We started the Dump Kids project nine years ago with the aim of rescuing 15 children from scavenging for recyclable materials in appalling conditions on Phnom Penh’s rubbish dump. We sent them to school, gave them some basic healthcare and provided a daily cooked meal for them in order to improve their standard of nutrition and remove some of the pressure on their parents to force them to work in order to get enough money to pay for their food.
Some of the children have completed school and found employment or are in vocational training centres. Some were placed in orphanages following the death of both parents from AIDS. Some families’ level of income has risen sufficiently to enable them to provide for their children without our help. None of the parents now has to work on the dump (so we renamed the project Children of Cambodia) but all are still desperately poor. Every time a child has left, another needy one has taken his or her place.
The dump was filled up and has been replaced by another in a different location. What used to be wasteland just outside Phnom Penh’s city limits is now part of the suburbs. The standard of living of people in the area is rising, but the families whose children we support are an exception to this. Some of the parents work in Thailand and their children are living with grandparents in little more than shacks. Support for their education and the daily meal are still vital.
In December, I spent a morning with the pastor who manages the Children of Cambodia project for us, and some of the children whom we help. Because of the shortage of teachers, Cambodian children go to school either in the morning or in the afternoon; these were due to go in the afternoon. Those cared for by our project cross over at the pastor’s home where his wife cooks their daily lunch that we pay for.
Ten years or more ago, the pastor planted a church near the then Phnom Penh municipal rubbish dump, located just outside the city’s built-up area. His vision was to make disciples among the dump scavengers and their families. Since then, the dump has been filled to capacity and the city has expanded. Much of what used to be waste ground is now heavily built up. The pastor bought a modest house in the area and the church now meets on its roof under a metal awning, but the church members, most of whom had to find other sources of income after being excluded from the replacement dump, have been displaced by the new development and have had to find new places to live outside the ever expanding city.
The pastor told me his calling is to preach the gospel to the poor, so where the poor go, he will follow. He anticipates that when he retires from his job he will move to a poorer area to plant another church and serve the people there. I admire this humble man, who could have done well for himself out of the corruption normally associated with his job but has instead decided to serve the kind of people that Jesus delighted in spending time with. He even pays for food for the children out of his own pocket when CCC has insufficient funds to send to Cambodia.
After our meeting, the pastor took me in his dilapidated car to visit some of the children’s homes. As I trod gingerly along a path of scattered bricks and stepped over a rivulet of something unpleasant I offered a silent prayer of thanks that this was the dry season and the area was not under a foot or more of water. As you look at some of the photos of these homes that the pastor took, please pray for the children and their families.