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Small Voices

Heather E. Connell documented the lives of poor children on the streets and in the garbage dumps of Cambodia. Her film, Small Voices, finally gives voice to the youth struggling against the odds, and the school in Phnom Penh where some, but never enough, are given a chance at education and stability. On the streets of Phnom Penh, there are over 12,000 children begging and working picking trash—this feature-length doc focuses on a few.

Nearly half the population of Cambodia is under the age of 15–and many are left to fend for themselves with little or no education or resources. Seeing the world through their eyes is a revelation, like one child who boasts, with considerable pride, “I would never steal. I’m a beggar.”

The choices these kids have to make, when in a better world would be no more momentous than deciding between chocolate and vanilla, are instead conundrums posed by situations like “if I go to school I wouldn’t have money to buy rice.” Or the child who tells the camera, “If the adults don’t hurt me too much, I want to learn. Ive been to school 3 times before but the teachers beat me too much.”

There is an entire community of people who live at the dump, picking trash morning, noon, and night (though recognizing that at night it can be more dangerous—trucks can back over you before you see them). Kids and adults alike are living at the dump, swarming every truck that comes in, hoping this will be the load that will have enough reclaimable trash for me to buy rice, picking through the foul detritus, hoping the plastic bags and occasional bottle top can translate into grains. One young child reports, “I’ve seen human leg, dead babies, bodies with their throats slit. If I see a dead baby I bury it.” How does our world include a situation like this?

The next chapter of this story is equally amazing. The filmmaker, Heather E. Connell, made a promise to a 4-year-old boy she met in Cambodia who had cerebral palsy. The orphanage where he lived could only keep him until he was six. After that, he would be on his own…at six…with cerebral palsy. Connell had to find a way to help, and is returning to Cambodia to build Safe Haven, a school for handicapped children—there is currently no such facility in Cambodia.

It’s one of the most brilliant examples I know of how, when we travel and immerse ourselves in the issues we find, our commitment doesn’t stop when we board the plane and go home. We end up, without even trying, with a lifetime commitment, and tend to come home and inspire family and friends, and if a news story comes on the TV even remotely connected to the place or people we came to know…our ears perk up. We are connected. We don’t let go. And we can always dip in and take a deeper cut. Change keeps on changing. The efforts you make have a life beyond your physical presence. Isn’t that amazing?

See the film. Look for ways your world and efforts can reverberate.

Tax deductible donations to support Safe Haven Project can be made out to Benevolent Vision, 10801 National Blvd, Los Angeles, CA. 90064-4144.