During the two years of Covid-19, Little Hearts tried as much as possible to support communities in our neighbourhood that were badly affected by the pandemic. Our Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) projects targeted various groups in need, such as inactive cyclo and tuk-tuk drivers in Phnom Penh, and especially clusters of families living in close proximity to Little Hearts who had lost their livelihoods due to pandemic-related lockdowns.
Among the beneficiaries of RAK were 28 extremely poor families who lived in a shantytown erected on a sandy construction depot in Khsach village. Early last week, Tony passed by this location and was surprised to see that the families had disappeared, leaving almost no trace behind, as the depot was now full of high mounds of construction material.
After a brief investigation, it was soon discovered that the families had been summarily evicted from their humble homes after the local government had granted permission to a construction firm to develop the depot. They had been allowed to move to a thin strip of land (about as wide as a large road) between the local pagoda and a mango plantation. There, they had hastily built little huts for themselves with a combination of bricks and corrugated metal sheets.
Alarmed by this situation, Little Hearts’ staff and residents decided to intervene immediately, so last Friday we hired a truck, loaded it with food (large bags of rice, boxes of instant noodles, canned fish, soy sauce, fish sauce, etc.) and headed to the new settlement to distribute the much-needed goods.
To mark the occasion, we invited both the commune leader and the village leader to a small ceremony celebrated by four monks from the adjacent pagoda. During the event, the new hamlet was given a symbolic name, Songkheum Thmey, which means “New Hope” in Khmer.
Tony and our site manager, Ruth, addressed the assembled families and explained that Little Hearts was committed to supporting them in various ways, including regular supplies of food, donations of clothing and bicycles so their kids can ride to school, free English classes as part of our community English learning programme, and help with job placement for the adult inhabitants of Songkheum Thmey.
However, Ruth stressed that breaking the cycle of poverty would require effort and strong commitment on their part as well. As a first step in the right direction, she encouraged them to keep their new little community clean and free of litter. Little Hearts provided two large rubbish bins and plenty of garbage bags to get them started, and a few days later we contracted a local waste management company to collect the rubbish from Songkheum Thmey twice a week. In the near future, we will also install a disposal cage or dumpster in the settlement to facilitate the collection and disposal of the rubbish.
(The provision of waste disposal services has been on Tony’s mind for years, ever since 2016 when he launched an environmental initiative to properly dispose of rubbish in the villages surrounding Little Hearts. The pilot phase of the project, known as Clean-up Archetype for Kids and Environment, or CAKE, was successful, but the venture had to be abandoned eventually due to a lack of support from the provincial government. But no good idea ever goes to waste, right? So stay tuned for a revival of CAKE in the next few months, this time with the support of hopefully at least two or three local corporate backers and a new provincial administration.)
Acting as motivational speakers, Ilay and Jack, two of our oldest kids, spoke to the villagers about their life stories, especially how they came to Little Hearts and what opportunities they enjoyed there, such as receiving a good education, becoming bilingual, and acquiring a supportive extended family. These benefits, they explained, came not only from the generosity of Little Hearts’ sponsors and the commitment of its staff; they were also the result of the kids’ own determination to succeed and to improve themselves continuously. This, hopefully, will inspire the families of Songkheum Thmey to work towards their own rehabilitation.
The support we plan to extend to the residents of Songkheum Thmey is not a one-off occurrence. Rather, it is part of Little Hearts’ multi-pronged effort to improve all the communities in its vicinity. For example, we continue to support several families in S’ang district with food donations and school essentials. As part of our regular follow-up schedule, Ruth visited these families in January together with Mr Sat Sithy, the director of Kandal’s child welfare agency.
“When I visit the S’ang families,” says Ruth, “I am reminded of all the good things in my life. Sometimes we complain about small problems in our daily life – when we don’t get what we want or aren’t happy with what we have. But there are so many people out there who wish they had what we have and dream of enjoying the life we’re living.”
One of the families Ruth visited has a daughter called Sophea, who is now in Grade 12. Sophea has excellent grades in school, so her family asked Ruth if Little Hearts would consider paying her university tuition next year and any extra expenses associated with attending tertiary education in Phnom Penh. Ruth’s answer was a resounding yes. Sophea is an example of a child who works hard to educate herself despite her difficult circumstances and succeeds through sheer perseverance and optimism.
If you or your company would like to be involved in any of our community outreach projects, including the rehabilitation of Songkheum Thmey’s residents and/or the ongoing support to the S’ang families, please get in touch with Tony or Ruth. These families need a little of everything – from food and clothing to healthcare and educational support, from counselling about substance abuse to sanitation infrastructure – so if you or your employer are able to provide any goods or services that may help them escape poverty, please don’t hesitate to offer your assistance.