Unfortunately, many children around the world are not so lucky. In many third world countries children are working by the age of 6. They are already watching their siblings at the age of 3. There is no time or money for toys, or school, healthcare, or even food. Many learn to live off the land, to survive as a community and not as individuals.

In September, I went to Cambodia to document Damnok Toek for Photographers without Borders. Damnok Toek is an organization with a mission to enable vulnerable or marginalized children to have all their basic needs met and rights respected.

As is such in many third world countries children aren’t given the same opportunities to be a child. At young ages they are forced into labor, sold to trafficking organizations where they are sent out into the street to sell flowers, or trinkets to locals and tourists. When they are small and cute they are sent out to the street to beg for money that they can bring to either their family or the head trafficker.

In Cambodia, a lot of parents will sneak their children with them over the border into Thailand where they can make more money. While the parents work the children will often take to the streets begging, or selling things. Many of these kids are picked up by Border Officers and sent back to Cambodia alone. With no parents they learn to live on the street.

Many of these children can’t go to school, they can’t eat, they can’t bathe, and don’t have proper medical care. That is where Damnok Toek came into their lives.

In Cambodia, a lot of parents will sneak their children with them over the border into Thailand where they can make more money. While the parents work the children will often take to the streets begging, or selling things. Many of these kids are picked up by Border Officers and sent back to Cambodia alone. With no parents they learn to live on the street.

Damnok Toek’s target beneficiaries for the services are poor and vulnerable children with a specific focus on street children. Street children meaning, those who live on the street, work on the street, or are children of street living families. While many of Damnok Toek’s beneficiaries are victims of abuse, exploitation, trafficking, most are simply poor, which leaves them vulnerable and exposed.

In 1999, after seeing how these children were living a man from Switzerland partnered with the Cambodian Government and started Damnok Toek. They understood that trafficking and exploitation are fundamentally linked to children without access to basic services such as nutrition, health, and housing, as well as educational and livelihood opportunities. Damnok Toek started to created projects that addressed these needs through eight platforms; Vocational Training, Income Generation Activities, Drop In Centre, Border Drop In center, Reception Centre, Transitional Care and Group Home Project, and Non-Formal Education Project.

The Drop-In Centre also works closely with Damnok Toek’s successful Border Drop In center Project, which is a reception centre housed at the deportation re-entry location on the border of Thailand and Cambodia.  Damnok Toek’s role at this location is to identify unaccompanied children deported from Thailand, and provide emergency case management and referrals to these children to ensure family members or appropriate care can be found or provided.  This is done as a means to reduce their likelihood of unsafe migratory behaviours, as well as the possibility of further trafficking or exploitation.  While the number of beneficiaries fluctuates on a monthly basis, Damnok Toek generally screens and conducts basic case management for approximately 500-600 children, monthly.    

 

Damnok Toek’s Drop-In Centre Project is targeted to at-risk and vulnerable children living on the border, and the majority of these activities are conducted at our Poipet location.  Drop-In Centres offer a safe space for both street children and children of migrants to play, receive basic schooling lessons, a small meal, as well as information and referrals to other Damnok Toek services.  These services are offered during daytime hours, and provide a positive space for approximately 35-50 children, monthly.  Other Drop-In Centre Project activities include monthly outreach from the Mobile Rehabilitation Unit, which targets about 15 children per month and focuses on drug-addicted children and youth, as well as the Mobile Library, which provides books, toys, and games to children on a weekly basis, and uses this platform to educate street and migrant children about children rights in Cambodia.  The Mobile Library is a new activity, but its success ensures that approximately 60 children per month are reached.

 

 

The Non-Formal Education Project is one of Damnok Toek’s most unique and successful projects, as it offers non-traditional schooling to at-risk, marginalized, and vulnerable children whom would otherwise have no educational options.  Nine class levels are offered daily within two locations in Poipet to an average of 200 children monthly, with a morning and afternoon session provided to ensure children whom work at different times of the day have an opportunity to attend school.  The purpose of these classes is to provide a basic education to children as a means for them to “catch up” to their respected grade levels, and when such is completed, these children are reintegrated into the public school.  After reintegration, these children receive continued support from Damnok Toek through case management as well as financial support for school fees and supplies.

The Reception Centre Project works closely with Damnok Toek’s Drop-In Centre Project as well as the Safe Migration Project, with the aim of providing very young children (generally, between the ages of 2 and 6 years) with basic residential and food support.  On a monthly basis, Damnok Toek has approximately 35 children at its Reception Centre Project, and children are often identified for this type of long-term care at the daily Drop-In Centre or through the deportation site on the border.  The project aims to take the most young and vulnerable children without responsible parents or legal guardians, and provide shelter and food, as well as referrals for counselling and schooling, as appropriate and as needed.  Children within the Reception Centre are either reintegrated when a suitable family situation is identified, but sometimes these children remain in Damnok Toek care for many years and progress into other residential services based on their age and capacity.

The Transitional Care Facility Project and Group Home Project are residential services provided by Damnok Toek, and these services are segmented and grouped by age and need.  Transitional Care Facilities offer long-term residential care for children between six and 14 years old, while Damnok Toek Group Homes are for youth between 14 and 18 years old.  Between these two residential facilities, Damnok Toek provides approximately 30 children and youth with vital housing and food provisions on a monthly basis.  In addition, many of these children as well as community members access services at Damnok Toek’s Medical Clinic in Poipet, which offers on-site free or low-cost basic healthcare access inclusive of consultations, family planning and infant support, as well as referrals.  The Medical Clinic is utilized by both Damnok Toek clients as well as community members, and serves an average of 150 individuals monthly.

Can you imagine living amongst piles and piles of trash? Surrounded by the smell in the heat of the summer. Walking through contaminated water during the wet season? What if you had to rely on that garbage to provide for your family. One of the projects that I found most interesting was the Dump Site project. Damnok Toek has adopted the 17 families that live along the dump site. In exchange for providing them with medical services the families there agree to let their children attend Damnok Toek’s non-formal education program.

These families live amongst the garbage. Every day they sift through bags and bags of trash to collect objects to sell to different companies. They pull metals, and plastics, and even food that they sometimes will eat. It isn’t just adults digging through the trash. It is a whole family affair. Mothers , Fathers, and kids as small as 3 were looking through the garbage.

Damnok Toek found these families and knew that if they didn’t help these kids they would be forced to live the same life. So they developed a program where they went out to the dump site and negotiated bringing the families of the dump site supplies such as fresh water and seeds for gardening. They offer them loans that they can pay back over time. They send their doctor out at least once a week to check on each person. She checks their coughs, skin condition, and even helps those who are pregnant. In return the families need to allow their children to attend the half day education programs offered by Damnok Toek.

This was actually the second time I’ve encounter a dumpsite program. When I was working on a project for photographers without borders in Guatemala I encountered a similar program.

  

The Vocational Training Project provides activities to targeted youth needing job training opportunities as a means to teach independence and long-term self-sufficiency.  Vocational trainings offered on-site in our Poipet location are specific to tailoring and the garment industry, given the industry boom in this field in the last 10-15 years.  While numbers vary throughout the year, Damnok Toek has approximately 15 youth within the Vocational Training Project on a monthly basis.

The Income Generation Activities Project (IGA)aims to supplement the vocational training project, as its purpose is to provide small business loans to clients wishing to become entrepreneurs.  These loans are provided to families seeking to earn income through personally-run businesses such as tailoring, convenience and grocery shops, as well as small food stands.  The project is premised on the provision of $100-$300 loans per family, with trained social workers and counsellors available to provide weekly support to each family, thus providing resources for questions and issues related to their businesses.  To date, Damnok Toek provides IGA support to 25 families on a monthly basis.   

 

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