Thanks to Dany Warren for her account of this recent fundraising event, and the inspiring story of her remarkable family.
On Thursday 9 May, Dany and Julia, with the help of a Cambodian friend, prepared lunch for 30 people at St Edward’s Church hall. The lunch was part of St Edward’s Lenten project in support of the National Borei Orphanage for handicapped babies and children in Cambodia.
The lunch consisted of typical Cambodian dishes, including the famous national dish of Amok (white curried fish in coconut milk). Dany and Julia decorated the room with Cambodian posters and silks.
The National Borei Orphanage was originally named the Nutrition Centre, and was founded in the mid-1960’s to help the increasing numbers of starving babies and children abandoned during the civil war. When the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh in April 1975, the Nutrition Centre itself was abandoned as the city was forcibly emptied. Upon “liberation” in April 1979, people began to make their way back to the city and the Nutrition Centre once again opened its doors to accommodate displaced and orphaned babies and children.
It was in 1984 that Julia discovered the Nutrition Centre and, since that time, it has remained an important part of her life. During the three years she lived in Cambodia (Kampuchea, as it was then) in the 1980s, most of her weekends were spent helping at the orphanage. She became very close to both staff and children.
In 1992, Julia returned to Cambodia to work. Married by then, she wanted to show her husband where she had spent so much of her free time. It was there that they came across Dany, over a year old but weighing just 6 kgs. They returned each weekend, and realised that Dany was not going to survive. There was a moratorium on adoptions at that time, so they requested to adopt her as a special medical case. The rest is history - we can see how well Dany has done since then!
In 1995, while working in Thailand, Julia, Richard and Dany returned to the Nutrition Centre to adopt Soriya. In 1996, Julia found herself working back in Phnom Penh, visiting the orphanage as often as she could. One day she was told about a tiny baby weighing under one kilo, who had been left under a tree during the night, and taken to hospital immediately. This turned out to be Kalyane who was adopted into the family after four months in hospital.
Dany, Soriya and Kalyane have maintained strong links with the Orphanage, the Directrices and the children. They have watched the children grow, knowing that they didn’t have the chance of a family like them.
While living in Cambodia, they regularly visited the Orphanage with Julia and, after coming to live in the UK aged 10, 8 and 3, Dany, Soriya, Kalyane and their family have returned to Phnom Penh every year to support the Orphanage through individual fundraising efforts. Donations have included clothes, school books and bags, parties, painting and decorating, mats, wooden garden slides and large play equipment. However, a favourite are trips out as these benefit not only the children but their carers who work 12 hour shifts to look after them. Since 2005, whenever there are enough funds, beach trips have been organised for everyone. Simple as it sounds, these trips are a logistical challenge, because the journey takes more than four hours one way and the majority of the children are significantly handicapped. Two or three coaches are required to take over 100 children and carers on this adventure which everyone enjoys, singing on the way and with frequent stops to pick up fruit and bread at the roadside. Upon arrival, wheelchairs and children make their way into the sea, followed by a hearty lunch!
Last year, as well as a trip to Kep seaside resort, Dany and Julia organised a private performance by Cambodian Living Arts (CLA) for the Orphanage at the National Museum. CLA was founded by Arn Chorn-Pond, a musician and genocide-survivor who strove to save Cambodia’s artistic heritage after some 90 percent of Cambodia’s artists perished under the Khmer Rouge regime. CLA produced an interactive performance for the children, including dance and many traditional instruments, which the children were invited on stage to play.
The Lenten lunch was a great success, raising nearly £600 for the Orphanage. Julia and Dany are in discussion with Madame Thor Peou, the Orphanage Director, as to how best to use this money to benefit the children. Julia and Dany will report on developments in due course. Dany, Soriya, Kalyane and Julia’s thanks go to everyone who supported or was involved in this fantastic fundraising effort.