At the age of eight, due to poverty, Phorn Phalla’s family sent him to live in a pagoda in Tbong Khmum province, away from his home in Prey Veng. It was their last hope to feed him and also an opportunity for him to study.
Life at the pagoda wasn’t better as the temple was also poor, lacking good for the young boy. Now as an adult, Phalla is running an orphanage sheltering hundreds of children, offering support, care and food, experiences he had not enjoyed during his childhood.
In an interview with Kiripost, Phalla, who runs Orphanage Branch Center in Phnom Penh’s Kombol district, recalled his early life hardship in which he tried to live and then he decided to move to Phnom Penh alone when he was 11-years-old, walking around picking up scrap metal for food.
Phalla was able to study thanks to staff at the orphanage he currently is running, an opportunity he termed as the golden chance in his life, which fulfilled his dream to study as other people, saying learning is like a medicine for life.
“At that time, my legs were burnt with severe injuries. When I did not have any money for the treatment, luckily, a staff member of an orphaned organisation took me to live there,” Phalla said.
“They provided me with a new life and opportunity to study until I finished my Master’s degree,” he said.
Phalla gained his Bachelor degree from the University of Puthisastra (UP), majoring in English Literature. He worked for four years as a teacher before pursuing a Master’s degree in Hong Kong from 2013 to 2016.
When he returned to Cambodia, he taught for another year in 2017, then in 2018, he became a manager at the Orphanage Branch Center, after the founder had passed away.
They are not alone
Phalla said that his visions are to help to children that are victims of abandonment and violence by their parents, sexual abuse and mistreats, homeless youth, and the elderly. Phalla also recently went viral on social media over his actions to demand justice for a child who was killed in a hit and run car crash in Phnom Penh.
Now, the orphanage homes 246 people, including 143 children. Many are victims and some were born without parents who had died of accidents, sickness and divorce.
For those girls who have been abused directly or indirectly, he is also providing full scholarships to 32 youths who earn grade A and B in school to study at university.
He added that this is a chance to get them to help to teach other children at the centre, and he has also campaigned to help old people who cannot support their livelihoods and who are homeless.
“The meaning of Orphanage Branch Center is a place to keep people who are lacking support, food, homeless, victims. This place will give anyone help and encourage them that they are not alone,” Phalla said.
Almost ran away
He almost ran away from time-to-time because of the hardships, however when he saw all his kids smile at him, he felt hope to continue with his visions. He must carry everything on, even the expenses for daily life, staff salaries, and children’s study, which is important because even though they live in the centre, they have to be educated to at least university level.
At the same time, the ability of all children is different based on their nature, so education’s challenge is also important to pay more attention. Sometimes, he took his car to be mortgaged to bring money to provide for children and members of the centre. “This sounds like it's funny but this is reality,” he added.
“I’m so depressed when I don't have the money to buy food and supplies for my children, it's hard to find anybody who can sacrifice and affectionate children, especially babies who are unhealthy or unnormal since they were born.
“Importantly, the biggest challenge is finding funds to support the Centre. Be noted that while the Covid 19, the number of kids is dramatically increasing,” Phalla said.
He added that there are many children still facing challenges, such as living on the streets, using drugs, abortion and violence.
Phalla said that he’s now feeling better as many people are also encouraging him. Many of his donors now are Cambodians, he said.
He noted Cambodian people’s generosity, and now receives support daily in the form of money, rice, food equipment and clothes, he said, adding that some people are not rich but provide help sending supplies and used materials from provinces.
Youths and artists are also an important drive for donations to support his centre and a few private companies provide funds every year.
“I also support people who are facing problems such as house fires, drowning, and severe disease. All these challenges, we cannot know when they will happen but if they happen, we need to have quick intervention, it’s good for society,” he added.
Phalla also urged people to be kind to each other, better than making enemies because when people don’t respond to things, it can impact other people, especially to the vulnerable who are voiceless, homeless, and careless.
“Improving education is most essential to reduce any harm so I encourage people to take action from today together to save our society,” he said.