Volunteers at the street children’s Green Gecko Home in Siem Reap called her “2 Grammes” when they found little Sanyam in a trash can.
That’s how big she looked!” said Marie Claude Fabre fondly. “Sanyam’s mother, a prostitute, threw her out one night. She was so skinny and scared and ate like a bird at first.
“Now, she loves photography and dancing and is always trying to do better than the others. Oh, and I’m happy to say that Sanyam’s new nickname is ‘4 Grammes’!”
The little child smiled happily for the camera as she toyed with a wreath of white frangipanis set on her head.
“I’m happy! I have friends here,” she said.
Happily, that is the case with most of the 40 children in the home supported by the Angkor Photography Festival and run by the charitable organisation, Green Gecko (greengeckoproject.org).
The home takes in the “pests”, as tourists tend to call the street children who swarm around any new face on the streets to beg for money and food. In one of the poorest countries in the world, these pests are actually trying to survive; in some cases, they are even helping their families survive. Some children as young as five become the family’s primary breadwinner.
Such sad stories are what persuaded Fabre to become a Green Gecko volunteer. The Frenchwoman had first gone to Siem Reap last year to help with the photography workshops. She stayed on as a volunteer at the centre to help children like 4 Grammes and Reth.
Reth is another one of the home’s happy cases that began as a desparately sad one. At 17, she was caring for five younger siblings and an ill mother by selling books on the street. But she lost her job when a “friend” stole her consignment of books. There was a silver lining, though, as Reth ended up helping with the children’s photography workshops last year.
”You can see the change in Reth’s face just by looking at the self-portraits she made,” said one of the festival organisers, Christophe Loviny, beaming with pride. (The Angkor Photography Festival’s organisers had invited 35 children to join a photography workshop that began with making self-portraits.)
Reth now works as a full-time, paid staff member at the home. She also attends five hours of English language classes every week. Most importantly, she is protected from prostitution, a fate that befalls many female street children eventually.