Pani has spent half his life in a Cambodian orphanage, waiting for his parents to return. Five years ago, they went to look for work in neighboring Thailand, leaving him behind.
Now 10 years old, Pani still waits in the community of Kbal Spean, Cambodia. He’s being cared for through a program of the United Methodist Church – one that provides both physical and spiritual nourishment to children like him.
Cambodia is one of the poorest nations. The orphan population in the Southeast Asian country has been estimated at more than 200,000. Many of the children were orphaned during the destructive reign of the Khmer Rouge, the name given to native Cambodian communists.
Many children live in crowded government orphanages that are poorly funded, as well as Christian orphanages. Not all the residents of the orphanages are parentless. Often, a child may have one or both parents, but is sent to an orphanage because the parents can’t afford to care for him or her.
The orphanage provides food, love, spiritual guidance and a refuge from despair to children like Pani, who still have hope that they will be reunited with family.
Others, like 12-year-old Ryna, are true orphans. "Her story is very sad," says Chanthy Yi, an interpreter. Ryna’s father died in the war, and her mother was killed by a land mine while she harvested rice.
But, adds Chanthy, Ryna is "very happy to be here. She has a lot of hope to have a long future."
The orphanage in Kbal Spean operates under the auspices of the Cambodian Christian Methodist Association, a group of 200 churches in connection with the United Methodist Church, the Swiss Mission Board of United Methodists, the Korean Methodist Church, the Malaysian Methodist Church and the Singapore Methodist Church.
The association is registered with the Cambodian government and serves as an umbrella organization for all churches and organizations in the Methodist connection.
Eleven United Methodist missionaries are stationed in Cambodia through the denomination’s Board of Global Ministries, headquartered in New York.
By Albert H. Lee