I meet Soknang, who is living in a temporary shelter made of different slices of tarp and no doors or windows under a huge tamarind tree and surrounded by bushes and stinky piles of waste such as cloths and can waste. He is living in an abandoned boxing yard in Battambang town.
There are around twenty families in the same situation in the boxing yard. They would be asked to move to other different places.
Two mosquito nets are hanging from the fences above two colourful old plastic mats. Two boys are sleeping on the wet mats by the rainwater. I wonder why Soknang does not get good sleep, even though the sun rises high at 10am.
“Last night he came back at 3am, that is a reason he sleeps so well,” says Samnang, a neighbor.
Soknang normally leaves his shelter in the evening in order to beg for money at restaurants and night public markets. He comes back the shelter very late at night, sometimes at midnight or 3am.
Soknang is living with one younger brother named Keo, 18 months old, a younger cousin named Lach, three years old; a young aunt named It, 15 years old; and his paralysed grandmother and stepfather.
Another boy, Lach, is scratching his head and bleeding, due to a skin disease.
When I talk to the stepfather about the age of the children, he doesn’t know anything about the age. He doesn’t respond to me and just looks at the youngest child wearing t-shirt without pants.
The neighbours tell me that the twin brother of Samnang’s youngest brother died a few months before. I want to know the reason of his death.
The sorrowed face of the father shows instead of telling how he feels of losing a child.
“He died by sickness. He had a heavy fever,” the father says.
I want to blame the man for how careless he was and ask him why he did not bring his child to see a doctor. But the father says, “You can see, we don’t have any money to buy food and we were in a place far away from the health centre,” he says.
I get mad about this news and wonder why this still happens to Cambodians.
Soknang’s aunt and stepfather pick recyclable trash for a living.
Soknang means happiness and luck. But he does not have dreams and luck in his life. Soknang cannot tell me exactly what his dream is.
It is in their very nature that parents love and take care of children. Children mostly receive warm care from their parents. But Soknang and brothers don’t have this; their mother has disappeared for few months.
“He uses drugs. He doesn’t care much about his sons, as you can see,” Soknang’s grandmother says while Soknang’s stepfather is cooking instant noodles and eating alone, without feeding his sons.
Soknang’s grandmother is over 60 years old. Her left hand cannot move. She discharged from the hospital because she is worried about her grandsons.
“I have tetanus that is a reason I cannot use my left hand,” the grandmother says. “I got a gunshot a long time ago, I don’t remember. And it causes me to have tetanus.”
Sitting in front of the three young grandsons and watching them having and sharing food with one another, grandmother says, “I will eat the leftover food from them.”
Soknang is a good boy who loves and cares much about his younger cousin and brothers. He always showers, washes and feeds them.
Samnang dreams to be a soldier. But he doesn’t know why he dreams for the job.
Nearly five thousand children have the same life of Soknang in six main cities and towns such as Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Battambang, Sihanoukville, and at the border check points, according to a survey of the Cambodian Children Network. The major reason that they are living on the street is poverty.
One day before meeting Soknang, I met two families living in poor conditions about 35 kilometres from the town. Even they have very little money, but they are able to survive and their children are able to go to school.
There are a few reasons that people at the countryside are able to survive. Firstly, they have at least a plot of land for farming such as planting vegetables, growing crops and rearing cattle. Secondly, it is not so expensive to live at the countryside, they are able to use public services of school and health, and they are able to find unpaid food such as vegetable and snail, crabs and frog at rice field. Thirdly, the culture of helping one another at the countryside is much better than living in the city.
By: Ratana Lay, World Vision Cambodia Communicator