Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Green Gecko Project

The Wall Street Journal gives an insight into an organization dedicated to improving the lives of street children in Siem Reap: The Green Gecko Project.
It was the chance sighting of an article on Cambodian street kids in a Virgin in-flight magazine that led 41-year-old Australian Tania Palmer to Siem Reap. There she runs Green Gecko, a sanctuary where kids who used to beg barefoot along Siem Reap's bar street receive shelter, nourishment and education. Founded in July 2005, Green Gecko isn't an orphanage. Most of the 60 or so kids here still have parents or other adult relatives living in nearby slums, and occasionally visit their home. Some of the parents are land-mine victims, and many are addicted to alcohol, gambling or drugs. Few of them are in a position to send their children to school. Before starting Green Gecko, Ms. Palmer was living comfortably in Byron Bay in Australia, where she still co-owns Hug-a-Bub, a company selling baby slings. Soon after being touched by the article, she found herself living in the tourist town near Angkor Wat, and looking for a way to help.
It was impulsive behavior, to be sure, but she found an unexpected ally in the tuk-tuk driver she'd hired to get around Siem Reap. Rem Poum, 27, is now Ms. Palmer's husband and also a manager at Green Gecko, where he feels he's doing more good than he could have as a monk, a path he almost chose. The straddling of Western and Khmer culture makes Green Gecko an innovative organization. Most Khmers don't use kitchens, preferring to chop ingredients on the tile floor outside and cook on little burners. And rather than shower indoors, they bathe outside in the sun, wearing their undies or a sarong, and sleep on thin mats instead of Western-style beds. And so it is at Green Gecko for the kids. "It's so easy to impose unnecessary Western values," says Ms. Palmer.
There are some things Green Gecko insists on, including that the kids wear shoes and practice good hygiene. There are other precautions: In a country plagued by pedophiles, Green Gecko has a policy barring any one adult (staff, volunteer or visitor) from being alone with a child. Parents pose another challenge. About once every three months the parents are gathered at Green Gecko to raise awareness about the problems of domestic violence, gambling and alcoholism. The shelter also offers parents a chance to have a push-cart business so they can sell books, postcards, T-shirts and other knickknacks supplied by Green Gecko to tourists. The carts belong to Green Gecko, but the parents can keep the income. "We give them the business," says Ms. Palmer, "and then they sign a contract that they will allow their children to be educated." Link: website.

1 comment:

Carla said...

Green Gecko sounds like a real cool idea for the street kids. It's about time to give them a chance to think positively of how their future can become.

Interesting blog about Cambodia, by the way. I'll check it often from now.