Forgotten Children

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How Tim Paton and his team bring hope to street
children in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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Tim Paton looked into the eyes of the little girl sitting in the
corner of the bus. Her little vest hung on her slim body; her dark
hair was cropped so short that she looked like a boy. She clutched
a little doll, hugging it tightly to her chest. Her eyes shone
brightly, full of love for the small object she cradled so
lovingly. Tim knew getting the doll back would be difficult.

The Bus of Hope travels into the city of Phnom Penh and
surrounding suburbs twice a day from its headquarters in Takhmau,
Cambodia. As soon as the bus arrives, the excited children squeal
with delight as they queue up to be allowed admittance. The bus can
only take up to 40 children at one time, so competition is
fierce.

“We just don’t have enough resources,” Tim says.

Once on board the bus, the children each take a shower, get their
nails cut, receive clothes if needed, eat, and get medical
treatment. They also hear about the dangers of glue sniffing, AIDS,
and smoking. They’re taught how to read, write, and count. And at
the end of the session, they can play with a selection of
toys.

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When the time’s up, the doors open again. The children (the
fortunate ones) put on their little plastic flip-flop shoes which
they left at the entrance. Leaving the lovely toys, books, and care
behind, they go back into the real world — often alone — to fend
for themselves in a city of more than one million people.

Sometimes one of the children lingers behind, needing to talk to
someone. Tim remembers one young child who stayed behind. He has
parents, but his dad drinks and often beats him. After having
already spent five nights on the streets, too scared to go back
home, the boy asks for help.

He’s not alone. Many of the children who come to the bus are from
homes where they’re either physically or sexually abused.

The Bus of Hope team consists of six men and women — five
Cambodian staff and either Tim or another staffer from Worldwide
Evangelization for Christ International (WEC). Sometimes the team
takes a child into one of their children’s homes in Takhmau, where
they have their mission headquarters seven miles outside of Phnom
Penh. The orphanage called Kingdom Kids Home cares for 40 children
on a permanent basis. The staff tries to find a permanent home for
these children. When one older child leaves, a new child replaces
him or her. The drop-in center houses 20 children and is a halfway
house.

The street children seek out places in the orphanage, and the team
finds it unbearably difficult to have to turn so many away. The
orphanage educates the children and trains them for future jobs.
One of the children recently won a place at a university.

The team often sees the same children week in and week out on the
bus. Then suddenly, some never come back and it’s impossible to
find out where they are.

Have their parents or “boss” told them that spending two hours
on the bus, instead of shoe shining or begging, won’t bring in the
money? Or are they behind closed doors working in the child labor
industry? Are they sick? Have they died? Have they been trafficked?
Could they be among the hundreds of Cambodian boys and girls in
Thai prisons?
     

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