This is what was happening today out with the Book TukTuk. Great to see children, many of whom have never touched a book before, getting involved.
See her photos at Exchange Christchurch 18-30 Sept
Immerse yourself in the experiences of life as a child in the slums of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, through the loving eyes of Esther So. Esther is an emerging photographer who has come full circle herself and now works as a leader at Flame. This exhibition is a celebration of Esther's talents, the work of her charity Flame and of Cambodian culture.
Full Circle is curated by Vera Hegedus-Gaspar
Your are welcome to come and enjoy this exhibition within the Exchange opening hours for free.
We will run three events during this time;
20th Games afternoon from 4pm (free)
25th Movie night from 8pm (free)
30th Meet | Share | Celebrate exhibition celebration ($25) to buy tickets click here
Flame is a charity with strong NZ ties and Cambodian roots. At their heart, they work in slums to help and educate children and inspire leaders. They intention is to grow an organisation that is run by Cambodians for Cambodians. They call the process of slum child becoming young leader - “The Full Circle” – kids emerge as confident leaders in their communities, inspiring others in education, service and leadership. The ultimate.
Deth is one of our youngest at the Flame Guy's Leadership Academy. He is 20, and last week graduated from high school!! This was a huge achievement, and we were all waiting with baited breath for his exam results!! The photo above is him jumping for joy :) He's a really fun guy!
He is now deciding exactly what he would like to do, what he would like to study ... and has a broad, broad horizon of hope stretching out in front of him!
We are looking for a sponsor to walk with Deth, please let us know if you'd like to partner with us on this exciting journey!
At Flame, it's not just what we do, but who does it
Let me introduce you to Sothy... (Soh-tee) the current leader at our guy's leadership academy. He is dreaming of running a second mobile medical Tuktuk, bringing free medical care into the slums of Phnom Penh.
Would you consider helping him?
When I was a child, my dad suffered from mental illness, he wanted to kill us kids. He took his own life when I was a just little guy and I was the one who found him hanging. My siblings left school to help support the family after he died, climbing palm trees to get the fruit used for juice, but then it was decided that I should go to school. So, at 6 yrs old I was left alone in our family home, while everyone else went to Phnom Penh to find work. I couldn't cook or look after myself but I took care of the neighbour's animals, and in return they helped me. I was really scared of ghosts, I would hide under the covers at night. I was so alone.
My mum got sick and life took another turn. I remember looking at her sad face and feeling sad too, knowing I couldn't help her. I remember thinking to myself that if I knew about medicine, I could help her and could help other poor people too.
We had to sell our family home to pay for my mother's medicines. The money only lasted 3 weeks and 2 months after it ran out, my mother died. I was 7, and my little brothers were 2 and 3 years old.
I went back to living alone, and still had no idea how to cook for myself. I begged the neighbours "I will do anything for you, if you just give me something to eat!!" I stayed with them for one year until at 8, I was taken away with someone to live with a family. I remember staring out the window of the car as we drove away, trying to memorise the road because I was sure that I was being sold and would need to know how to get home again.
It turned out to be a foster home situation and my sister and brothers joined me there and lived with the family for 7 years. We knew that we weren't really their kids, they loved their own children more than us.
Now I am living at the Flame Leadership Academy and have just finished my 6th year of medical school. I have 2 more years of interning at local hospitals here in Phnom Penh before I can continue with my 4 year specialisation in paediatrics, which is my dream. I want to provide free medical care in rural Cambodia to children so that kids like I was are able to get medicines and the care they need.
A second Tuktuk and motorbike have already been donated, but Flame still needs ongoing costs of US$100 per week before we set this expansion in motion. Would you be able to help us?
At Flame we believe that a tough childhood should not mean a tough future... that each kid we work with has the potential to become a leader in their community.
I shot a quick video today of the Flame Book Tuktuk... check it out, it's shirt but cute!
The Book Tuktuk is similar to Mobile Medical but instead of medicines, it brings BOOKS to kids who either aren't in school, or who are -but still need extra help. Read to a kid and a kid will read... great concept if the family are literate or if there are books at home, but with our families this isn't often the case.
One of our case workers, Poeurn had the idea of bringing books to the slums. He remembers when he was a kid, that there just weren't any books at home and now as a Flame case worker he visits our families, and saw he same thing. He asked if Flame could do something ... and with a huge thanks to St Paul's Collegiate, the Book Tuktuk was born,
Sokann is our book Tuktuk staff, otherwise known as the book Tuktuk star!! He drives the Tuktuk and teaches the kids. The original idea was more like a mobile library but Sokann quickly found that even kids up to grade 4, were simply unable to read. So, responding to the need, he has turned this into a little mobile school, reading to the kids and teaching them their letters. The kids who attend the Book Tuktuk are often responsible for their younger siblings, so Sokann arranges a clean tarpoline for the littlies and today's activity was colouring in.
If you like projects like this, please help us! We need regular monetary support to continue our work with these kids, to identify ones who should be in school and then help overcome the obstacles and break the poverty cycle. Check out our website and see what else we are doing!
Thai is a mentor at the Flame guy's Leadership Academy Home and spent some time talking with me last week. When he sees the young kids in our programs, he is reminded of himself as a grubby little boy. He believes that each of these kids, with the help of our supporters, can become adults like him who are able to be agents of positive change in their communities, to become leaders who know what's right and have the wisdom and strength to act.
The previous day a young man hurtled past Thai and Hounthy (our Sensok Activity Centre Leader) who were hanging out together. Hot on the man's heels was another guy, wielding a machete. The chase was on.
Without hesitation Hounthy took off after them -he wasn't going to sit back and watch a murder. This was no game, no rehearsal: someone was going to get seriously hurt.
The moment Hounthy ran off, Thai dropped everything and joined the chase, no way would he let Hounthy face the machete man alone.
Thai tackled the machete man from behind trapping his arms to his sides, and Hounthy grabbed the machete before any harm was done. Disaster was averted.
Were these Flame Leaders right to get involved? Hounthy's conscience would not allow him to be a passive bystander. Thai felt it was his responsibility to step in when the security guard simply watched.
How often do we know what's right but lack the courage to do what's right?
Flame promotes courage: to 'live boldly with the knowledge that God is with us.'
Honestly, it takes courage to invest in the lives of broken kids, not knowing what decisions they will make, where they will go, but we see the fruit of that investment in Thai and Hounthy today; street kids turned heroes.
You can invest in the lives of these kids too and become part of their story. It's easy to become a Flame partner, just click here
Thanks to all the wonderful volunteers and filmmakers who made this video.
Newborn babies and mother's milk, a beautifully designed combination, right?
This mum would be able to feed her baby, but her wee girl is the 6th child in the family and dad's in jail. Mum is alone, so although she has plenty of milk, she will go to work and leave bubs to one of the siblings to mind. This is a choice she will make to feed the family. She has asked if we could help by providing baby formula. Babies born into struggling families cannot get the "Best", but with some help, they can survive.
Huge thanks to our kind donors who make the work we do in the slums possible. We can't do this without you! If you'd like to help, please donate on the Flame website
Warning: I found this hard to write, you may find it hard to read.
A Flame child has been raped. The perpetrator has been arrested, but the crime committed against this girl will follow her for life. Can anyone communicate this kind of thing without loosing hope?
We have been waiting for some closure or news before letting our supporters know, letting the dust settle around the publicity too. Her picture was published in the papers and she was ostracized and bullied for telling. When someone is arrested in the community, there is a sense of betrayal, and a communal acknowledgement of lost income, and she's to blame. Her journey is a long hard one, that's for sure.
The perpetrator was arrested the day after her grandmother went to the police with the support of the assistant village leader and reported the crime, but we are unsure of where it's been left. Often times the perp will pay off the police and give a gift to the family, a kind of out-of-court settlement.
We are glad to say that the girl has been removed from the community and placed into protective care. When she returns to her family she will need ongoing counselling and support.
I know a young adult who has incredible trauma in her past, her childhood was a series of nightmares... but today, she is a confident leader in her community, she is bright, vivacious, and determined that her past will not limit her future. She is a student at university, and her dream is to help women to be safe when they travel as migrant labourers.
I think about the little girl and I am so deeply disturbed, but when I look at what she has the potential to become, I feel I can breathe again.
If you want to help kids like this to become strong nation changers, please donate.
Kids colouring at one of our centers
Flame recently adopted the Hope for Life Activity Centre in the heart of Steung Meanchay, which has been running for many years.
This is the kind of established slum where centres get broken into, things get stolen, and drug and alcohol related crimes are rampant. It's the underbelly of Phnom Penh where criminals run to when there's a police chase.
Sue's perspective of Steung Meanchey -
" It's not just slums and smells you can taste. The slum felt like another level down, more hardcore. We met a grandma today who is 50. I stood in her -not-even-house, with no door, just a corner of a walkway, my feet straddled the sewerage that was coming through from under the bed. I felt a heaviness of the deal she's been dealt in life, her son is a drug addict, her daughter in law has run away and her own husband recently died and she is left with her 10 yr old grandson.
I know that Flame can't take all that pain away, but we can do something to bring joy into her life. For this woman to see her grandson thrive, that he's in school and has such a different future from his own parents gives her hope. Her future is pretty much set, but she can see a brighter future for her grandson.
Strangely, I don't feel hopeless when I see the slum. It's really well established, renown for drug and alcohol related crime and is a hiding place for criminals. But I do feel sad that Flame wasn't here 20 years ago. If we were involved in this community they would now have some young adults who would be doctors, lawyers and teachers who would be shining lights in that place.
That would be incredibly inspirational to the people we met there today. Maybe that would be the impetus they need to do the hard work required to get them out of that lifestyle and culture and rut.
There's an African proverb that says the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is today. So even though Flame wasn't there 20 years ago, we are there today. And that's what matters.
One of our young leaders, a recent high school graduate has started University. She is bright, hardworking and has now begun volunteering at one of the Flame centres teaching English to the young slum-living kids. She is pretty and full of energy with a genuine, kind heart.
So far the story looks good, right?
About 6 weeks ago, she basically decided to take up an amazing job in Japan. The package included the airfare and visa, the monthly salary was said to be US$1500, which is a truckload of money for a 19 year old!
This kind of scheme draws in those who are struggling, the brokers deliberately target rural areas where there are known debts.
Our young leader's mother is supporting the family on her own, as well as looking after their grandmother. Out of desperate need, the mum took a loan from her employer. Now she works full time in a paid job but receives NONE of her salary. It goes directly to her employer to pay the exorbitant interest on the loan, 10% per month.
With this kind of financial pressure hanging over her family- directly affecting her, with cultural pressures at play, the Japan job is SO tempting. Our young leader is willing to give up her own education and dreams of being an English professor at a university, to make quick cash, with the HOPE that she will be safe and that the job will be real.
The reality is that all of the associated costs of the trip could become a huge debt held against her, so instead of repaying a debt she creates another one. There is NO guarantee of a good income or safe working conditions, and once she has left her networks, language and everything familiar behind, she would be voiceless and completely at the mercy of a stranger.
This is THE standard human trafficking lure.
Poverty is a complex problem and we have learned that there are no easy solutions. We have shared previously that primary education immunises the community against traffickers, and because this young woman is in Flame, she had a safe place to come with her fears and questions about the job opportunity in Japan. This is a timely reminder of the need to practically equip and arm our young people against those who would exploit and take advantage of them.
What other ways can we help this family?
Why does this job offer worry us? Just last week seven Cambodian women were rescued from a restaurant in Japan where they were allegedly forced into sex work.
The women, who are in their 20s, were lured to work at the restaurant in central Honshu in November with promises of high wages by a Japanese owner who arranged visas and airfares for them. Here's the link to the article
Japan has long been a destination for women from Southeast Asia seeking higher wages. Some find themselves forced into sex work or indentured labor.
Last August the Philippines warned its citizens against illegally traveling to Japan in search of work, saying they often risked being trafficked for sex or forced labor.
Washington’s annual report on human trafficking says Japan remains a “destination, source and transit” country for human trafficking despite a recent increase in prosecutions.
Let's keep the ambulance running at the bottom of the cliff... but work hard to build fences at the top.