Kais Kids: finally returning
When planning this round-the-world trip, two things were top of my list: one to go back to visit my friend from Death Row Dan in South Africa, and the other to return to Kais Kids orphanage in Cambodia.
Over five years ago, I wanted to do some solo travelling and ended up volunteering at a rural orphanage in Cambodia called Kais Kids. Volunteering in such a remote region is hard; a real eye-opener. By the end, I had a horrendous stomach bug and was covered in painful insect bites, so leaving came with equal measures of relief and heartache. Over the years, the children never left me, such a cheerful bunch of appreciative children, making the best out of very little. They stay embedded in your everyday life. After I left, I sponsored one girl, Alisa, seen here with me, and remained sure I would return to visit her and the others.
Kais Kids: the painful reality
Before we arrived at the orphanage, Karen, the director of Kais, contacted me to inform me that one child we called Baby Lisa had passed away without warning from coronary failure. Previously, I and some others raised money for her to have an operation, which she received, but we knew she would require many more. I sent boxes of Complan to help her recovery, difficult and expensive to buy in Cambodia. However, without donations, without money, without everything we take for granted – life is so so difficult, and despite everyone’s best efforts, it was heartbreaking to learn she died.Picture from Kais Kids Facebook posted by volunteers of Baby Lisa following heart surgery.
Then, on the drive into Kais from Phnom Penh, Karen updated us about the pretty dire situation. Recent changes to government regulations meant no adoptions can be made, so all children now at the orphanage are there to stay. Furthermore, volunteers can no longer work in orphanages. So places like POD in the UK who I volunteered with have taken Cambodian orphanages off their books. There was more.
Terrible floods damaged the land surrounding the orphanage—destroying the farm and fruit trees that at least provided some sustainability in the past. Furthermore, a recent development in the area has changed the landscape, cutting off the already limited water supply to the orphanage. Meanwhile, the floods left an infestation of snakes in the once volunteer house, and a resident cobra in the medical room. Two main buildings are infested with termites. Donations have become limited. The situation sounded impossible.
Time for a party!
So, we returned to Kais Kids with one collective aim in mind, it’s Christmas, current times are hard, so we intended to give the children a day to remember – and a day to forget their hardships. And that’s we did!
We brought decorations for the tree, and the kids loved making paper chains of their own to hang.
In the morning, another group of children made ham sandwiches with great enthusiasm, using fresh bread we brought from Phnom Penh, an absolute treat to the usual diet of rice or plain noodles. Excited children scoffed up the iced doughnuts faster than I could lay them out on the table, and I lost count of how many litres of radioactive coloured fizzy pop they got through.
“Christmas: Be the light for those who stand in the dark.”
The children’s patience to wait when told, and their willingness to help each other decipher what quite to do with a ham sandwich and how to eat it, was touching. Older kids also ensured younger ones got their fair share of the treats, and everyone was just altogether happy.
Music was arranged, and adults and children alike sang and danced into the night, way past everyone’s bedtime. Later, one of the older girls came to thank us, saying: “This is one of the best days I ever had!”
The end of a beautiful day
As the night ended, another boy I knew from before came and hugged me, then sat down behind me. I turned, and he had deep tears in his eyes; he has little English, but I couldn’t help feeling he knew the fun was over, and that tomorrow everything would return to normal.
“I will see you in the morning,” I said. “We will be here again”.
He smiled, and Iain led him off to join the others in the boys’ house for bed.
If only our children realised how damn lucky they are, I thought, and maybe just once they could experience the pure joy and meaning of Christmas.
Please if you want to help in any way at all Donate Here to give straight to The Foundation for Cambodian Children, the official charity name for Kais Kids. The smallest amount can make an unbelievable difference.