Volunteer and Donated While Traveling Abroad: BraveHearts Orphanage in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Travel for a Cause: Orphanage for Children with Disabilities in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

A large, cream-colored building about 30 minutes outside of the downtown area of Phnom Penh is the home of 140 Cambodian children. It’s an orphanage, but most of these children are mentally or physically disabled, and about 15 of them are infected with HIV. The ages of the children range from 3 months old to 38 years. The one thing they all have in common is that they have been abandoned by their parents at a young age. Most were left at the hospital, right after birth. Their parents may have feared the medical costs to care for them, or simply weren’t prepared for the level of responsibility.

There is a large yard in front of the u-shaped building with swingsets and picnic tables where the children can play outside. As you enter the building, you’ll see children laying on mats, being entertained by “mommas” or sitting in their wheelchairs, watching the activities around them. The “mommas” are the women (and occasionally a few men) who are employed by the government, at a very modest wage, to be the caretakers of the children. There are also several “mommas” that come from other countries to volunteer.

As you wander through the building, you’ll notice that it resembles a rundown hospital. But it’s been spruced up with some colorful murals on the walls and photos of the children that live there with huge smiles on their faces.

Orphanage in Phnom Penh Children with Disabilities BraveHearts
Photo provided by the BraveHearts Program

Children are broken into small groups with a handful of mommas who are entertaining them, changing their diapers, helping them to sit up, and generally looking after their well-being. In one room, you’ll see mommas helping the kids with physiotherapy exercises – stretching their legs and arms. Move to the next room and you’ll see children playing – they’ve been grouped together by their comprehension ability. A sensory room has bright flashing lights and different scents and textures which the children get to experience on their own (with a momma helping out, of course).

You can see the rooms where the children sleep. They have simple mattresses, some on the floor, some in a crib, and some on a box spring of sorts. They don’t have personal belongings as this is the only family they have known since birth. The pictures of the children are with these mommas – the kind, caring women who dedicate their lives to care for the children who were abandoned.

The accommodations here are basic and the food is simple, but the love and adoration for the children are remarkable. The mommas put their whole hearts into being the closest thing to a family that these kids will ever have.

Orphanage in Phnom Penh Children with Disabilities BraveHearts
Photo provided by the BraveHearts Program

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About the Orphanage

Orphanage in Phnom Penh Children with Disabilities BraveHearts
Photo provided by the BraveHearts Program

The facility where these children live is run by the government. They receive a very small amount of funding to feed and care for the children. It works out to only about $1.50 per child per day. And the mommas are also paid a small wage to work in the facility – either $150 per month or $250 per month depending on their title (even though everyone here plays a similar role).

These children require 24-hour care, 7 days a week. And most of them will never be able to live on their own without a caretaker. They will live the rest of their lives in this facility, or one like it, under the care of these trusted mommas.

Several nonprofit organizations provide assistance here as the government funding and programs are not enough for these children. One of those is the BraveHearts Program.

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About the BraveHearts Program

Orphanage in Phnom Penh Children with Disabilities BraveHearts
Photo provided by the BraveHearts Program

The BraveHearts Program is one of the organizations that work with these orphaned children. Through donations and fundraisers, they provide additional capital to help pay the mommas a livable wage. It also provides the children with necessary food, medical supplies, wheelchairs, and toys.

They also help to provide the children with the medical care that they require through an onsite doctor, several specialized therapists, and ongoing training for the staff.

And they take the kids out for special outings and organize celebrations filled with love, laughter, and full bellies.

Read about another great opportunity to give back by volunteering at an orphanage in Mexico.

BraveHearts Mission and Vision

Orphanage in Phnom Penh Children with Disabilities BraveHearts
Photo provided by the BraveHearts Program

The vision statement of the BraveHearts Program is “to provide a safe haven that maximizes opportunities for kindness, recognition, connection, and play within our community.”

And their mission is as follows: “Bravehearts Program firmly believes that each child in our care deserves to be treated as an individual with sensitivity, consideration, respect, and dignity. Our mission is to provide the support, resources, and interactions to nurture and improve the quality and experience of their life.”

Volunteer with BraveHearts

Orphanage in Phnom Penh Children with Disabilities BraveHearts
Chamreoun is one of the few children here who does not have a disability

Ideally, the children in this facility would receive one on one care. One momma for each disabled child. But unfortunately, due to their lack of resources, it’s closer to one momma per 10 disabled children. So they rely on volunteers from around the globe to help.

You don’t have to have any specialized skills to volunteer with BraveHearts, only a big heart and lots of love. Of course, it’s a big bonus if you have any experience in physical therapy, childhood development, or experience working with people with disabilities.

BraveHearts asks that you commit to volunteering for at least a month but they can be flexible if you don’t have that much time to give. You’ll need to submit your resume and pass a background check.

Learn more about volunteering with BraveHearts here! You can also contact Srey Peuv, the program administrator at admin@braveheartsprog.org.

Donate to the BraveHearts Program

As we mentioned, the orphanage is partially funded by the government of Cambodia, but only for about $1.50 per child per day. Anyone who has ever cared for a child knows that is only a fraction of what it actually costs to feed, clothe, bathe, and entertain one. And more children are coming to the orphanage all the time. They expect 20 new children in the month of March alone.

If you have the ability to donate to the BraveHearts Program, no matter how small, it will help them to pay for nutritious food, medical equipment, wheelchairs, clothing, diapers, medicine, vaccinations, hygiene supplies, and toys and learning materials for the children. It also helps to support the mommas who devote their lives to these precious little ones.

Please visit the Donation Page of the BraveHearts website to learn more about how you can help!

Make a Donation

NOTE: Unfortunately, adopting a child from Cambodia is not an option for those living outside of the country. According to the US Department of State, “The Royal Government of Cambodia is not processing intercountry adoptions with other countries at this time. The Department of State is still not able to issue Hague Certificates in adoptions from Cambodia. However, the Department continues its efforts to work with the Government of Cambodia to resume intercountry adoption.”

Thank you for reading about this opportunity to give back to the children of Cambodia!


About the Author:

  • Valerie Wheatley

    Val grew up in Portland, Oregon but moved to Oahu on a whim back in 2013. She sold her house and all of her belongings and bought a one-way ticket. Since then she’s taken two around-the-world trips and has visited 60-ish countries while living out of a duffel bag.

    Val started documenting the Wandering Wheatleys travels back in 2013 as a way to update friends and family about her whereabouts and to relay humorous daily interactions. The only readers were her mom and her mother-in-law but that didn’t stop her!

    These days you’ll find Val dreaming up future trips, creating new travel content, managing a team of amazing travel enthusiasts, and chasing around her two adorable but naughty kids.

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