News

Travel report from Phnom Penh, Cambodia

24 February, 2017 [Global Care]

Knorr-Bremse Global Care is supporting a kindergarten project for the children of rubbish collectors in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, in order to offer them a chance of a better life.

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  • Sylvia Bytow-Weissheimer (left) interviewing parents

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“It is astonishing how untroubled and cheerful these children can be,” says Sylvia Bytow-Weissheimer, Head of Knorr-Bremse Global Care. She visited a project in Phnom Penh where Global Care is supporting the Somersault Kindergarten, which has space for around 35 children. All of them come from families that live and work on Smoky Mountain, the city’s giant rubbish dump.

“You can hardly imagine the conditions the children grow up in there,” says Bytow-Weissheimer, who is visibly moved by the experience. “Smoke and poisonous fumes sting their eyes, the children are often ill, or cut themselves on broken glass, or they have eczema. They play in dirty water alongside the rats.”

The rubbish mountain of Phnom Penh is home to an estimated 100 families. The families search the piles of rubbish for useable items, and barely earn more than one euro per day. The children help, which means that they are drawn into the vicious circle of no education and poverty.

“The kindergarten aims to give children the chance to break this vicious circle,” says Bytow-Weissheimer. Picked up by the kindergarten staff in the morning, they get a chance to wash themselves first and are given a healthy breakfast. Until 4 p.m. they are allowed to be children, and to learn. Comped, the local organization implementing the project, uses a holistic approach to teach basic knowledge about hygiene and nutrition and impart an awareness of the importance of education.

“We are trying to encourage the parents to let their children come to kindergarten regularly,” says Bytow-Weissheimer. “It can be difficult sometimes, even though they can see that the children are becoming stronger and healthier, can communicate better and have better social skills. As soon as a special load of rubbish arrives, it’s often more important for the family income to have everyone there to help.”

The project is now in its second year and the organization is trying to send nine of the older children to school. A special facility has been set up in the grounds of the kindergarten to supervise the young pupils’ homework after school and to prepare them for this new challenge.

The program will definitely continue. “The few hours the children enjoy at the kindergarten, happy and free from worries, are worth a lot,” says Bytow-Weissheimer. “Our aim and our hope is that access to good education, child-friendly environment and better health will enable the children to break out of the vicious circle of poverty one day.”

 
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Sylvia Bytow-Weissheimer (left) interviewing parents