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Kids from the school of hard knocks blossom

Kids from the school of hard knocks blossom

The mother usually signs and agrees not to allow her child to go collecting garbage.

FOR Protestant Youth Minister Tim Paton, 38, a Frenchman with parents from the United Kingdom who were Protestant ministers in France, Phnom Penh’s street kids from the slums who go around collecting garbage are the most important people to help.

Most of the families in the slums come from the provinces and are in debt of some kind which they cannot pay, Paton says, with the father often getting work as a cyclo or moto driver, while the mother and child go around the streets at night with a cart and flashlights collecting garbage to sell at the recycling centers, earning $US1 or $2 per day.

While working as a youth pastor in France, he read that Phnom Penh had 20,000 kids sleeping in the streets.

So Paton gave away his possessions and bought a one-way ticket to Phnom Penh in September, 1999, and joined Harvest International Services, a United Kingdom-based Christian-Anglican NGO, working there for four years.

Along the way he worked hard to learn the Khmer language and found it a “humbling experience”.

His next project was working out of a mobile drop-in centre in a bus with the seats removed, like a portable classroom, giving some English instruction and encouragement to street kids and calling it The Bridge of Hope.

He’s long been affiliated with the International Christian Assembly, which is moving to a new location near Phnom Penh airport and will offer its first services on Sunday, February 6, at 10:30am.

Paton says the ICA, a grouping of Protestant churches, is the largest international church in Phnom Penh.

He says it was his parents’ faith that inspired him to become a pastor.

“The reason I follow Jesus is I saw my mum and dad every day walking the talk,” he said.

The lack of discord in his childhood and the stability provided by his parents’ love and faith gave the impetus for Paton’s decision to work in service of others. He spends a lot of his time in Phnom Penh’s slums including Bang Trabek, Bong Tampou, Tha Kom, Bontey Slenk and Russey Khow.  

“Tourists never know about these places,” he says.

Paton’s latest program sponsors children to go to school and pays parents $30 per month, after they sign a contract. This is called the Bong Paoun Project.

“The mother usually signs,” Paton said.  She agrees to not allow her child to go collecting garbage and that her child will go to school every day.

“When she signs the child’s labour chains just break,” Paton said.

Paton organises volunteers, about half local Khmer people and half expats, who give an hour or two a week and go into the school and make sure each child is in the class.

“Hopefully the cycle of child labour is broken,” Paton said.

That’s when the volunteer ‘big brother’ or ‘big sister,’ volunteer thorugh Paton’s program will go into the school and check that the child is in class.

Paton said it was when he was four years old, praying with his brother before bedtime,  that he gave his life over to God.

His English mother and Scottish father had met in France.

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