories or construction work) so the children had come to the center (which is open 8am-8pm) until their parents returned.

Children visit the center

Chantrae explained to us that the team works with around 300 drug using youth in the area. The center is a resource for them, to rest, eat, take part in sessions and discussions on health and other issues and of course to meet the team members and try to move away from drug use to begin to build their futures.  Cham Chao is one of the relocation sites where people forced out of the city centre for development or to aid in the ‘beautifying’ of the city have been settled. Most recently families who had been evicted from their land at Boueng Kak Lake had ended up here. There were around 1500 families here, most of whom had multiple social and economic disadvantages. This looks like it will be the pattern for some time to come, the authorities simply moving the many problems faced by disadvantaged urban populations into suburban or outlying areas by moving the people there to make way for ‘development’… of course this also means that Friends programs Mith Samlanh and Kaliyan Mith will refocus, directing efforts and resources away from the city streets to the growing issues now facing the outer sprawl of Phnom Penh.

Getting the message across about drugs

We hopped onto motorbikes for a very hot and dusty ride to visit some of the surrounding villages where the outreach teams come to deliver services such as first aid, lifeskills and hygiene and non-formal education. Replace the chickens scratching in the dusty yards with scurrying rats, the cows grazing nearby with mangy dogs and feral cats, the murmur of insects and rustle of grass with the honks and motors of cars and bikes and the rudimentary huts with corrugated lean-to’s and the problems were the same… streets and villages, urban and suburban… poverty, disadvantage, poor health, drug use…  the children playing amid the rubbish strewn on the ground were all excited to see us, and particularly excited at the upcoming visit by the outreach team who would be delivering non-formal  education to them. They loved playing games, so it was a highlight of their day.

Outreach in Cham Chao – Vesna and Chantrae up ahead.

I asked about a young man lying comatose in a hammock nearby. He has a job, as a construction worker, but his wages go on drugs. However, the hope is there – he comes to the center, and our teams are working solidly in the area, building trust and relationships and establishing the models that have worked so well for our programs in the city, adapting them to fit these new locations. We saw one family with young children whose mother has now begun to learn production skills… the first steps out of poverty.

It’s always inspiring to see our work in action, and this was particularly so, to see how the context may change but the model is adaptable and does work in other scenarios. I came away from Cham Chao with much more than the severe suntan I got from forgetting to plaster my computer pallor with Factor 100 sun block.

I came away with renewed optimism about the Friends way of doing things.

‘Together, building futures’ really does work!

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