Let me tell you about an eleven year old boy, we’ll call him Samnang to protect his identity, who was living happily with his Mother and Step-father. His biological father had left years ago and was living as a Monk in a temple. Samnang’s Father wanted his son to come and live with him in the Pagoda so that he could get an education and become a Monk in the future. Samnang’s Mother finally agreed and Samnang moved away to live with his Father.
Sadly, his life quickly became a nightmare. His father was violent and abusive. He fought with Samnang – hitting and kicking him so hard that young Samnang had injuries all over his body.
Samnang decided run away from the Pagoda and from his Father. With just a couple of US dollars in his pocket he took a truck to Sihanoukville. He did not know what he was going to do once he got there. He just knew he had to get away. When he arrived he walked around alone. Tired, he stopped and sat down to watch a group playing volleyball in an open field. He sat there watching the people play volleyball until the sky became dark and all the players had gone home. He started to cry because he didn’t know where to go and was afraid and alone.
A woman walking by saw young Samnang sitting alone and crying and stopped to ask him what was wrong. After listening to Samnang and learning about his story, she called the ChildSafe 24-Hour Confidential Hotline for help. Samnang didn’t know how to contact his mother and couldn’t remember her phone number but the hotline staff from M’Lop Tapang found him a safe place to stay in Sihanoukville.
Meanwhile, Samnang’s mother had learned he had run away and was trying to find him. She had been to the local police department and filled out all the necessary documents there. A few days later she came to M’Lop Tapang to ask for help and provided their Child Protection team with photos of her son, his background and her phone number to contact. That same afternoon one of the staff recognized the boy in the photo as the same boy who had been found crying alone in the volleyball field.
Late that afternoon, Samnang and his Mother we reunited. When they met each other again they were so excited and they both cried because his Mother thought that Samang was dead and she thought that she would never see him again. M’Lop Tapang’s Child Protection team and local authorities continue to work on the case.
This is just one story, but I could have told you 4499 other stories about the children that M’Lop Tapang have helped over the past year. Or the 1500 families who have received support. Or the 20400 care episodes that have been delivered by the M’Lop Tapang medical team.
Of course, I have a conflict of interest to disclaim – I’m one of the members of the Board of Directors of M’Lop Tapang and will be working closely with them over the next three years to help develop, support and evaluate their health and social care activities here in Sihanoukville, where I’m spending this week. Statutory services are virtually invisible here and it is through the work of non-governmental organisations, such as M’Lop Tapang (which means under the protection of the umbrella tree) that these 4500 children who live on the beaches, streets and slums of Sihanoukville are protected and helped to survive.
The wet season is about to start so the M’Lop Tapang staff are frantically visiting every area in Sihanoukville, its beaches, its streets, its jungles and its slums, to find children and families who are in need of support as the rains are just about to arrive.
House repairs are a priority at the moment – in the last twenty four hours we’ve moved from 37 degree bright sunshine, with not a cloud in the sky, to a huge electrical storm that blew out all of the electricity and threw down rain on us out of buckets in the sky.
On Monday I’ll be spending the day in the health clinic and then on Tuesday I’ll be heading off with the outreach team to hold a clinic in one of the make-shift villages near the jungle – where the families can’t afford the tuk-tuk ride to bring their children for health care to the main health centre in the town.
I’ve just finished dinner and have been watching the sunset over the ocean thinking about what I would write before bed tonight. For some, this is an idyllic beach with some of the most amazing sunsets I’ve ever seen. For others, it is their home.