Thursday, August 7, 2008
One Way to Help
I have recently become involved with a project a very energetic Dutch gentleman started a few years back. Let me recount Philip’s story.
Some 20 years ago, Philip was a divorced and somewhat lonely man in Amsterdam, Holland. One day a Belgian friend of his told him he met a Cambodian refugee who needs some help as she was told to leave the refugee housing project. The Belgian government supported refugees only a limited time there, then they had to leave and make a life for themselves. The Cambodian woman by the name of Bopha and her little daughter had been there for a few months and did not really know what to do next. Fortunately, one of the people working there knew Philip.
Philip was sympathetic to their plight and had them stay with him. She could be his housekeeper. 9 months later they were married.
Why was she a refugee? The year was 1988. Bopha was the paymaster for a police regiment in Cambodia. Once the money had arrived from Phnom Penh her commander would ask her to his house to hand over the money so he could give it to his regiment. All payments at that time and most today are still made in cash. She refused knowing what would happen. The commander would just short-change the policemen under his command and keep a good portion for himself and his lieutenants. After she had refused this several times she found out that the commander had summoned his lieutenants to a secret meeting and the rumor was that they had put out a contract on her.
As it happened, Phnom Penh was looking for someone to accompany an Apsara dance group to Europe. It was customary to have a stalwart police or military officer accompany such cultural delegations in order to prevent defections. Bopha volunteered for that job.
Once the group had arrived in Belgium, however, the watchdog defected herself asking for political asylum. This is how Bopha came to be in Belgium and then live in Holland as Philip’s wife. A very fulfilling life at that; her own daughter just passed medical school exams and will work as an intern at a Duch hospital, their second daughter will graduate high school next year.
Philip was very much intrigued by the history of Cambodia and started to travel to the country in 1994. What he encountered there made him immediately want to do something to help. He gathered a few friends, and after telling them about the situation in Cambodia he collected a sizable amount of money from them.
With that and his own money he built a small school in the province. He continued that for a number of years building around 10 village schools. To his consternation, however, he found his efforts rather futile when he saw that some of the schools just stood there empty, as there were no teachers for the village’s children. They had all gone to the bigger cities where they could make more money. Teachers only used to make $10-15 a month. It is not a whole lot more these days either, by the way.
So he decided to start something that would teach the children skills they could use to make a living as adults. Since there are so many orphans in Cambodia he came up with the idea for an orphan farm.
He collected some more money in Holland and on his next visit to Cambodia he bought 20 ha of land to the north-west of Phnom Penh. His wife, with whom he now had another daughter in addition to his step-daughter, still had some family in Cambodia. One of her nephews was a medical doctor. They asked him to run the orphanage for them. They believed they would collect enough donations to pay for all expenses of the orphanage.
In the meantime, Philip had retired but, never resting in his efforts for the orphanage, started driving a taxi in Amsterdam. With the permission of his boss, he installed a small donation box in his cab asking for small contributions for the orphanage. Over the years this enabled him to expand the farm bit by bit. The objective is to make it self-sufficient not only in feeding the orphans and the staff but also to pay for new installations, the salaries for the adults by selling their produce and livestock. They raise cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, and geese.
Sometimes, they get help from young volunteers that come to Cambodia for a few months and teach the children English and tradecrafts. For their regular schooling the children attend the local village school. I think this is a well-rounded project. When you meet the children you can see the happiness and gratitude in their faces and their eyes. There is nothing more gratifying than this experience and I can only admire Philip for his seemingly endless energy and unwavering conviction in pursuing this project.
The results you can see in the pictures I am posting here. They were all taken just a month ago. You can see what strides this man has made over the years. He is 73 years old now. He is just a regular guy, but he can look back on a life full of achievements and fulfillment only few of us can similarly accomplish. He still drives a taxi in Holland so he can come to Cambodia 3 – 4 times a year to oversee and actively work in the orphanage. The money he makes as a taxi driver goes towards the rather expensive airline tickets. He sleeps in a traditional Khmer wooden house on stilts without air conditioning. The only thing he brings with him on those trips is his Dutch cheese and milk, something he can’t do without as a true Dutch burgher.
Please also visit their website at http://www.wwcf.nl/index_uk.htm
If you want to help with donations you can find the relevant information on that website. Rest assured, this is no scam. The orphanage is a properly registered and recognized charity. Just recently one of the volunteers donated a solar panel to provide power for a refrigerator/freezer unit. Another recent donor paid for the purchase of propane gas stoves. They used to cook with charcoal, which produces harmful, health-threatening noxious fumes.
Ultimately, Philip wants the farm to be fully ecological (everything is organically grown). Additionally, with donations from a well-to-doctor in Holland and other donations he bought two more pieces of land in the provinces to start farms for the time when some of the children are ready to leave the orphanage. Altogether there are currently 45 children ranging in age from 5 to 17 at the farm. That number is set to increase to around 100 in the near future. So there is plenty to do. From a purely Dutch charity I would like to make this an international endeavor with your help. There are many orphanages in Cambodia run by foreigners, but few match the spirit and the result of the World Wide Children Farms.