Today I got off the beaten path with a couple of my fellow Intrepider's to check out a local NGO that works with street kids. The organization is called The Green Gecko Project and was started 6 years ago by an Australian woman and her Khmer husband. As the years have gone by the project has grown and evolved and is a very comprehensive project in Siem Reap. This group has 70 children, age ranges 3-20, living at their compound just outside of the main city area. These children are all local, from Siem Reap, and were on the street begging. Due to the horrific history of Cambodia (which I will delve into more at a later post) over 1/3 of the population is under the age of 20 yo, with most people uneducated and illiterate and have little to no job skills. Children bring the only means if income for parents and families. They send their precious little ones to the streets to beg and bring back their earrings to the family, but may not even get a meal after their hours of begging. Some are even beaten to help provoke more empathy and bring in more money. Drugs, alcohol, and gambling are huge problems. All types of abuse towards children and human trafficking are also massive problems.
This organization has brought these children in and houses them, feeds them (malnutrition and lack of clean drinking water are also problems), and educates them, school is required by the organization. But the organization does so much more then just that. They look at themselves as a family and they cover every piece and angel of life, development, and growth. They encourage leadership skills, teach decision making and critical thinking; they bring safety, security, and develop a sense of self worth in these kids. All while trying to preserve their Khmer way of live. They have a little rice farm that the children maintain, because rice farming is a huge industry in Cambodia. They teach the national martial arts. For meals the children eat in their "providences" as they call them, peer groups of kids, in a circle in grass hut structures, together, as a family. Though the children attend a very good school, additional lessons and education are also taught at the Gecko home, but with games, having fun.
Not only does the organization provide in every way shape and form for the kids, but also helps the families as well. They provide renters aid, nutrition boxes, they teach vocational skills and micro financing. They help with medical costs and services. If the wives are beaten (which is not uncommon, but numbers are down in recent years) they can go to the Gecko safe house, receive medical aid and safety for a few days. The husband is spoken to by other members of the Gecko staff. Gecko teaches everyone about health and hygiene, about HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, family planning, and nutrition. The only staff with a salary are the local Khmer staff, everyone else volunteers. They have several permanent volunteers, including an education coordinator and a kind of social worker.
The amount of things that Gecko touches on, helps with, and provides is astounding. They are one of the best run NGOs I've come across so far. And most importantly the children are healthy, happy, and smiling. They showed some before pictures of the kids and their faces, mainly their eyes, look so deaden and old. Now these kids have sparkling joyous eyes and happy faces. They have hope and aspirations and a future. They want to be doctors, nurses, teachers, run their own NGOs.
They keep the admin costs very low and give everything back to the project. Unfortunately, not all organizations are like this.
Wondering how you can help? Come guys, let's help! Even if it's $5-10, give. Give your time, give money, just give something! Below is the website link where you can check it all out for yourself and you can donate at the Gecko website OR you can also go to the Intrepid Travel website (the tour company I'm using) and they will match your donation! I've also included a YouTube video of one of the girls telling her story.