As Educate a Girl Fades Out, Voice Steps in

It was a Saturday morning when Nick the tuk-tuk driver went to see Karen.

“My mother sent me to tell you that we don’t need sponsorship for the girls anymore.

Karen and Da when we all went to Kep for a weekend.
Karen and Da — Nick’s mother –when we all went to Kep for a weekend.
Pannie, Lina, Nita, Lin
Pannie, Lina, Nita, Lin

She sold some land and I am making money, so we can pay their school fees. Please thank your friends for their help. We might need it again when the girls go to university.”

It would have been so easy for Nick to just keep collecting the money to pay for his daughter’s education.

But he fronted up becuase his family  had the money and they are very proud and independent people.

Now this is a story of true development and responsibility.

One of my many criticisms of NGOs is that they create a dependency and take on the role of being “indispensable.” And, of course, there is also their constant money-chase for funding – to cover high salaries and expensive accommodation for their expat staff. Enough.

So just as Down in the Dumps quietly exited, it was time for Educate a Girl to do the same.

The history

A few years ago, Nick asked me to help sponsor his oldest daughter, Lina, to go to a better school.

Lina starts school.
Lina starts school.

I contacted my friend, Iris, as I am so good at spending her money for good causes.


Then Nita and Pannie – the second and third daughters — threw a hissy fit as they, too, wanted a better education.

My high school friend Dennis sponsored Pannie; Karen and Andrew paid Nita’s fees. When Lin – the youngest – started school I covered her expenses until I left the Kingdom. By then Karen had moved to Phnom Penh and she took over the project and patched Lin’s tuition together with contributions from various people.

Karen is now back in Australia and working in a rural – read remote and in the middle of nowhere – area. Consequently, the project we’d started of sending Noit and Lan – the two six-or-so-year old girls we know from the garbage dump – to school became problematic.

Noit started school last year and the first term for Lan was paid to begin in 2017.

Lan is ready to start.
Lan is ready to start. Photo credit: Hillary Laman
Noit in her uniform.
Noit in her uniform.

As an aside, when Karen went to the school to check about getting some new uniforms for Noit, the administration told her that somebody from her family had already paid $30 and had promised to return with the other 10.

Translated, that means that people from the dump are helping to pay for Noit’s education, which confirms they take it seriously. Karen figured it was likely her grandfather who went to the school.

Noit with her proud grandmother, Malay.
Noit with her proud grandmother, Malay.

Connecting with Voice

What to do? What to do? Karen was leaving for Australia, I was in Peru and we didn’t have an efficient way to get the money for the two girl’s school fees to the Kingdom.

This is where Voice — — came to the rescue.

Organized by Hillary Laman, Voice is a non-profit that works with street and disadvantaged children. Voice has taken Noit and Lan on as part of their programme and the girls will both have Khmer case workers to monitor their progress.

Reprinted from the Khmer Times, here is the piece Karen wrote about the organization.

Karen Owens, R.N. Friday, 26 August 2016

Having a VOICE in Phnom Penh

Throughout the world many families and children are homeless or displaced. This week I talked to Hillary Larman, a representative for VOICE in Cambodia. VOICE is a small organization in Phnom Penh supporting groups of people affected by homelessness.
What is VOICE?
VOICE works with people in crisis to help them access their basic human rights. Our method is to listen first. We use a participatory approach because we believe it is the people themselves that must lead the path to their own development and future.
We want to give a voice to marginalized and disempowered people. We work to address the immediate crisis while making a sustainable plan for the future, helping people gain independence.
VOICE envisages a world where individual voices are heard, people are no longer marginalized and disempowered, and human rights are respected and upheld.
How does VOICE support these people?
We work with about 300 families all in a specific community; we do some outreach when we have been introduced to some people, generally in a very specific community, because of forced evictions. Many of these people are in a state of crisis years after being evicted.
A state of crisis means a lot of different things to different people.
We have criteria and it might mean that they are in immediate danger or don’t have shelter, or they only eat once a day or have a case of thalassemia with no access to blood transfusions. Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder in which the body makes an abnormal form of hemoglobin.
When we identify people in crisis, we develop a long-term plan with them by addressing their immediate needs.
Where did these people end up when they were evicted?
Initially, many of these people were moved to another urban slum and others were just living amongst the rubble.
I see that you help children get into schools?
We have three types of programs:

  1. Helping People in Crisis (individual case management to help clients transition from crisis to independence). Our goal is to address the crisis that is putting their family in a more vulnerable situation and easing them into independence where they can support themselves.
  2. Helping Children Access School (daily lunch, transport to school, yearly school pack, individual case management/counseling, homework assistance, regular first aid). Essentially we are helping children stay in school. The children that qualify for the program get a school pack, with their school uniforms and supplies. We provide a tuk tuk to take them to and from school and they eat lunch at our center. They also get individual case management to ensure that they are doing well and coping at school and home.
  3. Helping Sick Children Access Healthcare (includes the thalassemia project and general medical emergencies). Reducing the impact of sickness on children, we try to find medical care for children. We also help children affected by illness, say if their mother is sick and they cannot go to school because they have to work.

Thank you Hillary for sharing with us the important work that VOICE is doing for families affected by homelessness and displacement.

How can you help?

Glad you asked that question.

Karen and I are committed to raising enough money for Voice to cover the school fees for Noit and Lan to attend a good private school. This means Khmer classes in the morning and English in the afternoon with lunch provided in-between.

It costs $1,600USD per year, or $800 each.

Lan was always one of my favorite dump kids. She considered being perched on my hip as being her rightful place.
Lan was always one of my favorite dump kids. She considered being perched on my hip as being her rightful place.

Okay, so that is where you come in.

Expect an email asking you to continue to contribute to a good cause – and educating a girl from the dump is about as exemplary as it gets.

Akun (thank-you in Khmer).