Saturday, April 28, 2012


I was recently in Phnom Penh where I paid a visit to a home for 114 children with severe disabilities. While a training on maintenance of the water system was underway, I wandered down the hallway to say hi to some of the kids. I sat on the floor next to a boy who was sitting with some chatting ladies. He smiled as I sat down, and reached out to grab my hand. We held hands, sitting there, humming songs, clapping our hands together. There was another boy sitting a little away. He would look suspiciously at me, looking back at the ladies for guidance, and back to me. After ten minutes, he inched closer, but not too close. A look back at the women, then at me, then at his friend whose hand I held. Slowly, he slid closer to me, until he finally braved the unknown and grabbed my hand. I smiled at him. I sang songs to the two boys, smiling, laughing, clapping our hands. When I stopped humming, the second boy turned to me, grunted, asking me to sing more. I stayed with them for half an hour, sitting on the floor until it was time to go.

We left National Borei and drove towards a site that houses kids afflicted with HIV/AIDS. The caretakers were amazing – one from Singapore talked and talked, either excited to have someone other than children to chat with, or just loved to talk. We sat under the shade of a gazebo with the head caretaker as she told us about the home, the children, the other patients they see, and the amazing work they do. She turned to us, “Come on, let’s go take a tour of the house!” As we were walking towards the water station and the children’s home, she told me she was originally from India, but had been in Cambodia for 11 years. I asked her some words in Hindi – she laughed and replied that she’s lost most of her native language, even when family calls from India. A train of children followed us around, giggling, tugging, playing. I spent ten minutes watching Stephen awe them with juggling and they threw rocks around trying to do it themselves.

The head caretaker took my arm, and guided with the determination of a child on a mission, she pulled my towards the children’s home. We were led by a four-year old boy – the caretaker had said, “Go on, they don’t know the way, show them where to go!” – and he took Stephen’s hand as we walked. Upstairs in the home, children were everywhere. The girls had started a card game, perched atop the table, as some smaller kids chased colored balloons around the compound. At the end of the porch, several women sat with a few children. Among them, a 6-month old girl who had been at the home for a few months. When she had arrived, she was tiny and weak, badly affected with HIV, too small and young for the medications. After nursing her back to life, the baby girl was now taking medication, chubby and smiling. She stood on her tippy toes, propped up by the woman’s arms. The head caretaker whispered to her, “A few months, right? In a few months you will be walking, you are so close!” The baby girl looked up with a huge smile and nodded – somehow she understood.

It was a heavy day, but it was a touching day. The kids grabbed my camera after I showed them they had to push the button to make it work. They left their finger depressed on the button, rapid-firing hundreds of nearly-identical photographs. When flipped through quickly, it makes a slow video of kids trying to juggle [the photos in this post were taken by the kids themselves]. I left that home humbled, amazed, sadden and inspired – the kids are so full of life, the women who care for them are so dedicated and honest.

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