Phnom Penh is our next destiny on our way from Ho Chi Minh City, which means that we dive into the realities of Cambodia, a country heavily damaged by the Vietnam-USA war and later almost totally screwed up and devastated by Pol Pot. I will dwell on the historical aspects of Cambodia tomorrow. Today we look into the eyes of Cambodia’s present and future energy – the children and young people.
These two boys are demonstrating through their body language a couple of very different messages 🙂 but seems to be best friends after all. This is a school in the middle of one of the slum areas of Phnom Penh, the place where the many young people from the countryside settle in on their way into a better future in the big city. It reminded me so much about the famous YMCA founding story. Here would have been enough images of struggling young people for any George Williams to start another YMCA.
This is a YMCA without a big budget, but with an admirable dedication to what they are doing, and they seem to get a lot out of the money they are able to generate. Again and again around the world I see these YMCA schools in slum areas open up doors to a better future for all these children. It is amazing and moving. And how do they find the money to do this good work?
Before I answer that question, let me present this big brother. He is an orphan and his little “sister” is another orphan, and they both live together with their big sister at an elderly lady’s house in the slum. They are working and they are surviving and when the little girl hides in shy fear of us,
her “brother” takes her in his arms and she feels safe and happy again. And where does the money come from to pay for helping these kids? Two words give the answer in Cambodia: Alternative Tourism. (And a key person behind this wonderful vision is Jose Varghese on my staff team from his time as staff at APAY!) Cambodia YMCA receives groups of students and young YMCA members from Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, USA, Taiwan etc. They come to Cambodia to offer solidarity work for schools and community centres, they rehabilitate buildings and clean up neighbourhoods and then they go for tourist experiences in this beautiful country. The YMCA is making from $ 30 000 to$ 50 000 per year, money which goes straight into solid social outreach work. The same idea as in Vietnam. You see what kind of message you need to spread in your network?
Bunthok Deth, the NGS in Cambodia YMCA together with another friend the YMCA is supporting in the slum.
He is a painter, and I bought this painting from him. It is not finished yet, so Bunthok will bring it to Hong Kong next month when we meet there for an APAY meeting.
And this lady lost her son to war on the boarder to Thailand in the 1990s and she has no news about him. The YMCA is getting into the son’s place.
And these are houses that the YMCA help them to build.
We go the the National Office of the YMCA, and there is another school for small children, at any floor a new classroom full of Cambodia’s future hopes and some parents’ jewels!
And below you see some of Bunthok’s jewels, the young staff at the office.
On our way to meet with the National Board, we enjoy the colourful traffic of Phnom Penh, not unlike the turmoil of Ho Chi Minh City!
And here, on the roof terrace of the River View Tower the National Board invites us for an official dinner, which turns into a warm and friendly fellowship experience around the table and where the President asks me if we can call one another brothers – and we are.
We talk about visions and challenges, hopes and dreams and how important it is that the global and area levels of YMCA are close to the National and Local levels. The family feeling of YMCA is never so warm and close as at these occasions.
The Vice President to my right is working as assistant to the Minister for Information in the Cambodian Government, and the President to my left is the responsible for finances at World Vision. There are two Reverends and people from the University. A very resourceful board. And present was also Ron from Long Beach YMCA in California, an associate of Bob Cabeza, the father of the Youth Institutes and Change Agent Productions – one of my absolute favourite colleagues in the world wide YMCA. They are soon to start a Youth Institute here in Cambodia – exciting.
The night is dark over Phnom Penh. In 1979 when Pol Pot was driven out of the city and the country, there was no light anywhere, and the city lay as a dead ruin. But more about that tomorrow.