The Takeo Orphanage

Ron with childrenThe story of the children of the Takeo Orphanage in Cambodia is one filled with miracles and hope. Due to years of violence, poverty and inadequate health care, orphan children of this war torn country in Southeast Asia have for the most part been left to survive on their own.

Only in the past 15 years or so has the orphan situation even been addressed by the government, community leaders and the non-governmental organizations. After the United Nations sponsored elections in 1993, Cambodia began opening its doors to outsiders who discovered that children without families had been abandoned and left to fend for themselves. It seemed that years of war, poverty and illness had taken their toll on the ones least able to protect themselves.

In 1994, while working for an American pro-democracy group in Cambodia, Ron Abney came upon the orphanage in Takeo Province, about three hours from the capital city of Phnom Penh. The orphanage founder and director was a young woman who had started the center in a run down building with very limited support from the community and local government. There were about 50 kids and the main focus was the feeding and basic care of the children as the national government was digging itself out after years of war and isolation.

(Click here to read Ron's story as reported by Ed Grisamore in The Telegraph of Macon, Georgia).

the early daysYoung Kim Kemlang showed Ron and his group how the orphanage was surviving with extremely limited funds. Although heartbreaking, it showed what a little hope and a lot of hard work by a few people could accomplish. Kemlang asked Ron if he might help provide funds for clothes, school supplies and such things as materials for sewing. Ron said that when he returned home he would ask his friends in the United States for help.

When Ron did get home he talked to his family and other close friends and quickly raised enough money to buy and ship back to Cambodia everything on Kemlang’s shopping list. Not knowing if he would ever return to Cambodia, Ron assumed this was a one-time effort and probably would never hear again from Takeo. He underestimated Kemlang.

Ron soon got a call from the in-country director of the pro-democracy group he had worked for who told of a visit he had made to Takeo. He said Kemlang had asked if he would contact Ron and give him “this year’s list.”

This is how the Takeo Orphanage program really took flight. Ron soon moved back to Cambodia as country director for his American group. Each year since, what started as a small program to provide basic supplies grew and grew and soon the funds raised were going to provide everything from supplies such as beds, school tables and electronic equipment to some basic infrastructure work.

Ron and Kemlang

Ron Abney and Kim Kemlang
in gardens planted by the children

As the legend of the Takeo Orphanage grew, Kemlang was able to get more and more support from other NGO’s and the government. Also in 1999 Ron’s Atlanta friends visited the orphanage center. There they fell under the Kemlang spell.

Upon returning, Ron’s friends called and said they had a great idea. Why not start a funding program to pay for college scholarships for all Takeo students who passed their high school tests and wanted to study further at the colleges now available in Phnom Penh? His friends said they would help raise the money needed so the regular orphanage funding program could continue at the same time. They enlisted friends from England who began raising money immediately. The emphasis now was on helping kids to stay in Cambodia so they could help others in their own country instead of starting adoption programs which are designed to get the kids out of the country.

This was a phenomenal step. Very soon Takeo kids were studying night and day to become eligible for the college program. As of this date, 22 kids have taken advantage of the college program with 17 now enrolled—and five have graduated and are now working in professional careers in Phnom Penh. One is studying medicine and plans to offer his services free to the Takeo kids.

By this time the orphanage had grown and the grounds which were hard dirt and rock were now filled with beautiful gardens planted and cared for by the kids. Kemlang had also reached out to ESPECA, an international French non-government organization that has tremendous programs for children throughout Southeast Asia. In addition the Cambodian government has stepped up to provide more of the daily needs.

Now let the image of the kids from Takeo be your image of hope and miracles for the children of Cambodia. Please HELP. The kids are counting on you.

school children