Living next to an orphanage

Written by on July 2, 2014 in Blog with 0 Comments
The view from their shared roof

The view from their shared roof

Here’s a story about a family who arrived at their first home in Cambodia and discovered they would be living next to an orphanage.

The story caught my attention, and after a little poking around online, I realized the family lives not far from from me. I’ve often passed by and seen children and volunteers milling around outside and wondered what sort of place it was.

Our family of six first arrived in Phnom Penh at midnight, and some friends drove us to the house we had rented on our survey trip. It’s a row house – ten multi-story dwellings that are connected, side by side.

At daybreak, an orphanage moved in to the house next to us… I didn’t know anything about orphans or orphanages  in Cambodia, so I had no preconceived ideas about what it would be like to live next to an orphanage. I would soon learn.

Every orphanage is different, and the one in this story appears to be a bad one. But it’s not atypical of orphanages in Phnom Penh. It was chaotic. Staff were not always around. They had 40 children and the staff living in a space normally used by one extended Cambodian family. There was obvious potential for abuse. Nonetheless, it was frequented by (paying) volunteers  and doubtless funded by foreign donors.

The volunteers came and went with tearful farewells. They talked about feeling so loved by the kids, and often they promised to come back again.

Those declarations gave us pause. How can you promise such a thing?? What makes you sure that you can, or will, without a doubt, return? And doesn’t your statement about being loved betray your own emotional needs, rather than the reception of true love from children in a revolving-door orphanage??

There were overwhelming moments with seemingly nobody in charge. Kids and volunteers had to fend for themselves.

And then:

It wasn’t until Khmer New Year, though, that we realized that virtually none of the children next door were orphans. The entire orphanage closed down for the holiday, which is the most important holiday of the year. No one stayed at the house that week. Not a single soul. All the children went to their hometowns in the countryside, and many of them actually still had living parents. They were not orphans at all.

But it’s good for the kids, right? Gives them opportunities? Makes them better?

 Read the full post here and judge for yourself.


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About the Author

About the Author: Andy Gray is the editor at Uniting for Children. He lives in Cambodia where he works with young adults transitioning from life in an orphanage to living independently. He filmed and produced the video “Why Not a Family?.