While in Cambodia, our Semester at Sea group did more than just visit the temples. Our first stop in Phnom Penh was actually to an orphanage that takes in children whose mothers have died of HIV or who no longer can care for them because of the disease.
Nearly 100 children live at Palm Tree Orphanage, which started in 2002 and was founded by a SAS alum.
Those over a certain age leave the grounds in the morning to go to English school and return in the afternoon for the rest of their education.
Many of them go onto university when they are of age; aside from food, shelter and love, the Palm Tree Foundation gives them a chance at a future.
On this particular evening, they all welcomed us into their home and treated us to a traditional Khmer routine with elaborate costumes, singing and bamboo dances.
This little girl absolutely stole the show. She lit up the stage with her smile and her spirit, and I wondered how I could store her in my pocket and sneak her back onto the ship with me.
After they’d danced their little hearts out for us, the children dispersed and each zeroed in on one of us. This 16-year-old beauty came and took my hand, then led me around the multi-floor compound, eager to show me where she lives, goes to school and eats her meals.
Children in Cambodia are no different than they are anywhere else in the world; these kids in particular had PEOPLE magazine covers and other tabloid clippings of Robert Pattinson pasted all over their walls.
We were there for too short of a time, but as we went to leave, many of the children asked us for our email addresses and promised to write. It was cute how eager they were to practice their English on us, while at the same time incredibly shy at doing so (though their speech and vocabulary was nearly perfect).
The director stressed to us that the orphanage doesn’t really need funding, what they need is volunteers. If you’re interested in donating your time (or maybe graphic design efforts to get them a decent website up and running), contact me and I’ll put you in touch with the program.