By Buthdy Sem
A young boy doing his school work in a group home
© UNICEF Cambodia/2017/Buthdy Sem
Poipet, Cambodia, January 2018 – Having a home to come back to after school has changed the lives of young victims of trafficking. To provide better and safer care for child victims of human trafficking and labour exploitation, NGO Damnok Toek began transitioning its long-running residential care institution into a community-based care home in January 2017, and the benefits are already obvious.
Arriving home from school, Dara and Chamrong*, two boys who had made this transition, greeted us politely with “Chom reap sou?” (How do you do?). Dara, 16, said he was very happy living in a group home. “I can focus on my study and learn better as there is no disturbance from other friends,” he said. “The result is that my study has improved. I was ranked second among 40 students in grade 8.”
Damnok Toek (‘drop of water’ in Khmer) was given technical and financial support from UNICEF and the Partnership Programme for the Protection of Children (known as 3PC), and was influenced by other institutions that had transformed into the community-based model. Damnok Toek learned about community-based care from the NGO, Cambodian Children Trust, a member of 3PC which, besides working to protect vulnerable children in Cambodia, also works as a platform to share best practices with its partners.
As a result, and in coordination with a commune committee for women and children and a village chief to ensure the safety of the children, two group homes were formed. Up to four children live together in the group homes, with a social worker who looks after them. The social worker guides the children in their daily routine of getting ready for school, doing their homework and keeping the house tidy.
“I am happier living at this home than living at the institution, because I feel I have developed spiritually,” said 17-year-old Chamrong. “I am learning how to grow and communicate with other people,” he continued. “I am more exposed to the community here and have more people to communicate with. I am learning to live a normal life within the community,” he said. Chamrong said living in the home had taught him many life skills, including looking after younger members of the group and doing housework. Chamrong is in grade 10 and is ranked ninth out of 42 students.
Damnok Toek has placed six children in two group homes as part of a pilot initiative. Services include house rental, food, medical support, living facilities, education, social support and counselling by a social worker.
“They are happy here,” said Ms. Chhey Chan, a coordinator of the alternative care programme who is also a social worker. “They have integrated well in community life and can relate to their neighbourhood. They are behaving well and learning well. We are confident about implementing more group homes,” she added.
Ms. Chhey Chan visits the home every day to check on the children’s progress and wellbeing. She talks to the owner of the home and the neighbours. This helps her understand how the children are progressing. Neighbours of the group home said the children were friendly and studied hard.
A young girl studies in a group home
© UNICEF Cambodia/2017/Buthdy Sem
This is the first time Damnok Toek has placed children who have experienced trafficking and labour exploitation in neighbouring Thailand into group homes. After their repatriation by Thai authorities, the Poipet Transit Centre of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation referred the children to Damnok Toek for child protection services, including a safe house, case management and family reintegration.
“A total of 26 vulnerable children and youths, mainly victims of human trafficking and exploitation, have been living at a Damnok Toek-run residential care institution for two years–and some for more than 10 years,” said Mr. Sang Rithy, the Director of Damnok Toek Poipet. “They were not able to be reintegrated with their families or relatives because their whereabouts are unknown.”
“I am very pleased to see them living independently, becoming self-reliant, getting up by themselves, preparing and going to school by themselves and significantly improving their independent living habits and self-discipline,” he continued. “I hope they become good students, good friends and good children in their families and communities.”
The 3PC programme aims to promote family-based care, transforming institutional care into models such as independent living and group home arrangements. By the end of 2018, at least 26 vulnerable children who are victims of human trafficking and currently living in residential care at Damnok Toek will be reintegrated into independent living arrangements or group homes.
*The names of the children have been changed to protect their identities.