>PROJECTS ABROAD RE­SPONDS

Toronto Star - - WORLD WEEKLY -

For the last few years, Projects Abroad has stopped work­ing with most or­phan­ages in Cam­bo­dia. Now, its vol­un­teers work mainly in shel­ters for dis­ad­van­taged chil­dren, ac­cord­ing to Thomas V. Pas­to­rius Jr., vice-pres­i­dent of the com­pany in North Amer­ica.

Its past col­lab­o­ra­tions put Pro­ject Abroad’s im­age at risk. Re­ports of pe­dophilia in Cam­bo­dia’s or­phan­ages cir­cu­late reg­u­larly. On March 5, 2015, po­lice closed down Our Home — a site in Ph­nom Penh where Projects Abroad had reg­u­larly sent vol­un­teers — and the or­phan­age’s di­rec­tor was ac­cused of al­legedly sex­u­ally abus­ing 11 boys. His trial is on­go­ing. “Our part­ner­ship with Our Home ended as soon as the story was made pub­lic,” Pas­to­rius wrote in an email on Jan. 7. “No Projects Abroad staff mem­ber or vol­un­teer was ac­cused of wrong­do­ing at Our Home.”

Home of Hope is now the only or­phan­age that Projects Abroad works with in Cam­bo­dia. I was sent there, de­spite my lack of ex­pe­ri­ence with dis­abled chil­dren, af­ter ex­press­ing a wish to work in an or­phan­age. Asked about the cir­cum­stances of my trip, Pas­to­rius wrote:

“Nine out of 10 vol­un­teers sent to Home of Hope are there to pro­vide phys­io­ther­apy and/or oc­cu­pa­tional ther­apy sup­port. They are ei­ther pro­fes­sional ther­a­pists or stu­dents with at least one year of train­ing. They all work with the lo­cal phys­io­ther­a­pist who is em­ployed there full time. As a re­sult, some chil­dren there have walked for the first time.

“We only send gen­eral care­givers here in very ex­cep­tional cases and af­ter care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion. Yours was one such ex­cep­tion and at your spe­cific re­quest.

“We could not stom­ach the thought of what would hap­pen to th­ese boys if we stopped send­ing vol­un­teers to Home of Hope. Their dis­abil­i­ties have left them stig­ma­tized and of­ten aban­doned by their fam­i­lies. The gen­eral stan­dard of care would drop pre­cip­i­tously.

“Projects Abroad takes the well-be­ing of chil­dren se­ri­ously. We are mind­ful that some place­ments don’t have the need or ca­pac­ity for shorter-term vol­un­teers.

“At the same time, we are con­fi­dent that our vol­un­teers make an over­all pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tion even in a rel­a­tively short pe­riod of time. We don’t agree with those who say that ser­vice is an all-or-noth­ing choice: ei­ther de­vote your life to it or do noth­ing at all.”

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