Smile and hopes
Thanks to very active local contacts in Cambodia, Dentaid has supplied equipment to dental clinics and a dental nurses’ college in the capital.
The next step for the charity was to set up the Smiles and Hopes project to raise funds for dental and medical care for children living in orphanages in Phnom Penh.
To anyone in the UK, life in an orphanage seems a pretty bleak prospect.
But to children living in one of more than 100 orphanages in Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh, it is far better than the life they could expect in the community.
The rule of the Khmer Rouge left Cambodia one of the poorest countries on earth.
Ownership of property was abolished and families lost the tiny plots from which they eked a living.
All paper records were destroyed and, although families may be occupying the plot they have held for generations, developers are coming in and claiming land.
For people living on the breadline, there is little they can do to oppose those with money and power.
As so often, the residue of war has left the country littered with land mines which still kill many people. That fact, along with a scarcity of health resources, the incidence of AIDS and the diseases found in any impoverished community with poor sanitation all contribute to the high death rate. It’s estimated that around 52,000 Cambodian children have lost both parents.
For them, prospects are indeed bleak.
Diane Platt, Dentaid’s Head of Fundraising, recently accompanied a trek of volunteers to Vietnam and decided to add on a week to see the work in Cambodia at first hand and visit three orphanages in Phnom Penh. She relates what she saw.
The orphanages become the children’s home in the truest sense. They are warm and homely places where groups of five or six children live in small houses with a housemother. They attend school, not an option for the vast majority of Cambodian children who will be working from the age of five or six to contribute to the family’s income.
Once in the orphanage they have regular meals, clean clothes, medical care and, thanks to Dentaid’s Smiles and Hopes campaign, they now have dental care.
Most Cambodian children have little or no access to dental treatment and their rates of decay are among the highest in the world.
The average five-year-old in Phnom Penh has 10 decayed teeth, and a recent study of 16-18 year-olds showed that they had an average of six decayed permanent teeth. By the age of 15, many young people need to have permanent teeth extracted, with the inevitable resulting impact on the quality of life.
Clinics equipped by Dentaid offer free treatment to the orphans but they don’t have the facilities to care for all the children and other clinics have to charge.
Compared with the UK, the cost in miniscule, just £500 is enough to provide medical and dental care for a whole orphanage for a year. But it’s money which has to be found.
Once in the care of an orphanage, children stay there until they are 18. Unlike the UK, they get continued support while they are in full time education and are offered interest free loans to purchase a moped, the usual means of transport around the city.
The closeness of the ties they build is demonstrated by the fact that most of them stay in touch throughout their lives and many come back to work at the orphanage which raised them.
If you would like to contribute to the work in Cambodia with money or equipment please contact Diane Platt on 01794 324249 or by email [email protected]
* The charity has an urgent request out for 90 autoclaves for Cambodia so they are especially welcome.