Sadly, Cambodia has long faced the problem of child abuse.
When the well known Russian millionaire and notorious child abuser Alexander Trofimov was again recently accused of sex crimes with under age boys and girls in Sihanoukville province, more posters, banners and stickers about child protection were disseminated to raise awareness of the crime.
Now, a non profit organization in Sihanoukville known as ‘Let Us Create’ has found that art can be a therapeutic way to help children who have been abused as well as a way to warn others of the risks they face at the hands of abusers.
‘Let Us Create’ has 160 beach children being trained at their center and they have helped to reduce the number of beach child-vendors who sell the children to paedophiles.
“The majority of children are the beach kids who work from morning until late night,’’ says Leah Kidd, Program Manager of ‘Let Us Create.’
“Sometimes they don’t go home at night because they need to earn money for their family. I cannot speak for the children themselves, but I imagine they are very tired. They have to work so hard.’’
Every day, children at the beach try to sell souvenirs such as necklaces, bracelets or fireworks to tourists and although the vast majority of visitors happily buy their knick-knacks, the young people can be vulnerable to tourists who would abuse them.
According to Eve Sao Sarin, the director of M’Lop Tapang, non profit organisation working on child protection issues based in Sihanoukville, there are about 700 children working on the streets and beaches of the province.
His organisation manages to take some children away from work through education, but many more children are still hawking souvenirs.
“Some children earn from $10 to $20 per day. So sometimes it’s hard for us to take them away from the beach because they rely on the money,” Eve Sao Sarin said.
The M’Lop Tapang organisation believes that awareness is the best way to protect children from abuse, so Sarin’s organisation cooperated with other non profit organisations to run a campaign that required all Tuk Tuk drivers, motor taxi drivers and hotel owners to keep their eyes on the beach children, especially when they engage with tourists.
‘Let Us Create’ shares M’Lop Tapang’s difficulties in removing children from their work on the beach, even when free lessons are on offer. What Leah can do is not just to offer free education to the children, but also to provide some financial support to their families, so their parents can afford to allow them to attend the art classes.
Mostly foreign artists teach the children draw or to use acrylics and they can paint whatever they want to. Beyond the skills of painting, Leah believes art is like therapy to help heal the problems of some of the children. This art class can help them to express their feeling, so their sorrow will be released.
“These children came from the poor background. I guess they are the poorest children,” Leah said. Through the arts, they are able to express their feeling of sadness, feeling of loneliness or feeling of joy. It helps them deal with negative emotions.
‘Let Us Create’ sells the paintings created by the children at its gallery of the same name in Sihanoukville.’ Chab Chamreoun, the president of the ‘Let Us Create,’ notes that the paintings sell well, especially in the dry season.
Beyond therapy, the paintings can be sold.
Two years ago, some paintings were shown in Australia and many sold there too. Last year, paintings were also exhibited at a gallery in Siem Reap province.
On July 23, a series of paintings named ‘Entitlement to Freedom’ will be displayed in Phnom Penh at the Botanic Café.
Chab Chamreoun wants people to appreciate the children’s paintings rather than their background.
The exhibition opens at Botanic Cafe for a month from July 23 at 126, St 19, near the National Museum
To contact the reporter on this story: Roth Meas at [email protected]