Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A monk playing an important role in protecting children

By Kanha Chan

Venerable Mao Kun, the head monk in Vihear Thom pagoda, Prey Veng province
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Kanha Chan

Since 2008, under the regional Buddhist Leadership Initiative, UNICEF Cambodia has cooperated with the Ministry of Cults and Religions to implement a four-year project promoting the role of Buddhist monks in supporting orphans, children affected by or vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, and their families. The project finished in 2012, but it was so successful that cooperation continued. The project aims to involve religious leaders as advocates to raise the voices of children and challenge social norms that allow violence against children to continue. It also promotes family-based care. The Ministry of Cults and Religions has played an important part in coordinating religious leaders and promoting their role in protecting children from violence, abuse and unnecessary family separation.

Venerable Mao Kun, the head of the monks in Vihear Thom pagoda, was part of this cooperation. In his role as a religious leader, he has helped children who experienced violence and abuse and has worked to prevent unnecessary family separation. Vihear Thom pagoda is in Rong Damrey village, Cheoung Phnom commune, Ba Phnom district, Prey Veng province.

Among many children, Kun has supported Pheap*, Dara*, and Sokly*. These three siblings, the eldest who is a teenager and the youngest of primary school-age, are survivors of violence committed by their own parents.

Kun recalled that five years ago, the parents of these children were fighting nearly every day. Due to this ongoing conflict they could not continue to live together, so they sold their house and separated. After separating, their father married a woman he met when he worked at a construction site in Phnom Penh. Their mother remarried a man in Kampong Cham province. The three children were abandoned, and with no other options, were sent to live with their aunt. But they were abused again and did not receive any care or attention from her. The children found it hard to survive and went to the pagoda to look for any food the monks had left over.

Kun noticed that the oldest child often came to the pagoda to look for food. He followed her home where he found her and two siblings living in dire conditions. He decided to support the children by giving them food, materials and accommodation, and helped identify a place for them with a foster family.

The children now live under the care of their foster mother, a widow living with her 12-year-old granddaughter. Their foster mother is happy to have the children and committed to taking good care of them. The children love her very much and consider her to be their grandmother. “I feel she is my real grandmother,” said Pheap.

To further support the children, Kun mobilized resources from both local and overseas Buddhist followers to buy a small plot of land for US$400. The plot is next to the foster family and he arranged to build a wooden house for them, costing around US$2,800. The monk is now looking for vocational skills training for the oldest sibling, while the youngest is studying in the pagoda primary school.

Kun understands the importance of family-based care. He said two people had approached him and asked to take the children to be their housemaids, but he refused. “We try to keep children in the community as much as we can,” he said. “If there are no other options, the pagoda can be a temporary shelter for children, but it is not sustainable and is not a long-term place for children to grow.”

Accommodation at Vihear Thom pagoda, Prey Veng province
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Kanha Chan

Currently, Kun is building 20 rooms to provide short-term and temporary accommodation to vulnerable children. He is also providing pagoda-based education at Grade 1 and 2, moral teaching, computer and English classes.

* Names changed to protect identities

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