Varin children's project

Karuna Children's Centre - Varin

In early 2005 Karuna and its Khmer partner, two local NGOs PPC & VFI conducted a survey in one of the poorest districts of Cambodia. It identified special needs in one of the poorest communities, L’vea Kraeng in the district of Varin in the province of Siem Reap. It consists of 6 villages of approximately 2,300 males and 2,575 females.. There are 945 families living in the community. About 60% of the families suffer extreme poverty, which means the families are unable to provide themselves or children entrusted to them with sufficient shelter, nutrition, education, or health care.

Many of the children were orphaned (146), others were extremely vulnerable (1212). These children were cared for by struggling sole parents, grandparents or they simply scrounge from house to house. Some have been abandoned and are entrusted to other families to be cared for and some are cared for by the local monks at the Pagoda.

Most of the adults are farmers, however, their crops and harvest are unsatisfactory. UNICEF has rated this community and the surrounding 6 villages as the poorest and most needy in the country. The community’s suffering stems from its isolation, extreme weather conditions, poor crop production and lack of water.

During a community visit by PPC/Karuna in April 2005, nearly 70-80% of children said they did not have enough food to eat in the last half year. ADRA, the sole international NGO working there, mainly focused on improving the yield production. Noone is looking after the needs of the children.

There was no health centre in the village, the common childhood illnesses are malaria and dysentery the latter of which is directly caused by the consumption of dirty drinking water. Two water walls have been constructed, however they are quite a distance away (about 1 km) from the village. Therefore, the villagers generally pump water from the nearer river which is very polluted. Transportation between villages within the district is extremely difficult because of the poor road system and decrepit bridges.

Around 60% of the population is uneducated. 20% of the children attend primary school training if the school is open, however, the families generally have them working in the fields from a very young age. The orphaned and poor children from single parent families commonly cannot attend primary school because they either need to look after their siblings or work on the farm.

The few children who did attend school and who were fortunate enough to finish Grade 6, generally could not progress to high school. Although there was one secondary school in the village, no teacher was employed there. Many teachers are unwilling to work in that village since it is so far away from the town and the government only offers US $15 per month. According to a representative from the village, the villagers are so poor that they cannot afford to pay the teacher extra subsides. Therefore, the children are deprived of further education.

The Chief monk of Pagoda, village leaders, the commune chief and district leader all agreed to support the poor children through the Karuna/PPC initiative. The monks and leaders agreed to provide the land so that the Karuna shelter could be constructed within the Pagoda.

Karuna/PPC commenced a project called “The Karuna Children’s Centre” in July 2005 to build a combination residential and school shelter within the pagoda. A full plan and budget has been operational now for over 8 years with the objective of providing the basic essentials for up to 60 orphaned or desperately poor children (aged 5 - 21). CEDF, the local partner has worked as the local level to obtain the necessary permits and have hired a director, Sian Sokphen to manage the Centres. Two teachers, 4 carers and 3 assistants have also been hired. A well has been sunk, construction of classrooms and dormitory facilities has now been finalised including a library, washrooms, kitchen facilities and playing areas. A new community center has been completed allowing the children to eat and play under a new shaded area.

Many of the children were based permanently at the centre and no longer needed to forage for food or have nowhere to sleep or place to call their home. A dental program was established, a medical program monitored nutritional progress, specialist hospitalization has been carried out for the most needy and a vegetable garden is under construction.

The monks have now turned the centre into a refuge for vulnerable children and two of the former building have been turned into vocational training centres.