Today, Cambodia continues to struggle after decades of war and corruption, with particularly grim consequences for children. Poverty and abandonment have led to an increase in the population of orphans and have left many children deeply scarred. An especially difficult situation is the plight of children affected by HIV/AIDS.
GSC works with a unique children's center outside of Phnom Penh to bring light and happiness into the lives of children who have been orphaned because they are HIV+ or whose parents have died from AIDS. Initially envisioned as a resource for educating the community about HIV and caring for people dying from AIDS, with the availability of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs the center now feels more like an extended family than a hospice for the hopeless. The children are healthy, happy, playful, and loving, and are quick to warm up to visiting volunteers. Despite the children’s unbelievably difficult histories, I believe that [the children's center] is the happiest place on earth. It’s a place without time, a place of acceptance, a place of second chances and a place where family is not defined by who your parents are or were. It’s also a place where children who would have otherwise been abandoned are being nurtured and told they can reach beyond the small dusty village they grew up in. I found the children were eager to learn, held a deep appreciation for any and all visitors, constantly displayed their love and affection, and demanded that I live with them in the moment. These kids took absolutely nothing for granted, and their love of life was infectious. Living there I soon became a part of their extended family. (Excerpt taken from the children's center website)
The children's center is staffed by local community members who are committed to raising the children to young adulthood, helping them transition back into the community, and supporting those who pursue university or vocational school once they leave. The center provides housing, nutrition, medicine, and education to the children as well as supplemental food, medical care, and HIV education to the surrounding community. Jointly established by an American Christian and a Cambodian Buddhist, the atmosphere of tolerance goes beyond simply religious acceptance. What truly makes the center unique in Cambodia is the rare opportunity for HIV-infected and non-infected children to live together as family, sharing homes and meals and playing together. This sets an example for the community, and its effect on increasing tolerance and diminishing fear cannot be overstated.
Depending on the needs of our partners, GSC volunteers may also join the staff at a traditional orphanage or children's day center. Volunteer Participants become part of the center’s extended family as they live, work, and play with the children and bond with the local staff. Volunteers may have the opportunity to organize a range of activities for the children that will allow them to share their own passions and talents. The possibilities for contributing are endless and may include teaching basic English, planning educational games, and leading a range of sports, art, dance, or other creative activities. As a GSC volunteer, you will have a once-in-a-lifetime experience not only as a teacher, but also as a mentor and a friend to the warm and loving children you will meet.
The Children and Orphanage Care Program is open year-round with
projects ranging from two weeks to six months or longer, depending on the needs of GSC's partners.
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