A situation that people would not voluntarily place themselves in.
Children and young people who live in areas remote from the town often don’t engage with education even if transport were to be provided for them. That is where the outreach education team comes into its own. Mobile in a camper van the M’Lop Tapang education team can access the jungle areas set away from the town where children living in the remote village communities can access an education without needing to get to the main centre.
A similar system exists for those children and young people who are living in urban areas and either can’t or won’t engage with the schools that are provided in the town. These children and young people are often living in desperately poor conditions and by the very nature of their living conditions are at risk of all sorts of harm – from poor education to poor health and from malnutrition to sexual and other violence against them.
The outreach school provides an education for these children; an education that is so important to the future development of the society in which they live and will live. As the late Nelson Mandela said, “education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world“.
The children living in these and other communities around Sihanoukville are at high risk of turning to drug abuse or alcohol abuse – often as a means of survival or as part of an exploitative situation.
If you were a young child that had become addicted to drugs, or who had been given or taken drugs and were in a situation where you did not know what to do, what would you do? A difficult question to answer I suspect as the reality-changing substances that some children and young people are addicted to here distort logical thinking so even if you believe now that you know what you would do, the tables might be turned in a very different situation.
If you had run away from an abusive situation, or you were homeless or you were without a family and you needed help, what would you do?
If you were unnecessarily ashamed about the sexual and other violence that had happened to you and you had nobody to talk to, what would you do?
If you were a child and found yourself alone on the streets or beaches at night and had no one to turn to, what would you do?
Where would you go if you had nowhere else to go?
Very soon, children and young people around Sihanoukville will have even more safe places that they can go to for help, rest, hygiene and care. The system of night-shelters where children and young people can just turn up to and receive a friendly smile, a caring and empathetic welcome and the care and attention that they need, will soon be expanded thanks to donations given to M’Lop Tapang.
The last time I was here in May 2015 the foundations had just been laid out for the new night shelter, and it is great to see the walls and building now appearing, directly opposite a new building that is to become the arts and entertainment education centre. This new shelter will not only provide a safe haven for children and young people in times of desperate need, but the staff will be able to identify who might need significantly more support and who might benefit from many of the other free services that M’Lop Tapang offers in its main and other centres. When I come again next May I’m hoping the centres will be open and operational, which should be possible provided the building works get completed before the wet season starts again.
Of course it is not just girls that are at risk of abuse and exploitation so the night shelters will have different floors for boys and girls. Sadly the abuse of boys is something that not everyone believes in or understands and the work that has been done here in Cambodia shows that the abuse of boys is far higher than has often been recognised in the past.
After a long day in the clinic today helping the team to write the first ever M’Lop Tapang local guide to the recognition and management of common childhood conditions in South West Cambodia, I had a lovely vegetarian dinner with an experienced researcher, Jarrett Davis, and the co-ordinator and founder of M’Lop Tapang, Maggie Eno MBE. We’ve been able to plan the next phase of a piece of work looking at the specific vulnerabilities of children and young people on the beaches of South West Cambodia and we’ll be meeting early tomorrow morning for a research seminar with some of the key staff at M’Lop Tapang.
Tomorrow afternoon I’ll be kicking off my flip-flops and putting on my hiking shoes to go out with the outreach team to a rural farming community to provide health care and advice to the children and young people, and families, who are living there and who may not have yet accessed the services in Sihanoukville itself, rather like those in this photo that we are calling “Girl Power”.
In Cambodia it is often the women who play the kay role in raising their children and taking care of their family. These women live in a remote and rural location, far away from clinics and schools, so they have an even greater responsibility to ensure their families are safe and well.
In a country where poverty, ill health and domestic violence are prevalent, it is vital that women and children are empowered with knowledge and confidence to ensure their families grow up feeling healthy, safe and happy.