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‘Hero’ Meets Challenges for Dump’s Children

Around 1,500 families live around Phnom Penh’s largest dump site, Stung Meanchey, including many children who should have an education, no matter how poor, according to the founder of an organization who helps hundreds of children at the site.

“Some of them have no homes,” said Phymean Nuon, whose work creating the People Improvement Organization has been honored by the television news network CNN and who was a guest on “Hello VOA” Monday. “They put up tents, and every day they collect trash, such as cans and plastic.”

“Even though they are street children and have no money, they should know how to read and write,” she said. “Sometimes I cry because I see these children and these women sleeping at the trash dump. Each time I come here I see them eating spoiled rice. The place is like hell, and they should not wait for the next life.”

The People Improvement Organization offers free schooling to children at the site, and Phymean Nuon has been chosen to compete with 10 other CNN honorees for “Hero of the Year.” She was already featured as one of its “Heroes,” and if she is selected, she will win $100,000, which she said would go toward further helping the children.

The children work at the dump site between 10 and 12 hours a day, making less than a dollar, and sometimes making no money at all, Phymean Nuon said. They do not receive an education and live in hazardous circumstances; some of them have been killed by garbage trucks, she said.

Phymean Nuon started her organization four years ago, recruiting children to come to the center. The organization has classes from grades one through nine, and works under Ministry of Education guidelines that allow students to continue education in government schools.

Classes are tailored to the schedules of the children, so they can continue to scavenge and earn money, she said.

“Some children at my school collect trash until late at night and fall asleep in the classroom,” she said.

Phymean Nuon tells the children not to give up hope.

“Even if we are poor and struggling and don’t have any money, we can go to school,” she said.

“Some children are injured from broken glass, needles and razors,” she said. “If they don’t have an education, they will collect trash until the day they die.”