Friends the Restaurant is ranked as the tenth best restaurant in
Vibol* was 16 when he moved with his older brother to Phnom Penh in 2000, 285 kilometres away from his home in Kratie Province. His father had divorced his mother, forcing her to sell their land to keep Vibol and his four siblings. Thinking there were better opportunities in the capital city, he left home. His brother soon found work in a factory, leaving Vibol to live alone to look after himself as a casual construction worker.
To pass the time, Vibol would take walks along the riverside. One day, he met a group of guys who offered him a job as a sugar cane seller. All he had to do, they said, was to bring a matchbox to where they told him to.
“I earned US$15 each time I did it. I wondered why such a small box was worth so much money. I didn’t know there was cocaine inside,” Vibol tells Young Post. For six months, he trafficked drugs three times a day. But he never got rich. “It was difficult to keep the money. I was always robbed. The boss told people to rob me after I was paid,” he said.
Outreach workers from Mith Samlanh, a programme under Unicef partner Friends International, had invited him to do some vocational training at their centre, but Vibol didn’t listen. It was only after the police detained him for a whole night that Vibol decided to study at Mith Samlanh.
James Farley, a social worker from the
Mith Samlanh organises games and performances to attract street children, and offers a wide range of vocational courses. People can learn how to cook, repair motorbikes, become nail technicians or become electricians. It also teaches parents to make products and jewellery from recycled materials, such as colourful earrings made from rolled newspaper and waterproof notebooks made from old tyres. Home-based jobs allows people with disabilities and stay-at-home parents to earn a stable income, encouraging them to let their children to go to school instead of working.
“There are more than 600 orphanages in
While Mith Samlanh approached more than 9,000 street children and sent 500 of them back to public school, Farley says a lack of qualified social workers also makes it hard for them to identify potential dangers that street children are facing.
As the New York Times reports, Cambodia’s first university programme to train social workers began in 2008 at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. The first batch of 22 students only graduated three years ago. The government’s National Institute of Social Affairs introduced another programme, and its first class is expected to graduate next year.
To foster a safe environment for street children, Mith Samlanh has been recruiting help from the community. They run the ChildSafe Network Programme in
Sunny Ho Chun-tat, one of the Hong Kong Unicef Young Envoys who visited Mith Samlanh, compared
Elaine Cheng Hau-yau, a Form Six student at
Mith Samlanh’s programmes also made Silvy Chan Sze-wai realise the amount of work that had to be put in to help street children. “I’ve been in
But Cambodians are hoping to rely less on outside help. Vibol, now 31, is a full-time cooking teacher at Friends the Restaurant. He is the proud father of a one-year-old daughter and earns US$350 a month, almost four times the average wage of a teacher. “I’m glad I can help others in the same way people helped me,” he says.
*Vibol’s name has been changed to protect his identity
Want to take part?
Unicef HK is now accepting applications for Young Envoys 2016. Those aged between 12 and 18, and full-time students, are eligible.
Application deadline: November 2
For more information, visit: Unicef's website.