About this website... (written 2015)
I decided I wanted to produce a web site regarding Mao and his family when I was in Sihanouk Province in November 2014 - and my feelings about doing this were reinforced when I visited Mao in January 2015, when he had left home and travelled 12 hours to Siem Reap to get work. I knew much of the past difficulties the family had endured over the years - and I was seeing - and feeling - the sadness, hardship and frustrations of their current lives.
On visiting Mao in January 2015 and talking to him about the decisions he had made, I knew it was hurting him so much being away from his family - and I also knew the pain they would be feeling without him at home - especially the two little ones who doted on him.
My aim is simply to help this family as much as I can.
I want anyone who can make a donation - or can sponsor something or someone - to do so. Maybe a donation each month for some rice - or sponsor one of the children's schooling - or even a one off payment for the rent - or water etc. Children may like to donate a small percentage of their spending money to help one of the children go to school.
I will oversee the monies collected and forward it to Mao as and when it is needed or they are desperate for help. The worst time for the family is in the rainy season (June to October) when very few tourists visit - and therefore they have little or no income. Mao told me how sometimes the children have gone to bed crying because they were hungry - but they had no money for food.
Think about the money you spend on non-essential items! Mao and his family do not have enough money for the essential things!
I myself make sacrifices.... If bread and other foods are being sold cheaply at the supermarket at the end of the day, I'm happy to buy it knowing I've another few dollars for the family. I will take a flight to Cambodia that is 5 hours longer - but saves me £100 - knowing what Mao and his family can do with that money!
Can I ask you to please, make a decision as soon as possible and email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or send me a private message on Facebook - with your commitment if you would be kind enough to help this lovely family. Also please consider making this a regular donation/sponsorship. I am willing to publish acknowledgments of donations on the website (without the amounts) also - as another thank you. If you rather I didn't, then please state that you want your help to remain anonymous.
I, like many people have donated to overseas charities where maybe your money helps build a well for a number of villagers etc. - which is great - but you do lack some feedback. I can assure you that I will obtain a personal little 'thank you' video from one of the family for each donation or sponsorship.
I am not some do-gooder or born again Christian! Just an ordinary guy who wants to help a lovely family - and also wants to share the happiness I have felt at helping them - with others who likewise help the family in some way.
Will it make a difference?
Absolutely! (written 2015)
They need some money just to continue to live in the squalor that they live in! I was with them when it looked as though they were going to lose their home as they had been unable to pay the rent for several months - can you imagine how they all felt? Where were they going to go? There were tears of course...
The little ones weren't going to school - but I paid for them to go - and to buy their uniforms - and how proud they were to show me how smart they looked when I visited them. You cannot believe the immense happiness it gave me when I was told of this by Mao.
(Sadly I was told recently that the third eldest of the four that attend school had stopped going due to the family not having enough money - and he was having to work on the beach making bracelets - to hopefully earn a few dollars a day!).
I just hope you can help them. It will make such a difference...
Just think seriously for a moment....
Where would you be now if you had hardly attended school?
Where would you be now if you had never been able to see a doctor?
These are the hard facts and hard realities of their lives.
(PLEASE... feel free to share this web site with others)
About the family home... (written 2015)
The mum, six sons and one daughter live in a small and old run down building on the outskirts of Sihanoukville. The boys sleep upstairs underneath a roof full of holes. The mum and daughter sleep downstairs. However, usually in the rainy season, the boys have to sleep downstairs too, due to the upper floor becoming unusable due to the rain running in. When it does rain in, they (rightly) dare not use the electrical socket that they have - and so have to sleep without the one fan they share (often the lowest overnight temperature is around 25C) - and then they cannot sleep due to the mosquitoes!
Whilst mosquitoes are a nuisance - although they could infect them with malaria, and rats are a concern, Mao is more worried about poisonous snakes or scorpions entering the house when they are asleep!
Progress made (written end 2016)
Once I had gone 'public' about the family's difficulties and plights - through my travel blogs and this little web site that I created - and asking if any friends would like to help them, I was thrilled that a number of people responded and assisted in many ways.
Some pledged a monthly donation, others gave various donations - and I was able to prepare the way in which we could all assist the family. There were priorities... food, schooling, their home etc.
Initially I ensured that they had enough money for rice.... that they would never again end the day having not eaten!
It was also essential that the children attended school each day - and schooling was paid for - and the essentials for their education - notebooks and pencils etc.
It was also essential that they kept a roof over their heads - even if it was a leaky roof - where the rain still pours in. So, I ensured that Mao paid the rent each month - and the costs for power and water.
This was the minimum I wanted - and the family were unbelievably grateful to everyone for all the help they received. I know they found it so difficult to understand that this 'miracle' had happened to them.
I had discussions with Mao about the small and inconsistent income that they had. This was very much dependent upon the number of tourists there - very few for several months during the rainy season and therefore very little - or even no income.
A relative large outgoing for them was the cost involved getting to and from the beach to work where the tourists were. Whilst the mum does massage on the beach and she is probably in her mid-forties, she needed a moto bike taxi to get there and back - often shared with other 'working' members of the family. This could often incur costs of $2-$5 dollars each day - sometimes more than what they earned in that day.
I had previously looked at the costs of second hand bikes on a previous visit before deciding that in May 2016 they should become the proud owners of a motor bike. I had mentioned this to a few people and one very kind individual gave me a substantial sum towards it - for which the family and myself will be eternally grateful. A motor bike was purchased, had the blessings from Buddha and in return Buddha was offered fruit and incense and the bike became almost one of the family.
As there are no formal requirements for owning and driving a motorbike in Cambodia, Mao was nominated the main driver (although the two other eldest brothers could drive it too) and the bike was soon in daily use. This proved an amazing purchase. Obviously it was a tremendous boost to the family - where Mao would take and collect the 'workers' from the beach and his mum to the market to purchase a large bag of rice etc. and obviously save them a considerable amount of money (by their standards) each month.
The other factor was the change in Mao - as a person. Previously he slept long hours, was often very despondent with his life (not surprising really) and had little to look forward to. From the day the bike was purchased he changed dramatically. He was now the focal point of the family... taxi driver for them going to and from the beach. He had purpose in life - and he even took it upon himself to do some moto taxi driving for a small cost to neighbours. On odd occasions he would treat himself to a little ride out of town to some other local beach etc. Every time I skyped with him he had the biggest grin on his face imaginable and would tell me how happy he was with his life!
In late 2016, Ngeang (as I now believe it is spelt) gave up selling sunglasses and began work in one of the beach bar/restaurants. The downside is that he almost lives there - as he sleeps there overnight (as night watchman). Another plus was that Moi (the daughter) also works part-time there with Ngeang when not at school. Whilst the wages are very poor, it is some regular income and gives them hope and a purpose.
Gdam is a bit of a problem for one or two reasons. He no longer attends school and works on the beach selling bracelets. There are other issues that need addressing but there are difficulties due to culture.
As for the two little boys... well, they are just so special.
I know it was very difficult for them to 'accept' me - much of it due to their shyness with strangers and I guess the cultural differences - but gradually they have overcome that. Now they look forward to me going to visit them. If I walk along with the family they often walk at the side of me - each holding one of my hands. When I treat them to a meal on the beach I have to have one seated at each side of me. They also know a few words of English - and can count to ten in English too. They both attend school and are doing well (how lovely they look in their uniforms!).
They are cute. They are a little cheeky in their own way. They are funny. They are special.
Due to the help of my friends, the family now have a stable life - where they know they will have rice, a (leaky) roof over their heads and I have promised them that they will not return to the poverty of the past.
I have gradually been able to treat them to new clothes which they are thrilled at. Mao only had two pairs of boxer shorts a few years ago - and probably only a couple of worn t-shirts and shorts. Like any teenagers, when I give them a little money to treat themselves they love to buy a t-shirt or shorts (Ngeang loves the Porsche clothes - fake obviously) and the transformation in their appearance is amazing. Not only does their appearance look so good - but their self esteem and confidence rockets too. It really is special to see.
The family still live in appalling conditions - unbelievable for people in the UK - but overall there as been a big improvment in all their lives - and so a masive, massive thanks from them (they do ask me to thank the people that help them) and from me (as I know what a difference your help has made).
They love recording little 'thank you' videos for you (sorry I am slow at loading these up onto this web site) and dress in their best clothes etc - obviously feeling like film stars!
Obviously I intend to continue to visit them (how I wish Cambodia was much nearer to the UK!) and I will continue to report on their progress. Your donations are so very much appreciated - and needed. The last thing I would want is for them to return to how they were..... well, I will not let it happen!
In the summer of 2016 my personal travels took me to South America. Unusually, I did not travel alone. A young friend - Oliver Pickard - travelled with me as he was very keen to visit Machu Picchu - which was one of the places I was planning to visit. In the process of planning our travels, he told me he wanted to continue travelling after South America - heading to South-East Asia.
He knew of my visits to Cambodia and was also keen to visit Mao and his family if at all possible. I asked him that if he did visit Mao, would he be kind enough to write a summary of his visit - and his views.
I kept in touch with both Mao and Olly - as Olly travelled around South East Asia and thankfully they were able to meet up.
Afterwards, I received this (below) and I am very grateful to Olly for making the time and effort to visit them and write about his experience meeting the family.
Meet the family: (2015)
Mao is around 18 to 20 years old. He doesn't know when he was born. Mao attended school if and when there was money for his education.
Sadly Mao's father died when he was young (maybe around 6 years old).
I met Mao one day when I was relaxing on the beach. He approached me offering to make a cotton bracelet for a dollar or two. Looking at the lad, I felt sorry for him - and so agreed. We spoke a little whist his nimble fingers worked furiously and around 10 minutes later I was the proud owner of a blue, yellow and white bracelet - with my name in the centre. Little did I know that it was the beginning of a very close friendship.
Mao is the second eldest son. I could write so much about Mao - but just reading my blogs tells you so much about him - but PLEASE click on the link on the home page that has Mao describing his feelings when working away from home - and watch and listen to all the video please!
In June 2014 Mao told me he had never spent the night away from his home. I asked him if he wanted to go to Phnom Penh. He jumped at the chance (I told him I would pay for everything). He had his first experience of sleeping in a bed, going in a lift - and going up the escalator in the shopping mall - which was a laugh! I showed him my computer, the internet etc. We then went on to Siem Reap for a few days - which is how he had the confidence to go there searching for work six months later.
On my surprise visit to see him in January, I bought him a mobile phone and set up skype - and now we have a chat 2 or 3 times a week. He sends me messages on Facebook - his English is improving amazingly - and has even sent me audio messages. This is clearly going to help him enormously to find a better job than selling sunglasses on the beach - which he is currently considering.
He is a bright, very likeable - and smart (when I buy him new shirt and shorts!) young man and whilst changes need to be made in their family life so he can hopefully find a 'real' job - he will get more chance due to his English and knowledge of internet etc.
Som works in a bar/restaurant shack on the beach from 7am till midnight - every day - for $100 (around £66) a month. He works hard too. Just to see him removing all the sun loungers and umbrellas around 5pm each afternoon and replacing them with tables and chairs - tires me out watching him - and he's in the blistering heat and intense sun!
Like Mao, he is a very pleasant young man - always shakes my hand and bows to me when I go to the bar or I leave - and often makes a point of thanking me for helping his family.
About Neurn (don't know how it is spelt with roman letters but sounds something like that).
Again, Neurn is a really pleasant lad - always smiling. He is third oldest and now has finished school. He has progressed into Mao's old job - walking miles up and down the beach all day in the blistering heat and sun - to try to sell one or two pairs of sunglasses and earn a few dollars towards the family income - although some days he has no sales for all his efforts. Again on a number of occasions he has thanked me for what I have done for the family.
The school children:
About Tresa Moi (that's how it sounds anyway)
She is the only girl in the family - and again has a lovely smile and says 'hello' as soon as she sees me. I don't think she speaks much English at all - but Mao will probably teach her.
About Gdam (my spelling!)
I often call him the cheeky one. He got a bit upset with me a few visits ago because I didn't want a bracelet (I have around six!) but he laughed it off - but we still laugh and try to wind each other up! Sadly it is Gdam that now appears to be working on the beach instead of attending school.
About Little Brother - without key (aka Snar)
He is the second youngest. Mao and I nickname him 'without key' as the youngest brother wears an old key round his neck! (some old tradition). In November 2014 when I was there, he was proud to count to ten in English for me! Sadly, he suffered a very worrying illness in April 2015 - but once treatment was paid for he was back at school a little over a week later and has since appeared to have made a full recovery.
About Little brother - with key (aka Bd)
The youngest - and most shy - but loves to say 'hello' to me.