Dear supporters and friends,
Major Changes at Kampuchea House Australia
Many of you will be aware of recent media stories on Cambodian orphanages. Some of this coverage has misleadingly suggested that there are problems with all orphanages operating in Cambodia.
While recognising the very real challenges involved in helping abandoned children in Cambodia, we at Kampuchea House know that such blanket generalizations are not true. Well-managed, well-respected organizations such as ours continue to help our children develop into well-balanced, confident young adults with greatly enhanced lives, educational outcomes and career opportunities.
However, the recent media stories do reflect an important policy development in Cambodia. This is the decision by the current Government, under the influence of some major international NGOs, to announce its intention to close down all orphanages in Cambodia over a three-year period and re-integrate all the children involved back into local communities.
No clear timetable has yet been set out for this process. Some closures have already taken place (with very mixed results in practice).
With our strong reputation and model performance record we do not believe Kampuchea House is at immediate risk from any government action. But we and other organizations are being affected by the announced policy shift.
The Cambodian government is yet to finalise new Memoranda of Understanding with organisations such as ours. It has also prohibited all charitable organizations from taking responsibility for new children.
This means that Kampuchea House cannot take any new children into our care. We have always followed correct procedures liaising with the Department of Social Affairs and other authorities about potential new children. To take a new child into care now without appropriate permission would not only break the law but could also put at risk our children and all we have worked for over the past decade.
This situation has created a major operational challenge for Kampuchea House.
We currently have 28 children in our care. The younger children (15 at present) reside with housemothers at our main facility in Dom Dek and attend local schools. The 13 older children live in our rented communal facility in Siem Reap where they undertake Years 10-12 of high school or vocational training.
A further three children are scheduled to move into Siem Reap in November to commence year 10, leaving just 12 children at Dom Dek in 2017 and even less in coming years.
With your ongoing support we aim to continue our mission to give all the children in our care the best possible education and life opportunities in a caring family style environment. Given our children’s ages their need for our help will continue for at least a decade.
But we must adapt to changes in the operating and policy environment we face.
There is no foreseeable prospect that Kampuchea House can take any new children into our care at Dom Dek. At the same time:
- Our children are progressively outgrowing the educational opportunities available in the village. Sadly the quality of teaching at the local school has declined significantly over the past year with teachers frequently being absent from classes.
- The increasing split of numbers between our two sites is affecting morale. The younger children at Dom Dek have less access to good role models and leaders among their older counterparts. It is also more difficult to hold collective gatherings of all the children.
After considering all these issues, the Committee has taken the difficult decision to relocate our entire operation into Siem Reap. We aim to time this move to coincide with the end of the current Cambodian school year (October/ November 2016). Specifically this decision will involve:
- Renting a house in Siem Reap with a large garden area that will provide room and a safe environment for children to relax and play in;
- Moving the remaining children from Dom Dek (and a number of our current local staff) into Siem Reap;
- Enrolling the children from Dom Dek in new primary / secondary schools in town to which they can be transported daily by either the KH tuk tuk or car; and
- Closing the Kampuchea House compound at Dom Dek and putting the site up for sale or lease.
This is a very difficult decision on many levels. It will add to Kampuchea House’s short-term operational costs although we believe these increases are manageable.
The closure of Dom Dek will be particularly hard given all the great work and contributions that many groups and individuals have made to set up this wonderful facility for our children. However, as the number of children at Dom Dek will progressively fall, closure is the only logical option. The Committee will work to maximise the possible return from any sale or lease of our investment and continue to recognise the valuable past contributions of our supporters at our ongoing facilities in Siem Reap.
There will also be ongoing benefits for our children from the planned move. Key among these will be:
- Access to higher quality education for the primary / secondary school students;
- Easier access to “extra classes” in English, computers etc. and to a broader pool of good volunteers for extra learning;
- Access to a better quality and variety of daily food for the children;
- Improved and quicker access to quality medical and dental care;
- Increased contact between siblings and more chances for all the kids to socialize together on weekends; and
- More cost effective internal administration.
We do not believe that relocating our operations in Siem Reap will adversely affect the strong bonds that our children have built up with their student counterparts in Australia. In practice the move could open up new options for meaningful joint activities with visiting student groups in coming years.
Major change is always difficult but the Committee believes that relocating and consolidating in Siem Reap is the right way forward for Kampuchea House. It will help us maintain our strong commitment and support for our children and retain our position among the leading support organisations for homeless and abandoned children in Cambodia.
We recognise that further change may become necessary if there is more adjustment in Cambodian government policy and practice. In the current fluid environment the planned move should ensure that we are well placed to address such future challenges.
If you would like further information or to discuss any of the issues raised in this letter please feel free to contact Belinda Lightfoot either by email (email@example.com) or by phone (0412 970 709).
On behalf of the Committee, thank you again for being part of the Kampuchea House journey to date. We hope we can continue to rely on your support as we enter the next phase of our journey.