>PROJECTS ABROAD RESPONDS
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.”