This project was established in 1996 to support underprivileged children who work and live in the streets around the Stung Meanchey garbage dump. It was in 1995 that the inhuman conditions of small children poking through the steaming, decaying garbage was brought to the attention of a French couple and this is what the achieved in the course of 12 years.
Initially, it provided schooling for younger children and food. In 2002, a Hotel School was opened once the founder recognized the growing need to hospitality training. This is aimed at students between 17 and 23 years old and provides training in cooking, service, housekeeping, massage, hairdressing… as well as course such as secretary, in administration and even management.
A young lady who received her training here took us around and we grew more and more impressed by the minute. The project is most comprehensive, since it not only provides two nutritious meals, education and transport to get to school, but took measures that the families allow the children to stay in school. This was achieved by giving some mothers a job in the school canteen and by providing rice for the families.
The situation of a family is assessed by a social worker before a student is admitted to make sure to reach those children who need the help most. There is even housing for girls who were taken from the family because they were subjected to domestic violence, sexual abuse or would be sold to prostitution circles.
The complex is huge, with modern buildings for classrooms, vocational training, a training hotel and restaurant, which was booked out the day we visited (!!!), an administration building and ample space for the smaller children to move and play. Currently, 1.100 children come here to school, 900 take part to the “professional training” and several hundreds also get an education in the centers in Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. More than 9.000 students have “graduated” from these trainings! The students are neatly dressed in school uniforms and carry an ID, all in all very professionally run, by 300 highly experienced employees.
We were so impressed that we came back the next morning to give some business to the young apprentices learning to be a hairdresser. Gilles got an excellent haircut and Heidi had her hair dyed, superbly done. While we were there many of the male employees of the center had their hair done, as well as manicure and pedicure. The salon was equipped with modern equipment as you would find in most beauty parlors in Europe. The young ladies “working on us” were a bit nervous at the beginning, but soon that wore off. The price we paid was so little that we went down to the administration to make an appropriate donation.
Being so close to this huge garbage dumb, or “smoking mountain” as the locals call it, we thought we should go and see for ourselves. We passed narrow alleys cramped with huge sacks of retrieved garbage, people dressed in ragged clothes were carrying smaller bags and the whole place just looked depressing, dirty and horrid. The closer we came the more we felt it was wrong to drive up there in a tuk tuk, shoot a few photos of this misery – people pocking through garbage – and drive off. So we asked the driver to turn around.