Written by David Shoemaker, M’Lop Tapang
M’Lop Tapang (MT) has been working with vulnerable children, youth and families of Sihanoukville since 2003. MT was ADMCF’s very first partner and when we started working together in 2006, MT was at an early stage supporting 200 children. ADMCF provided the land and co-financed the construction of a large purpose-built centre and helped support its expansion. Currently, MT offers access to education, reintegration with families, life-skills training, creative and recreational activities as well as a jobs programme, while ensuring protection from all forms of abuse.
M’Lop Tapang and ADMCF also share the concern about the world in which children are growing up in and have in common a commitment to addressing environmental challenges communities face such as adequate sanitation, waste disposal and access to clean water.
MT now works with 7,000 children and their families. Among these, every day, hundreds of children from disadvantaged backgrounds attend education programmes at MT, including programmes to help children who have never been to school, or have been out of school for a long time and catch up with their studies. Other programmes support children from poor families to attend local public schools. At the same time, we understand that many important lessons can be learned outside of the classroom setting. Throughout the year, MT regularly organises “Clean Up Days” in the local community. Nop Buntheary, one of MT’s counselors explains: “We have lessons in the classroom but it is important to connect the lessons with real practice. We want the community to see the importance of cleaning up and try to teach the children not to throw away rubbish.”
“There is a huge problem with trash here in Sihanoukville”, explains Roth Chanphalkun (Kun), MT’s Co-Director. “There are not enough public awareness campaigns that teach people not to throw away rubbish on the roads and the beaches. As there is no government service that collects trash, people must pay for a private company to collect it. For a lot of poor people living here, paying for someone to pick up garbage is not a priority.”
Driving through almost any street in Sihanoukville, mounds of trash are piled along the roadside. In some of the better neighborhoods, there maybe garbage bins, but often without lids and these are overflowing in just a few days. The trash piles rot away, smell horrible and attract rats and neighborhood dogs scavenging for edible leftovers. As garbage collection is sporadic at best, burning is often the chosen means of disposal and it is not uncommon to see people burning everything including plastic bottles and plastic bags, with consequences for local air quality in communities.
Sihanoukville has many beautiful beaches that continue to draw an increasing number of tourists looking for a sun-filled holiday. Sadly, a walk along most of the beaches will highlight the lack of awareness people here have about how to dispose of their trash appropriately and the country’s love for plastic bags. Plastic bags are one of the major causes of trash and here in Cambodia they are in abundance. From the major markets to the tiny roadside vendors, even the smallest items are put into plastic bags. One recent report indicates that on average, 2,700 plastic bags are used per person per year in Cambodia and the beaches are littered with them. “I want to see the beach with no rubbish. I feel ashamed when tourists come to the beach and only see the rubbish everywhere” says Sophea*, a MT student.
M’Lop Tapang’s “Clean Up Days” are a way to involve the children and youth we work with by actively tackling the issue of trash in the local area. These half-day events are held about six times a year on the beaches and in the local community. We understand that this schedule can only make a temporary dent in the current problem but we hope that by involving and engaging the children we can pass on lessons to this young generation and to their families. “I am happy when picking up the rubbish and people are watching us” says Sinat, another student. “We want to tell them to not throw away the rubbish.”