One Thursday afternoon, we sent a team of 10 students to go with the New Life Outreach team to a slum behind Sovanna shopping center, in the south west of Phnom Penh. Most of the “houses” were no more than a bed in a shed, sitting on top of files of garbage. This is not the notorious “garbage mountain” of Meanchey - more about that later. These are just “normal” garbage. The bed is where people (and dogs) sleep, eat, and do everything else.
The filth, the stench, the garbage, the state of dress (undress) of the children was overwhelming. The New Life team had to bathe (hose down) some of the kids, and clip their nails before letting them join the gathering. This is part of their program to teach the kids basic hygiene.
At first, we were wondering where they would find the venue for a gathering of about 50 kids. The day before, we saw them cleaning a big tarpaulin and wondered how they would use it. It turned out there was an alleyway less then 10 feet wide running through the slum. The New Life team simply laid the tarpaulin down in the middle of the alleyway, and let the kids sit on the tarpaulin.
Then they taught the kids, gave them some food, and pray with the kids. Our students led the singing and games. The kids were really lively and a lot of fun, despite their state of poverty.
Half way through the program, wind picked up and heavy rain came. We tried to continue. Eventually it became so bad we had to retreat. A lady living there offered to let us shelter in her shed - those we tried to help ended up helping us. The rain did not stop, however. And some of our students who got wet started to get cold. I had to order them to retreat.
I went out to the street to get some tuk-tuks with the help of the leader of the New Life team. Then I went back to get our students. By then I was completely soaked from head to toe, my only protection being a totally wet hat. But my main concern was the safety and health of our students. Thankfully, we went back to the hotel safely and nobody got sick.