Assistance for the street children of Siem Reap
The GREEN GECKO project is an initiative founded to benefit the lives of street children in Siem Reap, Cambodia. A recently emerging town located in the north-west of the country, it is home to the world’s largest religious site ‘Angkor Wat’ and consequently, a hastily growing tourism industry.
In the past, any tourist strolling along the streets of Siem Reap would have come across these children. While most would have certainly been hassled by their begging, not many would have had the pleasure of getting to know the kids themselves – their humour, tenacity, resourcefulness, hope, trust and friendship. The GREEN GECKO project began when one tourist took the time to do this, during 2005.
The sad reality then was that these children, as young as 5 years old, were often the primary breadwinners for their families. Their living conditions were often desperate, either living in very poor housing or no housing at all. Some of the children slept unaccompanied on the pavement, defenceless to abduction, abuse and disease.
Thankfully, today we can describe these terrible conditions in past tense, at least for the children we have been able to reach out to. The GREEN GECKO Project now supports children that are ex-beggars! 97% of our kids are off the street and all kids of school age are now attending accredited Khmer school.
The GREEN GECKO project is about empowering these children with skills, education, care and support to enable them to break the begging cycle and live to their highest potential. It also provides shelter, care and stability for those physically battered or psychologically in need.
At GREEN GECKO, the children can eat a hot lunch, attend an English class, feel secure, play, get a hug, put their pictures up on the wall, have a shower, get their hair combed, nails cut, brush their teeth and receive medical attention. They can attend fun excursions and receive the chance to expand their interests and knowledge of new subjects, by participating (somewhat enthusiastically) in dance, art and craft, drama, photography, gymnastics and performance classes.
One of the most difficult tasks was, and still is, convincing the kids’ parents that education and recreation for their child is a worthwhile investment. The children could be out making money and the parents are either hungry or have addiction problems and little concept of a future beyond their immediate needs. Experience has already proved that supporting and connecting with these families is essential to the success of the project. GREEN GECKO is steadily gaining parent approval and some now are even actively encouraging their children to attend.
The November 2006 government crackdown on begging in Siem Reap had varied effects for Green Gecko. We shared the same aim, to get the kids off the street but unfortunately it also left the families without any source of income at all. Trying to ward off even less desirable ways of surviving, the GREEN GECKO project sponsored (with the help of their friends) the development of micro businesses for many of the families. Book stalls, noodle stands and fruit carts are some of the businesses already up and running. One family is doing so well that they have extended their cart so they could stock more books!
Although the GREEN GECKO project is still in early stages of development, we have been overwhelmed by the support and the results already received and achieved. In July 2007, the GREEN GECKO Project became a registered NGO in Cambodia and on the 16th August 2007, we signed a 15 year lease on 1¼ acres of land. So while we are very proud of how far the kids have come, we are even more excited about the potential of their future. With continued support – moral, physical and financial – we are very confident that the future for these children and their families looks promising.