After a few days of sightseeing and absorbing the culture of Cambodia, the team visited with 2012 Honoree Benoît Duchâteau-Arminjon and the children he serves today.
“The Cambodian people have proven to be extremely welcoming and pleasant to us and we learned a great deal about the historical culture of Buddhism and its relationship to Hinduism,” said Harry Leibowitz, World of Children Co-Founder.
“It is hard to imagine,” he continued, “that in this nation where the peaceful teachings of Buddhism are so revered, someone like Pol Pot could have created so much havoc and death. He summarily murdered some 25% of the population and displaced almost all other people. In my mind so antithetical to the teachings of Buddha.”
The Cambodia of today is still in the process of healing but the signs of a positive future are everywhere. Our team has noted that construction cranes dot the skyline and traffic on the roads is more congested and frenetic than any they have seen anywhere in the world.
“I have gained a great respect for the people here and their resilience,” Harry said. “They are looking forward, not backward, and whilst they remember their past and the pain shows on their faces, they are focused on a brighter future for themselves and their children.”
Benoît, or “Benito,” is one of those focused on a brighter future for the children of Cambodia. “We address the needs of street children — especially the blind and deaf — through shelters and providing them with a complete curriculum from pre-school to university,” Benito said.
In 1991, Krousar Themy was founded to address the needs of underprivileged children in Cambodia by first providing shelters for orphaned and street children. By 1994, the first school for the blind opened. And in 1997, the first school for the deaf was created. Today, Krousar Thmey operates 66 projects in total across Cambodia. The school for deaf and blind children that our Founders visited is home to 183 students, both girls and boys.
When asked about the visit, Benito was pleased to have our Founders tour some of his facilities. “I am very honored to have them,” he said. “After the warm welcome I received in New York [at the 2012 Awards Ceremony], we are proud to see them coming, visiting our projects and understanding better our philosophy and difficulties.”
Just what is Benito’s philosophy? From the beginning, Benito wasn’t interested in creating a “band-aid” solution. No, his goal was integration — integration into the regular Cambodian educational system and integration with the society’s history and culture. To that end Krousar Thmey only allows Cambodians to work directly with the children. This allows the children to stay closely connected to their wonderful Cambodian country and culture. This is unique and seems to serve the children very well. They are not being taught by people from other countries who may not understand or respect the cultural heritage of the people and community of Cambodia that the children must deal with as they grow up.
Of course, he’s been met with difficulties and challenges all along the way. Most notably the fact that neither sign language nor Braille existed in Cambodia before Krousar Thmey came around. An impossible hurdle to overcome? Some might have said, but Benito gathered the resources needed and today both sign language and Braille are taught in Khmer — the official language of Cambodia.
Lynn Wallace Naylor, executive director at World of Children, was astounded by the visit. “Seeing the shear joy on the faces of the children is overwhelming,” she said. “They are beautiful, tender souls who are so welcoming of love and care. They are grateful for every kindness and support we can share with them.”
If you believe more children like the ones Benito is helping deserve a fair chance at life, regardless of limitations, consider donating to one of the issues we are currently funding. Simply visit our donate page to see how you can help.