What about those poor children at the dump?

Written by on May 16, 2013 in Voices from the Field with 0 Comments

Most people don’t have a good image of the families of “dump kids” of Phnom Penh. Here is one organization that has set out to prove them wrong.

Say Son lives in the Stung Meanchey area of Phnom Penh and has a child studying at Indochina Starfish Foundation (ISF). She said that living in Phnom Penh is really hard for her as she was used to living in the countryside. There she lived with her family. They grew what they ate and didn’t have so many expenses. Now she has to earn a salary to cover rent, food, education costs, and healthcare and to pay off some of the debt she has from moving to the city.

She spent two years working as a cleaner with a private company in Phnom Penh for $60 a month. She said that her work at this company was extremely hard as she was required to work full time 7 days a week. She was also put under great pressure, and the employer was not particularly nice to work for. When the stress started to affect her health, she left the job.

In November 2012 (after her child had joined ISF’s program) she learned that ISF was partnering with another local organization that provides training and links to dignified jobs for its trainees. She applied for a course and passed the test. She received further training and was provided with a cleaning job in one of the International Schools in Phnom Penh.

In her new role, she only works in the mornings from Monday to Saturday and gets public holidays and annual leave with pay. She receives $90 per month and says the employer is much easier to work for and the environment is much friendlier. As a result, she has more time to spend with her children at home and more income for her family.


Indochina Starfish Foundation (ISF) works with the “dump kids” of Phnom Penh (Cambodia). We have 315 kids who access our two education day centers in Stung Meanchey and Chbar Ampov. No children live at either of the centers. We have one social worker per fifty kids in our organization. We are very familiar with their families and their circumstances, and I believe we have established trust and healthy lines of communication with the families we work with. We have dealt with cases of drugs, gambling, alcoholism and domestic violence with them.

In the last 5 years we’ve only had two cases where a child was at risk to the extent that we needed to call the authorities and have them remove the child. In both cases, we monitored the child (who went to live with relatives), and we worked with the families to deal with the issues with the intention of reuniting family and child. Both cases involved abuse where the child was at risk.  We always work closely with families to alleviate issues they are facing, and we involve other organizations with expertise to deal with specific challenges. In those cases, our staff work alongside to learn those skills themselves.


The parents of our students will tell you that they don’t want to give up the responsibility of raising their children to organizations. They only make those decisions when they believe there is no other alternative. When they come into our program and understand how it works, it’s clear they are capable of raising their own children. In fact, everything that we do with the children who come to ISF is reviewed with the parents before we do it. They are heavily involved in the decision making process whenever it affects their children.


Sure these families live in extreme poverty, but that is not an adequate reason to take their children away. I find it shocking that at least seven organizations that I know about in our area remove children from their families and put in institutions less than a kilometer away, because they will tell you the children are ”at risk.” How can we be working in the same community and not have the same high statistics that they have? Sure it’s a bigger job for us and much more challenging than if we just took the kids out of their hard situations, but how can they ever learn to deal with reality themselves with this solution? If we don’t do something to bring about real change in the community and within the families we work with, the overall situation remains the same.


Originally submitted as a report from Indochina Starfish in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Photos used by permission of ISF and the individuals shown

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Kate Griffin

About the Author

About the Author: Kate Griffin is the Country Team Manager of the IndoChina Starfish Foundation working in the Stung Meanchey District in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. .