If you want to assist the kids at FLO please take at look at the FLO website as there many ways you can be involved from being a foster parent to making a tax-deductible donation. It’s a good cause, I promise.
Throughout our travels, Kelly and I have met many interesting people and some of them have directed us (or provided guidance) on our path through SE Asia. One such person was a guy we randomly chatted with at a cafe on Koh Pha-Ngan Island in Thailand. He had come from Cambodia and one of the things he mentioned he had done was visited an orphanage. We took down the name of the place and about a month later we were being picked up from the airport for our own volunteer experience at FLO.
FLO is fantastically well-run orphanage headed up by Phaly Nuon, a survivor of the genocide. She is a neat lady with a huge heart for kids and, boy, has she done an amazing job. I’ll admit I was skeptical and even a little scared of volunteering at the orphanage because in my head I pictured a scary Romanian style place, like the ones you see on those 20-20 exposes. Yikes! Luckily, I still went, even with my fears, because the experience turned out to be completely awesome.
First off, the grounds of FLO were so nice and even sported a guesthouse. Seriously, this guesthouse was super nice and came complete with Air-Con, a mini-fridge and hot water in the shower. Lap of luxury, I tell you. Even the kid housing was pretty nice as all the dorms have been recently completed to house the numerous kids residing at FLO.
Girl’s and Young Boy’s Dorm AND the Basketball court with the dining area in the back.
Older Boy’s Dorm
The kids range in age from 6 to 18 years of age and FLO houses at least 200 kids. This is crowded, so the kids sleep 3 people to 2 beds, i.e. the bunk beds are pushed together to accommodate everyone. All the kids go to public school and also take classes on the ground of FLO. All the kids learn English and some are even learning Chinese, Thai and Japanese languages. In addition, they gain other skills such as learning about computers. Overall, the system works and when the kids reach 18 they are encouraged to go to university or are found jobs in the community. This is not a depressing place, but is a living, breathing, kid-encouraging machine. I was duly impressed.
The kids in the Library
Our duties while at the orphanage included teaching English class, helping out in the library, water activities, and practicing English with anyone who wanted to practice.
Last summer I taught English classes at summer camps, so it was fun to put some of my ACLE skills to use with these Cambodian kids. We taught kids about the parts of the body so of course we sang “Head, shoulders, knees and toes” and then we sang another ‘Body Part’ favorite-The Hokey Pokey. Here Kids yelled out body parts and I danced and sang like an idiot to get them to remember them. Mostly the kids just stood in the circle laughing at me trying to “shake my nose” in the Hokey Pokey circle, but they seemed to enjoy it, so my idiocracy wasn’t for nothing.
Our timing for our visit was perfect in that on Saturday Mr. Rob Hail, the director of the Email Foster Parents International (EFPI) program, rolled into town. He has been working with FLO since the year 2000 volunteering his time, money, and heart. Basically, EFPI is a program that links families in the US to kids in Cambodia. The link is not only financial (you pay $30 a month for your child), but is also personal. The families and foster kids exchange emails, photos, and encouragement all through wonders of the internet. It’s a neat program that benefits the kids in that it supports their tangible lives, i.e. schooling and food, but also supports the emotional side as it encourages kids to continue with school and to study hard. There is no free ride here or anywhere, so these kids know that school is super important. Most are very diligent students and I was astounded at the level of English for many of them.
The other benefit of having Boo Rob (that’s what the kids call him) around was the fun we got to have that I don’t think we would have gotten normally.
This is Rob and one of his many FLO friends.
For instance because of Boo Rob, one day we got to monitor a swimming session where about 30 kids piled into a small-ish above-ground pool on the FLO grounds. This was quite an event as these 30 kids barely all fit in the pool, but they absolutely had a blast.
In addition to pool time, Kelly and I had the opportunity to take 6-7 kids to the Phnom Penh Water Park (PPWP) for a day of F-U-N. We had to personally select our 7 kids, which seemed an impossible task because how do you pick 6 kids out of 200 orphans to go to the waterpark, but we prevailed and picked 7 kids mostly from our English class. This was by far one of the best things I have done in SE Asia. These kids LOVE the waterpark and most of the kids that went with us had never been before, so we were all in for quite an adventure.
The whole day was completely amazing including the fact that as we passed the airport I saw Jen and Erin in a tuk tuk. They are my UNC friends and Jen had literally just landed in Cambodia when we drove past them in the FLO van. All the kids waved to them as we passed.
The kids were also incredibly appreciative of the fact that they got to go to the PPWP and they thanked us about a million times before we left the park. One little guy even said to us “Thank you so much, I hope you get whatever you want for in your life”. Oh my God, I think my heart just broke into a million pieces.
Another neat aspect of FLO, as if you need another one, is the emphasis they put on the traditional arts of Cambodia, many of which were almost lost during the rein of the Khmer Rouge. The kids learn the traditional silk making techniques and create beautiful pieces, which are for sale at FLO and at a store in Phnom Penh. Also, they train as dancers in the traditional Cambodian dance called Apsara. In fact, these kids are so good 30 of them are leaving for a cultural exchange to Hawaii in two weeks time. As part of the thank you for volunteering at FLO, the kids performed 3 Apsara dances for us in full costume. It was amazing and it is pretty phenomenal that this type of dance is even still taught because during the Khmer Rouge many of the dance instructors were exterminated. The history makes one truly appreciate how incredible it is to be able to see a performance like this after all that has happened.
In conclusion, FLO is a fantastic place to spend a bit of time and I enjoyed the kids and staff there immensely. If you ever find yourself in Phnom Penh do not hesitate to stop in to visit them as they will give you a warm welcome and a time you are not soon to forget.