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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Street kids club together with some help from their friends

Street kids club together with some help from their friends

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street.jpg

Excitement mounts as Club Friends opens its new premises.

Two tiny kids were hoisted into the air brandishing scissors to cut a red ribbon,

and then shiny confetti was released from a hammock onto hundreds of spray-painted

heads below.

With an excited squeal from the crowd, a huge multi-colored gate slid open and the

new Club Friends at NGO Mith Samlanh/Friends was officially opened.

Sébastien Marot, coordinator of Friends, established the Phnom Penh-based

street children's NGO eight years ago. He said the new recreational club was twice

as big as the previous one to cope with increased demand, and would be used by "500

kids at our center and a few thousand from the streets".

The club opened on August 9, little over a week after the Governor of Phnom Penh,

Chea Sophara, announced his plan to force street children and the homeless from the

city's streets. Marot said he recognized the timeliness of the opening.

"It is very important to improve services for kids so the governor and donors

realize there are other options than just rounding them up and sending them away,"

he said.

Skills learned at Friends' vocational training classes were put to use during the

creation of the new center. The children helped build the lights, fans, mobile stage,

basketball ring, curtains and even the flashing "Welcome to Club Friends"

sign.

Marot said their involvement was very positive.

"It is the kids' center," he said. "When they painted the training

center their sense of ownership was very strong because they helped create it, and

this will be exactly the same."

Others pitched in too, including five volunteers from Imragen, a French organization,

who flew to Cambodia to work with Friends. Oreli, 25, said she had loved her one

month experience.

"It was very hard work moving the old equipment to the new club," she said.

"But when we saw the children we felt so much better. It is so easy to make

them laugh."

The official celebrations were greeted with enthusiasm by those who will use the

new facilities.

Eighteen-year-old Pisey, clad in a hot pink shirt with gold glitter and spray-painted

hair, is training to be a beautician at Friends.

"I am very happy and excited about the new club," she said. "There

are a lot of people here today. I like disco but I am a bit nervous so I didn't go

on stage."

Phanith, 13, performed acrobatics at the club's opening.

"I am from the squatter area but I attend Friends' school," he said. "I

was very happy today because a lot of people came to see me. I think it went well."

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