Geraldine Cox is the face and heart behind Cambodia’s Sunrise Orphanages.
For the last five years Australian-born Cox has been providing a home and a family to hundreds of children.
But, unfortunately, her love and passion for her children is not enough to feed, clothe and look after their needs. In fact, it costs a million dollars every year to provide food, clothing, medical care, twice-yearly dental visits, education and health and family planning as well as other activities, for the children.
So every 3 months the modern-day ‘mendicant’ – a Shakespearean term for a beggar – as she calls herself, hits the road in search of the money. She needs $80,000 every month for 400 children in three different centres.
The economic strain is being felt even more now with the addition of a new home for 200 HIV-infected children. Third Sunrise will celebrate it’s first birthday on December 1 this year, also World Aids Day. If the additional medical costs weren’t enough to increase the cost of living per child, paying the local principal to allow these children to attend the school, because of a strong social stigma that HIV-infected Cambodian children face, at $500 a month, is an added financial stress.
Then there are other special cases such as that of a young 17-year-old-boy who suffers with Thalassemia – a condition that stops the blood from clotting. Just to keep him alive the young man needs a multitude of drugs which cost $15,000 a month – currently Cox says she has enough for the next three months, she doesn’t like to speculate any further than the money will take her.
Social workers are also an essential requirement for these children. Abandoned by their families they require help with emotional trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Some of the children are victims of sex trafficking, an illegal industry that is abused even by the police officers who reprimand the children. Children born with disabilities are also seen as a burden.
Cox tells the story of one nine-year-old girl who was repeatedly raped by a man from her local village. The girl’s mother didn’t have enough money to pay for police to safeguard her child from the rapist and had to give her up – not because she couldn’t feed her – because she couldn’t protect her. Every child at Sunrise has a similar story to tell of abandonment or abuse , or both at the hands of adults.
Alarmingly a recent fall in the exchange rate of the Australian dollar has also hampered Cox’s donation drive, as she explains 15 per cent of money raised has been lost just due to that financial fact. But, 68-year-old the breast-cancer battler, is consoled and encouraged by the love that the children of Sunrise give her and insets the challenge to find the much-needed funds is just the “universe’s way of making me sweat and reminding me that I am not special, I am just like everybody else”.
“When I walk through the orphanage doors at 7am every morning I feel the wave of their love right through till the night when they go to sleep,” says Cox of the children who affectionately refer to her as Madai Tom Tom or Big Mum, adding that “they are the wind beneath my soul, the ones that keep me going.”
Every weeknight the children of Sunrise are invited to a family meeting where they repeat Buddhist chants aloud and pray for sick people, for the people who help them and for the ‘naughty kids’.
Cox encourages each and every one to write to their donors and keep them informed of their progress at school – the children must pass each grade up to Year 12, or final form, in order to receive continued support after the age of 18.
You could help a child at the Sunrise orphanage too. It doesn’t take much, in fact if you think about what the children get in return for your small monetary donation you get a lot of bang for your buck. For instance:
– $5 is the monthly cost for one child’s basic toiletry and hygiene costs
– $55 will provide a months worth of food and nutrition for one child
– $45 will take care of annual medical costs for one child
– $48 will provide a child with sporting equipment
– $63 will clothe a child and provide shoes
– $65 can provide a new bicycle for children’s transportation
– $126 will provide enough rice for one child for one year
– $180 will support a yea’r program of music and the arts for one child
“Your support of these orphanages through child sponsorship is an amazing gift that continues to give life, hope, education, health and a future to those who had nothing,” the Sunrise website donation page reads.
To donate or organise a fundraising event for the children of Sunrise Children’s Village visit www.scv.org.au