The Orphanage

COFCOPlotting my RTW trip has admittedly been purely selfish; I get to go, see and do what I want – and I’m lucky for it. There’s solid chance that trend would have carried on were it not for my new friend Jeanne, whom we met while in Phnom Penh.

While riding in a tuk tuk to get to a boat tour she had planned, she asked Ayaz and I if we would do her an enormous favor when we reached Siem Reap, where she had just been traveling. We automatically agreed. The request:

To buy supplies and deliver them to the orphanage where Jeanne had volunteered for a day while in Siem Reap, COFCO Cambodian Orphan Family Center Organization.

We happily agreed to the task. It wasn’t until Ayaz and I were alone that the questions started.

“But what if we don’t have enough time? We’re going to Siem Reap to see the temples!” “Can we make a donation instead?” “We really don’t know in reality where the donations go to! What if it’s a fraud?” “Is it fair to kids to pop in for an hour or 2 and then leave them, just like that?”

After convincing ourselves that we wouldn’t have enough time to make it to the orphanage in our short time in Siem Reap, we looked at a map and realized it was a mere 5 minute tuk tuk ride away from our hotel.

With no good reason (and really our only reason was we didn’t have the time what with a laundry list of wats and temples to see) not to head there, we popped into the nearest stores and stocked up on colored markers, notebooks, toothbrushes and toothpaste, 2 soccer balls and 2 hula hoops.

And so we made our way to the orphanage, with some trepadition, not knowing what awaited us there. Down a dusty dirt road, we found a blue gate, and pushed it open – but not before scores of children who just prior had sat quietly eating lunch ran like the dickens to us – screaming and shouting and jumping and hugging us for all they were worth. While we can’t be sure of the details of the organization beyond what we saw (and were made extra dubious by the fact that later that evening we witnessed the children giving out flyers for the orphanage in restaurants in downtown Siem Reap), we can say with certainty that the kids we met are well-fed, and clothed, educated.

Quickly personalities came to the forefront, the ringleader, the jokester, the shy ones. We laughed and chatted, got tours of where they sleep and even saw their innumerable pet puppies and pet baby monkey. Cute overload, indeed.

Then, we did what I like to think I do best: Dance party! (see pictures) The kids had been learning traditional and hip hop dances, and showed off their moves while we joined in, all laughing, shouting, clapping and wiggling.

COFCO 2The thing that stuck out the most during my time at the orphanage and what I’ll likely remember always were the hugs – it was hugs galore everywhere I turned. I love and often forget how easy it is for children to embrace someone – literally and figuratively. Leaving the grounds and the kids behind was heartbreaking – they held onto us and dragged us back with all their might, begging us to stay.

The day, by chance, also marked our exact halfway point of the trip – 3 1/2 months on the road. I can’t really imagine a better way to mark it.

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8 Comments

  1. Dana Dalton says:

    How wonderful, Val! What an experience. Again, brought back memories from my “Project Mexico” experience. Can’t believe you are at the half way point…

  2. Caroline Ely says:

    Wonderful story.

  3. I could just see it and feel it all. I wish I could have shard this with you. You will cherish this memory forever. The children and the story touched me but the “monkey on my back” photo is priceless. One definitely for your wall group.
    Love and hugs,
    Momala

  4. Lady!! I’m so glad you and A took the leap of faith and went. How wonderful. I’m holding back the tears. 🙂 I can’t believe your half-way done. Amazing how time flies when your having fun. 😉

    • Valerie Conners says:

      honestly, lady – i thank heavens EVERY day we did this. best thing I’ve certainly ever done by a long shot!

  5. I would love to hear that you did the Gravedigger during your dance party.

    • Valerie Conners says:

      sadly, I did not. you should know that I had to really dig deep to think of any dance moves that wouldn’t lead children or adults to this I was utterly insane.