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For Children, Brick-Painting Funds Hope

On a small 1 centimeter by 2 centimeter brick, Chea Veav painted a picture of himself and his mother walking on a small road surrounded by green rice fields and a mountain. For the 10-year-old boy, the painting was an unrealized fantasy, an imaginary trip with a mother who abandoned him two years ago, following the death of his father.

Chea Veav now lives with his grandmother in a Phnom Penh slum, dependant on the collection of morning glory from the riverbank for survival.

But Chea Veav's art and the painted bricks of other children are helping raise money and awareness and acting as therapy for the children, helping them overcome traumas of the past and imagine a better future.

"I feel hurt that I can't live with my mother, but drawing pictures makes me happy," a skinny Chea Veav said, in tears.

About 70 more children have joined in the brick painting, all of them between the ages of 8 and 20, and most of them orphans that live in the capital's poorest communities. Provided sponsorship by Mith Samlan, or Friends, organization, the children spend three hours each morning drawing pictures on their bricks.

Individual sponsors can then pay to "purchase" the bricks, though these are in fact kept by the children. More than 1,000 bricks decorated with schools, flowers, forests, rice fields and cityscapes were used to build a wall at Friends' Phnom Penh center. Proceeds have gone toward payments for the center.

"On a brick, children can draw what happened to them in the past, what they dream in the future, and provide children with creative ideas," said Sem Ratana, cultural programmer for Friends.

Chea Veav said his brick drawing was a representation of a future hope.

"I draw people going to the mountain, representing my mom and I visiting Tamao mountain," he said. "If my mom comes back, I can go to the mountain."