People & Power

Leap’s story

Fourteen-year-old Leap’s story reveals the dangers of some of Cambodia’s failing orphanages.

Fourteen-year-old Leap is an example of what experts believe is the best alternative to putting children into orphanages. Psychologists advocate keeping children with their extended family or in foster families because they see this as the most effective way for a child to develop.

Having lived in an orphanage between the ages of four and nine, Leap now lives with her aunt and uncle through financial sponsorship. Every day she helps them prepare food for their food delivery business and, more importantly for Leap, she is able to go to school. Unlike many teenagers, going to school is the best thing in the world for Leap.

This was not always the case. When in the orphanage, Leap was not allowed to go to school very often. She says the people who ran the centre treated her very badly. She was forced to look after the other children at the orphanage, washing dishes or cooking rice. Sometimes she was made to sleep outside or not given any food if the directors of the orphanage thought that she had not behaved well. If she did not cook the rice properly she was not allowed to go to school. Leap says that, on occasions, she was beaten and threatened with expulsion form the orphanage if she did not do more work for the directors of the orphanage.

“My education is very important to me. If I missed a day at school I sat down and cried,” says Leap.

After her orphanage was closed down, Leap had no option but to live on the streets. She did not know what to do or who to contact. One of the older children from the orphanage helped find her a job washing dishes. But Leap struggled to survive.

Unknown to Leap, her aunt and uncle were anxiously hunting for her. They had scoured all the roads and markets near to the orphanage, handing out their phone number, desperate for any news. Eventually someone made the connection between Leap and this missing girl and called her uncle.