Tonight was my first time visiting an orphanage and my heart is bursting with mixed emotions. I accompanied a returning volunteer on her visit and have really been left speechless. The kids, all 60 of them, were so wonderful. As soon as I walked in I was immersed in play, smothered in laughter and excitement. Few seconds passed where I didn’t have a child on my back and/or in my lap. The girls immediately took to teaching me songs and games while I ran around like a monster “eating” and tickling the boys. I read Khmer versions of English fairy tales (riddled with typos) to a captive audience who handed me book after book. We played soccer and keep-away and thumb-wrestled until I was completely drenched in sweat, and then… we danced.
Let me tell you something about these kids: SWAG. I watched with wide-eyed amazement as several of the youngsters performed a hip hop routine that completely outshined all Bieber-ian performances I have had the grand pleasure of seeing. These little acrobats flipped fearlessly over one another, gliding and break-dancing with infinitely more grace than I could ever dream of achieving. Seriously kiddlets, hot damn.
But obviously, you cannot visit a center such as this and not feel your heart break. It was certainly difficult at points to believe these children would have anything to be upset about. These grinning, giggling, beautiful children had been separated from their families by poverty, illness, lack of access to education, and a slew of other heart-wrenching factors. Their strength and gratitude for the shelter provided to them was beyond remarkable, as was their kinship. I saw no fighting and no real trouble, even with only the guidance 1 official supervisor and 1 cook, both of whom were so incredibly sweet. There was no complaining despite the heat or lack of toys and amenities (only 1 squatting toilet and no real showers beyond tap water). Everyone got along and played and read and ate together, and I was completely blown away.
I definitely hope to be back soon and plan to start volunteering on a regular basis with this or another children’s center, in addition to work with WOMEN. I understand that orphanage work is riddled with ethical dilemmas, as many centers host kids and send them out to beg instead of sending them to class. Others wait for tourists to pay visiting fees as they snap pictures. However, I am also aware of a few truly honest organizations that care deeply about their children and work tirelessly to keep them in school and off the streets. At the moment, I am working with Star Kampuchea to select the right center given my limited time left in Cambodia. It will certainly be interesting to observe daily life and interactions at this type of site. I cannot explain how excited I am to help these kids with homework and after-school activities, in addition to transforming into zombie-Brenna and reading Khmer Cinderella, the next time I visit these beautiful little humans.