TRAVELLERS BEWARE: Children, especially orphans, are not a tourist attraction!
Harmony Farm, also known as the Cambodian Children Rural Development Organisation, is a Khmer-run NGO. It is located in a village a stone’s throw from Beng Mealea temple, about 70km northeast of Siem Reap.
First off I want to make it clear that we didn’t visit this children’s orphanage for fun or for voyeuristic purposes – not that I’m disputing Cambodian kids are some of the cutest in the world. We heard about the farm in the Lonely Planet guidebook as we were on our way to visit the nearby temple Beng Mealea and inquired with our driver, Den, about it. Whilst my friend Kim and I were exploring the temple Den happened to bump into the owner of Harmony Farm, a young fellow called Vannak, and he was very keen for us to make a stop there. Which was handy since on the way over we had purchased a few toys at a local market, just in case.
The orphanage was set up about five years ago by the philanthropic Vannak (himself an orphan) and his wife. They take in children part time or full time, including those who still have living parents but who desperately need extra support. During our visit it was the weekend so most of the children had gone home to various relatives. They would be back for school on Monday. However, there were a family of four young children at the orphanage who had lost their mother to a snake bite five years earlier, and whose father had subsequently become unable to look after them. They live permanently at Harmony Farm.
Vannak showed us around the grounds, explaining that the children help him on the land and he teaches them valuable agricultural and aquacultural skills. The farm grows a lot of its own rice and other provisions to cut down on food costs as they are 100% reliant on charitable donations. They also assist in schooling the children, including teaching them English.
The children on the farm have basically nothing. The orphanage is just a rickety house with some land. We took the children some toy cars and footballs; they spent the entirety of our visit playing with the cars, eventually using a kitten for target practice!
We gave a small donation to Vannak along with the toys, but it seemed insignificant in the face of what he is trying to achieve. Harmony Farm welcomes volunteers to assist with teaching the children and improving their environment. It is located in a beautiful part of Cambodia and if I had had the time I would happily have stayed to help out. The orphanage will gladly accept any donation people can give – and a few dollars goes a long way in this country. If anyone would like to donate to the farm or enquire about volunteering, you can contact Vannak at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
What Vannak is doing for these children is amazing. Having been orphaned at a young age himself, he has donated his whole life and all his money to helping Cambodian children with the same fate. I was in awe of his kindness and generosity, although he behaved as though his achievements are nothing out of the ordinary. If only there were more people like Vannak and his wife in the world.