Please introduce yourself…
I’m Carolyn; I’m a 31-year-old Scottish girl who now lives in Cardiff, South Wales.
What is Anjali House?
To properly answer this, I need to explain a bit of Cambodian history and culture. I’ll try to be concise.
Between 1975 and 1979, under the regime of Pol Pot and the communist Khmer Rouge party, approximately 21% of the Cambodian population (an estimated 1.7 to 2.5 million people) were killed. Pol Pot’s vision was for an agriculture based communist utopia, and two of his methods of promoting & achieving this were to close schools (everyone was now to be a subsistence farmer, working to provide for Cambodia’s own needs so it would have no need for the Western world) and to kill anyone with any level of prior education (as they may have been a threat to the new ‘utopia’).
Cambodia as a country has been ‘reeling’ from this ever since. Although Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge are long gone, the legacy of their rule was a country in ruins – no economy, no infrastructure, and the huge problem of a pretty much uneducated and unskilled population. Either you were educated before the Pol Pot rule and were killed due to being educated, or you didn’t receive any education to begin with as you were a child during the regime as you worked in the fields instead of attending school and after the regime was over there was no infrastructure for schooling and no educated citizens to teach you.
Fast-forward 30 years…
Cambodia is a country that’s done a pretty good job of piecing itself back together. It’s still a very, VERY poor country. But it has an infrastructure of sorts. It has an economy of sorts. It has a stable government. It’s getting there. Corruption is rife. There are still live landmines all over the place. It’s not perfect. But in spite of all this, it’s getting there.
The education gap is still there though. It’s one of the things Cambodia can’t easily fix on its own. Another generation has passed, but they didn’t have anyone to teach them either. And so the cycle continues.
There are ‘public’ schools in Cambodia, but the fees (a few dollars a month) plus the need for a uniform and the lost earnings of the child make it an unobtainable dream for most Cambodian families.
And this is where NGO’s (Non Government Organisations) come into the picture, and where I finally get back to the original question…
What is Anjali House?
Anjali House (pronounced An-jah-lee) is an NGO in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I was privileged to spend a month there in summer 2009 working as a volunteer English and General Studies teacher.
Anjali aims to provide support, education and healthcare provision to street kids who otherwise wouldn’t have access to these things. In practice, this means…
- The kids attend Anjali for half a day, and public school for the other half (Anjali pays their fees and provides them with a uniform).
- Many of the health problems affecting Cambodian children are a result of poor diet and unsuitable drinking water. To attempt to counter this, the children at Anjali receive two healthy meals (breakfast and lunch) and a fruit snack each day, and have access to filtered drinking water throughout the day.
- Due to the lack of clean water and the constraints of poverty, many of the children had never used soap or cleaned their teeth. They now bathe every morning at Anjali and are educated in the importance of personal hygiene.
- All Anjali children have regular medical and dental health checks provided by the project. They will also be taken to hospital or the doctors if necessary.
- As one of the conditions of attendance at Anjali, the child is no longer allowed to be sent out to work on the streets begging, selling trinkets etc. The families receive a weekly allowance of rice to compensate for the loss of income.
There are currently approximately 80 children at Anjali. Enrolment is by application (and based on social and economic testing). Due to lack funds and constraints of space, Anjali currently is not accepting any further applications at this time.
Tell us how you ended up going over to Cambodia to work with the team at Anjali?
The short answer is it felt like the right thing to do at the right time.
The longer answer is that I had recently resigned from a job I’d once loved after a prolonged chain of events (clash of personalities with one of my bosses, what I believe was an institutional bullying campaign, an unrealistically large work load, a nervous breakdown and a 5 month absence due to stress, a subsequent formal grievance process, and so on) None of it is particularly interesting reading. Suffice to say it wasn’t the best period in my life.
I had (and still have) an incredibly supportive partner in my boyfriend, Ian. He not only encouraged me to bite the bullet and resign, but told me to take as much time as I needed to recharge my batteries, get my head straight again, get over the lousy year I’d had and generally become myself again.
I realised that I’d been defining myself primarily by my job for a long time, and that I needed and wanted to change that.
I’d just posed the question ‘what next?’ when my friend Beth had returned from a month in Cambodia, having been placed at Grace House by a volunteer organisation called Globalteer. She’d come back on schedule purely to attend her own university graduation, and was planning on heading straight back out to Siem Reap. She told me I ought to come with her. I decided to roll with that.
Beth later decided that although she’d love to return straight away, it wasn’t to be. I applied anyway, thinking that it probably wouldn’t be possible. Less than a month later I was on a plane, having been placed at Anjali by Globalteer.
What are the most important things you learned from your time at Anjali?
I think I learned a lot, but it’s incredibly difficult to describe the experiences I had, words just don’t seem to do it justice. I can honestly say it was one of the best months of my life. (I STILL want to go back).
I learned that you don’t have to be perfect to be a volunteer. You just have to be enthusiastic. I’m a perfectionist, and as such, frequently worry that my best isn’t good enough. It was, and you get lots of help and support from the staff and other volunteers at Globalteer.
I learned that there’s a place for all personality types in this sort of environment. I’m very much an introvert, and in the beginning found myself feeling inadequate due to the fact that I wasn’t an ‘all out’, loud, confident presence around the kids during non lesson times. Pretty soon I realised that not all of the kids were extroverts either, and the fact that I interacted with them in a different manner to some of the other volunteers didn’t actually matter.
I learned that there’s a peace that comes with just going with the flow and that somehow you’ll end up in the right place at the right time anyway – even if you didn’t see it coming.
I learned that I can’t solve everything for everyone, but that’s not a reason to stop trying to at least make a small difference. There’s an old Scottish saying that – “Mony a mickle maks a muckle” (translation: lots of small things make up a large thing), and I realised that I need to stop worrying about the ‘Muckle’, and just get on with my ‘Mickle’.
How can we support Anjali?
There are lots of ways…
Volunteer over there. I promise, you will NOT regret it. You don’t need a month; however long you have is fine. And if I can do it, ANYONE can.
Raise awareness of Anjali, who & what they are and what they do. You’re welcome to use the information & pictures on my blog.
Make a donation/ host a fundraising event for Anjali. I’ve been there and can personally verify that every dollar is put to good use. If you’re a UK tax payer, you can gift aid your donation to make it worth and extra 28%.
Sponsor an Anjali child Please be aware though that Anjali don’t generally allow sponsors to visit the kids (Cambodia, unfortunately seems to be fast becoming the new Thailand in that respect, and that fact breaks my heart).
If people wanted to pray for you, what would you have them talk to God about on your behalf?
Prayer isn’t something I’ve figured out, so I’m not entirely sure how to answer that sincerely. I guess the best answer I can give is ‘however they feel led’.
Cambodia is a beautiful country with beautiful people, who lead hard, hard lives. I’d like to hope it’ll get better for them.
The kids at Anjali come from some pretty hopeless backgrounds, I’d like to think that they’ll have better futures than pasts.
I’d hope that their time at Anjali makes them feel loved and validated and allows them to have a childhood.
I’d like to hope that they won’t have to go to bed hungry again.
I’d like to hope that they grow up create a better world than the one they were born into.
Thank you so much for sharing about Anjali House with us Carolyn. We’re also really happy to announce that Carolyn will be returning to Cambodia and Anjali House this summer! You can find out more about Anjali House by going to www.anjali-house.com and follow more of Carolyn’s tales of Cambodia, plus life as a Scottish lass in Wales on her blog http://searchingforbrokenness.blogspot.com