Many street children in Cambodia fall victim to drugs and the trap of poverty. Mith Samlanh, a local NGO, seeks to help such children escape life on the street.
Like many NGOs in Cambodia, Mith Samlanh once relied almost exclusively on donations to fund their work, but cuts in donor funding have forced the group to seek alternative means of ensuring their work can continue.
Sokhom Pin, a program coordinator for the NGO, said since funding began to be scaled back around 1996, the group has looked to launch businesses to part-fund its work.
“After the street kids and youth came to get training from us, we created restaurants and other shops to generate some income to help with sustainability and thus reduce the risk of operations as funding is gradually reduced.”
Sokhom said the skills that the children learn at Mith Samlanh include cookery, English and French language lessons, auto-repair, tailoring, hairdressing, electronics and metal work, among other skills.
The skills learned at the training sessions are intended to prepare the children to work in the private sector and generate further income for Mith Samlanh, Sokhom said.
The NGO said it now generates about half of its roughly $2.5 million annual budget from these programs. It has sheltered some 5,100 street children and their parents, as well as working with more than 9,000 at-risk youngsters in the community.
Mith Samlanh says it has a 60 to70 percent success rate of getting children who have been through its training programs to work afterwards, according to Sokanha Vuthy of Friends International.
“So we try to send them to outside jobs so that they will learn more in addition to what they have learned here. So we get external jobs for them as soon as they finish training here.”
At the Rachana Votey tailors, five of the seven staff are from Mith Samlanh. Owner Bee Rath Votey, 30, said many of her clients also take Mith Samlanh trainees as they are known for being well behaved and hard workers.
“I am Khmer and I want to make a contribution, large or small, as much as I can,” she said. “I want them to learn real skills.”
Yin Sreyleak, 22, a Mith Samlanh trainee, said she had been at the tailors for more than a year and wanted to help new trainees as she had had such a positive experience with the NGO.
“I am very happy to work here ... I want to run a business like [Votey[,” she said.
Sopha Vy, 57, one of Mith Samlanh’s older training recipients, was given $350 by the organization to launch a small business.
“I am learning to grow a small business. I didn't know how to do this business. I worked as a government civil servant for over 20 years. Then I learned this new skill from Mith Samlanh,” he said.
Mith Samlanh sometimes finds it difficult to attract young people to their programs because they often need money immediately and thus prefer to become migrant workers, said Sokanha.
“I know money is important, but they could spend six months getting the skills which they could rely on for the rest of their lives,” she said.
Others who find themselves addicted to drugs and alcohol also find it difficult to stay in Mith Samlanh’s programs.
“I went there but I could not stay. I’m more happy living outside. I can get access to drugs, wine, beer and have my friends,” said one youth, who asked not to be identified. “That’s why I couldn’t stay at the center, because I could not change.”