Phon’s story – from drugs and rubbish tips, to a real future…

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Last week we heard from Phanith, social worker at the Green House detoxification and rehabilitation center for drug using youth, in Phnom Penh. He told us about a typical day at the center, where drug using youth have the opportunity to clean up and consider their future plans supported by the professionals working there.

Today we turn the focus onto just one of the many young people who have passed through the doors of the center, 25-year old Phon (not his real name)…

Phon remembers his childhood as one of poverty and disruption. Born in a conflict zone where the Khmer Rouge were still very much in evidence, his father was shot when he was just eight years old. In the early nineties his mother moved her family to Phnom Penh, where she eked out a living selling second hand clothes. Phon spent his youth working as a scavenger and, like many around him, he eventually tried drugs to numb himself to the difficult work. First just sniffing glue, by the time he was eighteen Phon was using yama, an amphetamine type stimulant. The prevalence of yama use amongst street children is of great concern, as for many the next step is the highly-addictive crystal meth or even intravenous drugs such as heroin.

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Mith Samlanh’s outreach team met Phon on the streets and offered him help. At first he was scared of them, but the second time they visited he stayed to listen and agreed to try their program. His first step was to attend the local drop-in center for counseling; he had to visit every day to show his commitment, then after a week he was ready to enter Green House, the formal treatment center. Phon said that the first week of the detoxification process was very difficult, so he was glad that he had a lot of support and many activities to keep him occupied. During the social rehabilitation stage, he spent a lot of time learning from staff about options for his future. When Phon left Green House, he immediately began studying at Mith Samlanh’s Vocational Training Center.

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Now 25, Phon is a successful graduate with a well-paid job. A casual observer today would see a well-dressed, healthy young man in a smart shirt – a far cry from the drug-addicted teenager who would scavenge in rubbish dumps. Phon admits that his drug use had started a long downward spiral and, looking back, he is grateful that he was offered the chance to break this before it was too late.

Now, thanks to his determination and the support of the Green House team and Mith Samlanh his life is positive and he is confident about his future prospects.

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