Volunteering At A Cambodian Orphanage With ASEAN’s Youth Leaders

How did you bid farewell to 2015 and celebrate the arrival of 2016? I was in Cambodia on a volunteer + study tour (and of course, I did some sight-seeing too), and it was a most meaningful start to the year.🙂 First, here’s a quick 3-minute video that my Cambodian pal, Sodh, uploaded to Youtube:

All of us became pals after attending the ASEAN4U programme in 2015, and thought that this particular trip to Cambodia (visiting an orphanage, and learning more about the history and culture of the country) would be an especially memorable one. We had 2 delegates from Thailand, 3 from Singapore, and the Cambodians were fabulous hosts.

Of course, some of us had certain concerns regarding ‘orphanage tourism’, whether donations were actually channeled to providing food and shelter to the children, the psychological impact on the children (as we were only transient visitors), and what exactly to bring with us to the orphanage. [ Hence this blogpost, should you have similar queries!😀 ]


Have you heard of the term “Orphanage Tourism” before? According to UNICEF, there are some 228 orphanages in Cambodia, and these attract approximately 2 million visitors every year. The number of orphanages has risen by about 75% in the past 5 years. A Cambodian NGO – Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE Cambodia) – estimates that only 3 out of 10 children in orphanages are actually orphans. The others had been attracted by the prospect of getting food and education.

You are welcome to do some research online before heading over to Cambodia. Because we went with the local Cambodians, we were confident that whatever help we could provide would go to those who needed it most.

Our Cambodian Bong (“brother”), KK, took us to this particular orphanage: Sacrifice Families And Orphans Development Association, or SFODA in short. The address is #631, Group 8, Phum Deumkor, Sangkat Chroy Changwa, Khan Russey Keo, Phnom Penh (Tel: 012 842 495, Email: sfoda_ngo@yahoo.com) Bong KK does a lot of work helping youths so we were happy to go along with his recommendation, and we know that Bong and his group of friends would continue the good work even though us foreigners are transient visitors.

We didn’t know when we would return, so it was heartbreaking to hear the children say “Come back again soon” or “See you again”.

Sacrifice Families and Orphans Development Association

I was told that there are some 50+ orphans staying here. When we arrived, we realized that there were some toddlers and others who were in their late teens! Apparently, the older ones are allowed to stay if they are unable to find work outside the orphanage.

*I believe that each child is beautifully and wonderfully made so this label of “orphan” is unnecessary. Henceforth, I shall refer to them as “children”🙂

Because we experienced a delay in getting to the orphanage in the morning, the children were all waiting for us when we arrived:

Cambodian Orphanage

Some of them told me they were feeling hungry, so before we commenced any activity, we gave them the snacks that we had brought. We’d also brought soya bean milk for them (for that protein boost), stationery (as the kids do go to school), toothbrushes, paper balls for the younger ones to play with, and netballs / basketballs / rugby balls for the older ones, and more!🙂

Here’s what my photographer pal (Max Clyne) donated, and which I helped bring over to the orphange, all the way from Singapore.

Donations to Cambodian Orphanage

I didn’t know why toothbrushes are a good idea… till I saw the lollipops and put two and two together. LOL!😀 There were also some pencils, erasers, sharpeners and crayons.


We had 3 activities for them that day: an art session which I helped to lead, a language class led by the animated English teacher from Thailand (Tiffany), and fun + games with the SG “twins” Wylie and PS.

When our ‘students’ were told to draw what they’d like to have / see / do in this new year, some went straight to drawing and coloring…

Cambodian child

… while others wrote, in pretty good English, their hopes and dreams for this new year.

 Cambodian children

This particular kiddo was quite the star in the video you saw above and here he is doodling on another kid’s artwork:

Cambodian child drawing

And when we were leaving for our next destination, he even climbed (unassisted) into our van multiple times. Multiple times because he was carried out after each attempt. He’s so precious!!!

Cambodian kid

[ A final goodbye pic with Wow from Thailand. The lady in the purple pants is the Director of the Centre. ]

I got some pictures with the kids who so sweetly presented me with their artwork as gifts! I’ve brought these drawings back with me to Singapore😀

Cambodian child art

cambodian child drawing

* Kep is a province in southern Cambodia. It’s apparently known for its seafood. Now I want to visit Kep too!😀

Cute Cambodian boy

Another kiddo’s artwork – this child wants to visit Singapore:

Cambodian orphanage visit

Like many kids in Singapore, the Cambodian children want mobile phones (in particular, iPhones). Unlike Singaporean children though, they also want motorbikes! *I’ll share more about the roads and traffic in Cambodia in another post. Stay tuned.

The Director told us that they would appreciate donations of rice and other foodstuff, so if YOU are heading over to this orphanage, you can consider getting them some.🙂 I did also spot some chickens roaming the grounds. It may be a good idea to do some chicken farming and get a regular supply of eggs for the children to eat. Hmm.

~ More Pictures ~

Rugby ball toss with teacher Tiffany!🙂

Cambodian orphanage visit

An adorable kiddo:

Cambodian orphanage visit

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love” – Mother Teresa

PS cradling a playful child as both enjoyed the lollipops from Singapore😀

Volunteering at a Cambodian Orphanage

Cute Cambodian kid

Lunchtime at the Centre:

Cambodian Orphanage lunch

Lunch for the children consisted of rice, some vegetables which were grown within the Centre, and a watered-down sauce which came to resemble soup. The children said they enjoyed these meals. To a foreigner, though, it may have seemed lacking in certain nutrients, e.g. protein. *Just an idea: if you’d like to visit, you may want to bring a tray of eggs with you too.

Cambodian Orphanage food

Yes, it is true that we may not have done anything ground-breaking or earth-shattering (ok, something like that did happen in the guesthouse but that’s another story for another time) in the orphanage, but I do think it was a fun-filled afternoon, and it was an opportunity to share with the children that people from other parts of the world do care for them too. Also some of us did make a few sacrifices in order to visit Cambodia. Wow, in particular, burnt the midnight oil for a few nights so he could clear some work assignments before heading to Cambodia, and on the return trip, he even took a 14-hour bus ride back to the Thai border!

I’m reminded of the story which involves a boy and a starfish…


boy and starfish

– ‘The Boy and the Starfish’ story🙂 [Image from godvine.com]

A man was walking along a deserted beach at sunset. As he walked, he could see a young boy in the distance, and as he drew nearer he noticed that the boy kept bending down, picking something up and throwing it into the water. Time and again he kept hurling things into the ocean.

As the man went even closer, he was able to see that the boy was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at a time, he was throwing them back into the water.

The man asked the boy what he was doing and the boy replied, “I am throwing these washed up starfish back into the ocean, or else they will die through lack of oxygen.”

“But”, said the man, “You can’t possibly save them all, there are thousands on this beach, and this must be happening on hundreds of beaches along the coast. You can’t possibly make a difference.”

The boy looked down, frowning for a moment; then bent down to pick up another starfish, smiling as he threw it back into the sea. He replied,

“I made a huge difference to that one!”


While we may not have made a huge difference to the children’s lives in the grand scale of things, I do hope that we made a difference in their lives that day, by spending time with them, by teaching them some English and Thai, and by delighting them with presents and new stationery for the new year.

Volunteering at Cambodian Orphanage

My hope for these children is that their futures will be as brilliant as their smiles.

Cambodian kids

When I have children in future, I’ll want to bring them on these trips too. I’d want them to learn how to give with a cheerful heart, inculcate in them a desire to help those who are less privileged, and to know that leaving a country with photographs and beautiful memories is more satisfying than returning home with shopping bags and pretty souvenirs.

Till we meet again, Cambodia!~😀

ASEAN youth leaders in Cambodia

Click on the links to read about:

  1. My Visit to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum a.k.a. S-21
  2. My Stay at a Singaporean-owned Guest House in Cambodia, and a study tour at Brown Coffee & Bakery
  3. My Top 5 Recommendations for Food in Cambodia, plus a few others for the adventurous palate.