Chom Chao Stories – 1. Sothearith

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What is the day-to-day reality of the work of our field teams really like? What challenges do they face on a daily basis?

We all celebrate when one of our students graduates, or parents are assisted in building a better tomorrow for their children, however a great deal of sheer hard work and tenacity are needed by the members of our outreach and center teams across all our programs as they strive to not only save lives, but build futures also.

We sat down recently to speak with Siheang, who is the manager of the Kaliyan Mith Chom Chao program. Chom Chao is a community on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, where resettlement and poverty combine to contribute to deprivation and the associated issues around that for many, such as spiraling drug use and high youth unemployment. Our Cham Chao program works to engage marginalized youth and their families in initiatives that include access to education, vocational training and income generation opportunities for parents and caretakers. Siheang highlighted two current cases which are ongoing, and give some sense of the many challenges faced by the #everydayheroes in our teams as they work to provide opportunities for people to become active and empowered citizens of their community.

Siheang said –

‘I’ll talk about two recent cases – I’ll change the names as that is our policy, to protect our beneficiaries’ right to privacy. First is Sothearith – now she’s only 23, but already a widow and a drug addict with four children, the oldest is five and the youngest eight months… still a baby. Her mother, who lives with them, is 62. She (Sothearith) survives by scavenging, usually at night time as there are better pickings in the garbage then. They had been living in rented accommodation, but when our outreach worker Sokhen met up with them they had been kicked out as they didn’t have enough money to pay the rent. The children were very thin, and had no clothes. They had created a makeshift shelter in an unfinished building on land nearby, using plastic sheeting to cover it for some protection, with just a few pillows for them to sleep on – very bad, in fact dangerous conditions for the family.

The makeshift shelter that Sothearith and her family were living in.

The makeshift shelter that Sothearith and her family were living in.

Our first response was to provide emergency support due to these conditions. So, we rented a room for them and provided food support. Now we had to discuss with Sothearith to do something about her problems – drug addiction – she uses Ice (methamphetamine), and her personal situation, as she has multiple partners. We counseled her to think about participating in our detox and rehabilitation program at our Greenhouse Center in Phnom Penh, and then we could sit down and work on a family plan for her, support her to get the skills to get a better, safer job or to even start her own business. We also wanted to advise her on long term family planning, as there is a real chance that with her multiple partners she could become pregnant again. We wanted to support her to find solutions that worked for her – as a drug-addicted scavenger working the streets there is little or no hope that her or her families situation will improve, however if we simply continue to provide rent and food support she will just remain in this situation.

Food support can save lives, but sustainable futures need to be built.

Food support can save lives, but sustainable futures need to be built.

Currently, she is refusing to do this, but our teams will continue to meet with her every day and work at finding solutions that will work for this family, and allow Sothearith and her children to have a better, safer, future.’

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