Written by Maryknoll Lay Missioner Hang Tran in Cambodia
In 1990 the Missionaries of Charity started welcoming the abandoned and the sick in the capital of Phnom Penh, then later established other houses in Cham Chaov – an outskirt area of Phnom Penh and in Siem Riep – a northwest province near Thailand. 2015 marks the 25th year anniversary of their mission in Cambodia.
In my work at the Missionaries of Charity orphanage, I get to know many little “cherubs” or “screaming engines,” depending on the time of day or the mood they are in. One of the newcomers to the orphanage is a seven-month-old baby girl named Naruth. She has the most adorable grimace and cries when stretching out her arms to get my attention then quickly smiles when her eyes meet mine. She seems to enjoy various activities and the other children, and has no problems expressing her needs for comfort. Naruth is a natural explorer and will turn some toys upside down or pull them apart just to satisfy her curiosity. Feeding her is easier than the other children since she eats from start to finish without getting distracted or turning to play. Overall Naruth has adjusted well to her new environment and all that it has to offer.
Naruth’s arrival to the Missionaries of Charity Sisters was nothing short of a miracle. She came from a village in the province of Kong Pong Thom (approximately five hours by bus, North of the capital of Phnom Penh). Naruth’s parents are not married to each other. Her mother is mentally ill. Her father is a drug addict who made a habit of raping her mother. She is the second child from such rapes. Her elder sister is nearly two year old. Their grandmother had the wisdom and the opportunity to send both girls to the orphanage, as their parents are not capable of caring for them.
There are no official systems or services in the villages to address the needs of individuals with mental illnesses or drug additions. The families of these individuals lack the knowledge and the resources to cope with them. Too often their own families and communities shun these individuals. Appalling and disturbing as the story of Naruth is, it is not an isolated or unique incident. The orphanage has other children that come from different villages and provinces sharing very similar background narratives.
In many aspects the children at the orphanage are the lucky ones. It is through God’s grace, the good will from helping organizations and individuals that Naruth and her sister have been saved. They have escaped the vicious cycles of abuse and neglect and have been transplanted into a nourishing and caring environment that will enable them to develop to their full potentials. These children now have a better chance at a brighter future in front of them.

Erik Cambier
Erik Cambier served as Maryknoll lay missioner for 25 years, in Tanzania, the United States, Venezuela and El Salvador.