Life and Hope Association

muertemaria's picture

Wanted to write a little post about the Life and Hope Association the in-country organization that I worked with in Cambodia.

The Life and Hope Association's goal is to improve the lives of orphans, vulnerable children and disadvantaged peoples in the Siem Reap area of Cambodia. It is based in the Pagoda called Wat Damnak. The LHA was started by the monks at the pagoda, they have added more staff and taken on many more challenges in the past couple of years. Here are some of the projects that they are working on in Siem Reap.

Siem ReapFood for Education - This program gives 140 families in the outlying areas of Siem Reap 1 50lb bag of rice a month and in exchange their children must go to school. We traveled to the village that the rice goes to and it is like nothing you have ever seen. The houses which I use the term loosely, house 10 plus people in each of these houses and since this was the dry season they are above water, but during the rainy season a lot of these houses are not high enough and they become partially submerged in the water and so they families have to move in with others so the houses become even more crowded. There is no running water or sanitation here but lots of stray dogs. The only chance anyone has to get out of here and break the cycle is to go to school so hopefully one or two will get out of here.

Children's Development Villiage - CDV - This is the orphanage that they run with the donations from many many generous germans. There are 45+ kids who have been abandoned or their families have died and now live in this village. They have houses which 8-10 in a house with a house mother and the germans send over a few volunteers who stay for a few months to teach english to the children. The kids go to school and also learn traditional Khmer dance. The kids seem happy but love when we show up and they get some more individual attention.

Build a Jr. High School - Down the road from CDV in conjunction again with the german government and many generous germans they are building a Jr. High School that will serve this outlying community which does not have anything above primary school anywhere in the area. So anyone who lives in these area's have only the chance at a 6th grade education until now when they have finally built a jr. high school so now they have the chance to get at least to 9th grade which is such a huge difference in the chances of these people's lives.

Poorest Family Project - In the past when LHA has the money they are able to build houses and/or water pumps for the poorest families. We went to visit one of the families. They had 10 children under the age of 10 the youngest was 2 months old. Granted they were all adorable, someone said, oh this will be the last kid right? but how could it be? I think the mother was under 30 and there is no birth control here so I am pretty sure within the year that woman is getting preggers again. It was sad and disturbing and I don't see a way out for them.

VandyPACE House - This is a house that is sort of a mini-orphanage where there are 13 boys and girls who live in the house, go to school, have a house mother and if they graduate from high school they will get a full scholarship to a university in Phnom Phen. The kids here have had some sad pasts, a lot were street children or their families had sold them into the sex slave trade here in Cambodia. This is Vandy one of the boys at PACE. He is 11 years old but looks about 6. He was found collecting plastic bottles and trash and eating out of trash cans around Angkor Wat park. He is so malnourished from his years doing that he is way below average for his height and weight. Besides his set backs, he is just f-ing adorable. The picture here is when we ended up playing hangman for hours and Vandy took it over. He just loved playing. When we played soccer, he was just like a six year old sitting in the middle of the field until we told him to get up to fetch the ball. The PACE house kids were very smart and I think that they will be able to overcome a lot of their problems and make it all the way to college.

English School At Wat DamnakFree English School - At Wat Damnak at night there is a daily free english night school for the community to come and learn english. It is taught by volunteers and some monks from the Wat. I had the amazing opportunity to teach here for one week. I wish I could have for longer. Everyone in the class was between 14 and 22 and almost all were still in high school or had come from outlying areas to try and find work and if you know english you have a much easier time getting a job here. Also I had a few novice monks in the class who have also come from the country side. Those english classes were great.

Sewing school - They have a sewing school where they take girls from very poor families from the countryside and teach them english and sewing they get room and board and when they complete the class they get their own sewing machine. Some stay on after the class because they have contracts with the different hotels in the area to sew the uniforms for the staff.

Some of the issues I saw with LHA was that they doing so many things, they are only able to do everything somewhat well and not be able to do anything really well. For a while the food for education program did not have enough money so they had to give the families rice every other month, and for the past year they have not had enough money to build anymore houses for poor families. Also they tend to focus on some little weird things. Someone asked what at the PACE house would they change to make it better and what they thought was the biggest issue was that in front of the house (which they rent) is a billboard for the Cambodian's People's Party (CCP) which are all over the place, the CCP pays landowners a bunch of money to put up these signs. All the political parties have them. The landlord gets the money for having this sign outside so I can see why its there, the LHA is a non-political organization so they don't like it, but I find this a small obstacle and way less of one then say getting the house running water that is not from a pump and running sweage lines which it also doesn't have. Or a refrigerator would be nice. The english school is using these really old english books that are really kind of difficult and move very quickly from easy to advanced in 3 lessons.

Overall - I wouldn't know what not to do, they all need help, everyone needs help there so I couldn't and wouldn't want to stop any program. I just wish there was a way for them to do a more focused job on each. I guess that requires more money, time and volunteers.