Children who live on the streets are one of the most at risk groups for being abuse or exploited. Childhood’s partner organization, Mith Samlanh in Cambodia, seeks out children in the city of Phnom Penh who live and work on the streets and helps them leave this harmful and often dangerous environment.
Many children who live on the streets have lost confidence in the adult world. Therefore, projects which focus on street children put great emphasis on re-establishing this confidence and to motivate them to want to accept help. It is important to strengthen the independence which they have built, instead of making them dependent on help. This means that, above all, the projects focus on building a long-term and secure existence beyond life on the streets, rather than distributing food and providing children with temporary beds, which in the worst case can lead to children staying on the streets even longer.
This is how our partner organization, Mith Samlanh in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, works. Through its outreach work, it touches the lives of around 1,800 street children every year. Its field workers regularly visit those areas of the city where children and families live on the streets. They visit the same place several times a week and lay out tarps on the ground to gather the children and adolescents. Quickly, small groups form when they do street outreach. The social worker chooses some books and toys for the smallest children. On another tarp, teenagers gather to discuss sex and relationships, or something else that’s important to them. Young mothers are given advice on breastfeeding and how to keep their infants healthy. Elsewhere, a nurse attends to children who need, painkillers or delousing.
In this way, Mith Samlanh built up the children’s trust and was able to offer them the opportunity to come to a drop-in centre, where, for example, they could eat a meal, wash themselves and talk to an adult about the reasons why they ended up on the streets and if they have any relatives they could contact. The next step could be to make up for lost schooling. There is a program for children with classes a few hours a day. After a while, children can be reintegrated into a normal school. Older children can get help with career training, in a restaurant or as a motorcycle mechanic, for example.
An important part of this work is to track down the children’s families or other relatives who can take care of them with the support of Mith Samlanh. Of course, the longer a child has lived on the streets, the harder it is for them to move back to their family, but most of them have someone with whom they can reconnect. That is why outreach work is so important for children who have recently ended up on the streets – so that they can be quickly identified and helped to get away from an environment that is harmful to them, both in the short and long term.
On many occasions, Mith Samlanh works with entire families who live on the streets or in slums, where children are forced to beg or collect garbage to help support the family. Mith Samlanh’s work may include supporting adults to find a job, helping them start their own small business, or getting them out of alcohol or drug addiction. It is imperative to make the families realise that although, in the short term, the children can bring in a large portion of the family income by begging on the tourist trail, it’s more important for them to get schooling so that they can get a job and support themselves and their family when they grow up.