An emotional visit to an orphanage in Cambodia as we cruise along the Mekong River...Arrived in Phnom Penh!



This young girl's smile took our breathe away.
This Mekong River cruise is unlike any cruise we've experienced in the past.  The authenticity of the small ship and its rustic teak/mahogany design, the small spaces and cabins, the added requirements for organization and planning make it special in many ways.   
The entrance to the orphanage.
The daily tours offer a wide array of options appealing to the interests of most cruise passengers with each containing a few activities in which to participate. 



This adorable girl greeted us at the main entrance.
Today, we’re sharing the story of yesterday’s visit to the Orphanage Center of the Kampong Cham Province when our boat was docked along the river and we boarded the buses for a short drive through the village and on to the orphanage.  
Handsome young man.
Having anticipated that visiting an orphanage would be disheartening it proved to be a positive experience when we saw the smiling faces of the children and the loving care they are provided in the environment steeped in education, learning a craft or trade and eventually becoming independent and self sufficient.

It was hard not to instantly feel attached to these children, their plight in life while hoping and praying for their future.
Through help from the government, private donations, cruise lines including Viking,  as well as visits by many tourist groups, funds are available to ensure the children are provided for.  Although not a perfect environment, it appeared evident they are well cared for and treated well.

Most of the stories of the reasons why these children are living in an orphanage revolve around poverty, parental drug abuse and crime, neglect and abuse in one form or another leaving each precious soul with memories and images they may never forget. 


The boys obviously had other things on their minds that catering to a group of tourists.  We didn't blame them.
Good care, loving attentiveness and education are the emphasis of the facility, as the best means of steering the children in the right direction for a fulfilling future. 

The children had probably been through these presentations more times than they could count.  We certainly understood.
The director of the school, 16 years in residence, described through our guide’s interpretation how the ultimate goal is to educate the children to eventually be able to attend college. 


They all waved to us at the end of their sweet performance.
The director
 quoted many instances of young residents going on to fulfilling lives having learned a craft through both the orphanage, public school, trade schools and college.  He emphasized that the children aren’t sent off on their own until they’ve acquired a job with a wage commensurate with the ability to live a suitable life.

This wheelchair bound young man deserved some attention too.
We realize that a part of these explanations could easily be propaganda to elicit donations from the visitors but somehow we felt a strong commitment based on who the Cambodia people are; spiritual, honest, loving and kind. 
Another building on the property.
All the children learn a handicraft and make a variety of items which are sold in the onsite shops.  The children “man” their stations when the tourists walk through to inspect their work.  The children receive 50% of the revenue from the sale of the items with the balance for the facility to cover costs of materials. 

The small bathroom in the sleeping quarters.
This way the children are taught the value of entrepreneurship with the joy of success and a keen sense of responsibility providing them the tools for a fulfilling and successful life.  


The director of the orphanage, 16 years in residence.
If smiles on little faces is any indication of the children feeling safe in this environment, we were left with a good feeling.

(Preferring not to "toot our own horn regarding donations, we remain mum on this topic. To us, the greatest donation is one that doesn't seek any personal recognition or accolades from others).

Groups A and B during the presentation by the director and songs sung by the children.
Today, we didn’t attend the morning tour when part of it included a ride on an ox cart (video to follow in future post as we stood by watching the procession) which would have been unsuitable with my current condition. 
Another table of handicrafts made by the children for sale in the tiny shops on the grounds of the orphanage.
After the ox cart ride, the passengers headed to the Udon Monastery which required walking uphill, up many steps and over long distances, again not suitable for me at this time. 


Bedroom for the children.  It was sad to see the not-so-well-equipped space.
This morning, for the first time in six weeks, I’ve felt relatively pain free for a few hours, only escalating later in the day.  The ship’s director, Enrico, arranged for us to be able to prepare our posts while sitting in the empty dining room as the staff prepares for the next meal.  
Bracelets, ribbons and various crafts the children made to learn the value of the entrepreneurial spirit.
The chairs offer good support and with my laptop on the table I can sit in an ergonomic manner to avoid becoming too uncomfortable. We were among about six other passengers who remained on the ship until the two groups returned to the ship at 11:45 am. 


Crafts for sale, all handmade by the children.
Do we feel badly about this?  I would have loved the ride in the ox cart but Kong warned it was very bumpy. Tom and I agreed its not worth the risk nor was the tough walk at the monastery.

The living quarters for girls and boys are separate.
At 3 pm today we arrived in Cambodia’s capital city of Phnom Penh where we’ll stay docked for a few days where we plan to get off the ship to tour the interesting city by tuk tuk. 


Sewing machines, although quite old are available for the kids to learn to make handicrafts.
Many older folks like us will recall the significance of Phnom Penh in the Vietnam war. Here’s a little information about Phnom Penh from this site but much more will follow over the next few days:


Classroom on the property.
“During the Vietnam War, Cambodia was used as a base by the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong, and thousands of refugees from across the country flooded the city to escape the fighting between their own government troops, the NVA/NLF, the South Vietnamese and its allies, and the Khmer Rouge. By 1975, the population was 2-3 million, the bulk of whom were refugees from the fighting.”

These bikes are available for the kids to use.
In any case, we’re still having an excellent time aboard the Viking Mekong River cruise getting to know the many passengers and crew, especially as I continue to improve without too much overextending.


After the tour, we returned to our ship.
We’ll be back again tomorrow with more stories and photos!  Have a great day!
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Photo from one year ago today, July 15, 2015:
This shell we found in the sand in the Trinity Beach area of Australia had a rough exterior.  For more shell photos, please click here.

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