Vanna Hout

Project Director Phnom Penh SOS Children's Villages in Cambodia

My responsibility to cause change

I started to work with SOS Children’s Village Cambodia in November 2000. I am one of the first members of SOS CV Cambodia which started its operations with the first village in Phnom Penh. As a senior co-worker I was responsible for various functions such as: sponsorship work, administration, education. I was proud of my work for children who lost their parents, and I thought that these children are very lucky to be able to live in a house with brothers and sisters in the beautiful village with the mothers taking care of them. I played football, volleyball or tennis with the children. I like the way they smile when they play together.
In 2006, I was assigned to work as the village director in the third Cambodian SOS Children’s Village Battambang, in the second capital city of Cambodia. Battambang is about 300 km away from Phnom Penh. Why did I decide to work and live in this province? I lived there for about four years when I was 8 years old. It was during the genocide regime[1]. Many people were killed, died by punishment and starvation in that regime. I wanted to teach and educate the rebel’s[2] children who lost their parents. Most of their parents were uneducated. That’s why they followed this ideology and killed their people.
I went to the province near the Cambodian and Thai border to select the children who would live in the village after I got the information from the authorities. This place was the former stronghold of rebels. Explosive mines were scattered along the road and field. The road was very rough. I saw dead marks of mines along the road. Even though it was so dangerous to go to that area I went there so many times to bring around 20 children home.
I firstly felt very surprised and touched when children called me Dad. I was aware that they never had someone to call “Dad” before. They need a father and a mother as all children do. As the father figure in the village I had a lot of children. It was my responsibility to focus on the development of the children in their education. Most of the children who were brought home to the SOS Children’s Village Battambang had never gone to school before and their ages were over their school levels. I discussed with my co-workers and mothers to set up a family rule for the children, for example: what time they learn, what time they play or go to bed, if we need to organize extra classes, remedial class for children to learn. Educators went around the family houses to help the children in doing their homework. I had to monitor and make sure that mothers encourage their children to do the homework every evening. Furthermore we organized entertainment activities such as sports and arts for children who had talent to learn and we did so also to reduce stress and homesickness of the children. Mothers and co-workers worked as team to push the children to learn hard from day to day. Child Protection was also a crucial aspect that was taught and implemented within the village.
Looking back to the past ten years the efforts of me and my colleagues aiming at the development of the children’s education was most successful as a team. Today some of the children are learning at universities and some of them get employment. The children are happy to participate in all activities which we have organized to shape their future.

[2] The rebels were the so called Khmer Rouge forces. They fought against the government to create their territory after falling their ruling the country known as a genocide regime and continued the civil war from 1979 till 1999.