Dispatch From Cambodia: New Beginnings for Street Youth

This is a blog post from Caroline Riss, MLSA Staff Attorney, who is in Cambodia on exchange to assist with a legal organization.According to the Consortium for Street Children, in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, “there are an estimated 616,023 working children aged between 5 and 17 years and 2,000 street children. A further 15,000 children, while not homeless, spend more than six hours a day scavenging and begging.”Today, I had the opportunity to visit a training restaurant run by former street youth and their teachers. The restaurant was initiated by Mith Samlanh organization. The goal of the restaurant is to build self esteem and self respect for former street children, as well as professional skills for future employment. Mith Samlanh has been operating since 1994 and now employs over 217 staff members to work with street children in Cambodia such as social workers, teachers, trainers, doctors, house parents, cooks, cleaners and an administrative team. It was amazing to observe this successful NGO in action. We will be visiting the Mith Samlanh shelter this week to learn more about their shelter operations. The following is information about the shelter:Students at Mith Samlanh range in ages from babies up to 24. Mith Samlanh is one of the few organisations that provides support to the 18 to 24 year age group. These children and youth come to Mith Samlanh for a variety of reasons, and Mith Samlanh does everything to try to reintegrate these young people back into society, into school, employment or back into their families.Mith Samlanh outreach staff work on the streets to identify children and youth who could benefit from the services provided, but children are never forced to come to the center, or to stay there. It is entirely the decision of the children and young people to participate in activites, go to school or learn a trade at our center. It is this open door policy that is one of the reasons Mith Samlanh has a high success rate, of graduating students, children returning to families or coming clean from drugs.There are 4 transitional homes, three for boys and one for girls and younger children. Each home can accommodate 60 to 80 children, cared for by house parents and social workers and supported by medical staff. Each transitional house has a cook who prepares fresh meals for the children every day. Special food is prepared for children with special needs (HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, etc.)On arrival all children are provided with basic supplies (shampoo, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste) and dormitory equipment (beds, mats, blankets, pillows, mosquito nets and lockers). The children are divided into different groups and are responsible for chores, homework, taking care of younger children, and organizing activities in and outside the house. The children can participate in various activities and outings organized for them by the Mith Samlanh team.Group meetings are held every week with the children in each house so that children can raise any concerns in the house. The team addresses these issues immediately. The weekly food menu is chosen by the children during these meetings.