I had only been to Cambodia once before, when my family spent two months in a Phnom Penh hotel waiting for my little sister's adoption to be approved, but I felt called to spend my gap year there. Christmas Eve made me certain. I saw the kindergarten classroom and the bedrooms, the covered balcony with the swing-set. I talked with Mark and Rhonda Benz, the couple that have run Bykota House for more than ten years. And I hung out with the kids, some of whom couldn't crawl yet and some of whom would have been graduating from high school if they'd lived in the US.
The kids of Bykota House weren't all like Sarah Rose and Maddy, the sisters that met me at the gate and immediately decided we were best friends. In fact, they weren't ALL like anything. They liked reading, or playing Flash games online at the house computers, or painting their nails, or skateboarding. They were very much like the kids I knew at home, like my own brothers and sister. In the care of Bykota House, they got the chance to experience childhood. Outside, only feet away, other Cambodian kids were denied the same chance by circumstances they couldn't control.
Deep poverty is endemic in Cambodia. Child laborers trying to take care of their families risk being trafficked, overworked, and abused every day. For orphans, rates of exploitation are even higher. There is no easy way to make these deep-rooted problems go away, but sanctuaries like Bykota House are helping to raise a generation of Cambodians who can fight poverty and exploitation. Bykota House feels like a world apart from the rest of Cambodia, but really it is one realization of what Cambodia can be if the kids living there are educated, protected, and encouraged to dream of more than survival.
Bykota House can only house as many kids as resources allow, and one of their most important resources is staff. I want to devote my time to helping as a teacher for preschoolers and elementary-aged students. But I'll need your help with travel and living expenses.
Please consider giving or sharing this page, so I can spend a year with the amazing kids of Bykota House.
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