New Friends campaign features images of a limbless Barbie doll in a bid to reduce the number of kids panhandling on Siem Reap’s streets
Spend any time in the Old Market quarter of Siem Reap and it won’t be long before you feel a tug on your sleeve. A dirty young street urchin with sad eyes will be pleading for a dollar to buy something to eat. It’s hard to resist, and Cambodians, expats and tourists are all guilty of surrendering their small change.
In a snapshot study during a 24-hour period in 2014, a Friends International team counted some 600 children selling and begging on Siem Reap’s streets.
It’s a problem Friends’ ChildSafe Network is hoping to tackle with a thought-provoking photography exhibition that opened recently at Kaya Cafe in Siem Reap and is on until March 31.
Titled Think Before Giving To Begging Children, the provocative collection of prints are by renowned French artist Pascal Colrat, whose work is in galleries and museums in Europe.
They include a stencil of a boy and girl stamped on a wooden mousetrap with a pile of coins where the cheese would normally be placed, and an image of a Barbie doll with bloodied stumps where her arms and legs should be.
“It’s mainly tourists we’re targeting, but also Cambodians and expats,” said Friends International technical assistant Anna Jolly. “Expats also give even though they know it’s wrong, but giving is cross-cultural. For Cambodians, it’s cultural, part of Buddhist practice. It’s human nature to see a hungry child and want to help.
“But the only thing it’s helping is to alleviate the discomfort you feel rather than supporting a positive outcome for the child.”
Friends International has designed the exhibition so that it’s mobile and hopes more venues will display the exhibition over coming months to keep the message circulating. Their focus is Siem Reap’s town centre, where the practice of giving money to street children is at its worst.
Of the 600 children on Siem Reap’s streets, about 20 are “street-living children”, who have lived on the streets since they were young and scavenge and beg, said William Sun, Outreach and ChildSafe Community Project manager at the NGO’s drop-in centre.
“It’s slow work for street-living children, and for street-working kids as well,” Sun said. “As long as there are opportunities to make money, they’ll keep seeking them, but it’s something that we’re not going to give up on because we can see the results are
so great when we can get them off the streets and back to school.”
“We just want people to stop giving them money. It’s much better for the children and their families that people support our other activities.”
Sun said people could instead buy Friends International products made by the children’s caretakers. The money goes towards supporting families and keeping kids in school.
“Some people say, ‘Well, it’s out of generosity’ that they give,” Sun says. “And I recognise this, but giving the children money keeps them on the street. When there is potential to get something, the problem will remain.”