This photo is not mine. It was taken by Vana Hem, a Cambodian friend. I post it here with his permission. I might have taken it. I have seen similar sights during the 14-15 months that I have spent in Cambodia. Vana took this shot around midnight recently, while walking through the streets of Phnom Penh. Yes, these kids live on the streets. They have no home other than this.
Vana uploaded this photo to facebook and mentioned that a passerby, a Westerner, made negative comments about Cambodia. One of Vana's Western facebook contacts also made a negative comment.
Whatever criticism one may choose to make about the Cambodian government, I'd like to put a different perspective on this situation.
Yes, these kids' families are very poor and perhaps they are among the worst off of kids in Cambodia. But even the average Cambodian family is closer to the families of these kids in terms of wealth than they are to the average Western family. Compared to the average Western family, the average Cambodian family is quite poor. On just one day (Christmas day or a birthday) the average Western kid will receive more toys than the average Cambodian kid will receive in a lifetime.
But who is happier?
I have had many opportunities to observe Cambodian families and children. My observation is that Cambodian kids in general are no less happy than Western kids.
Having all the wealth and toys, having a home with many comforts does not make Western kids happy. Sometimes it makes them unhappy because often the more someone has the more they want. And it is the wanting that makes them unhappy. Most Cambodian kids don't know what they are missing out on and so have no reason to be unhappy.
I lived for most of my time in Cambodia in Kompong Chhnang, a town about 90km from Phnom Penh. Most days I would ride my bicycle around my village and others in the district. Kids would wave to me and always had a big smile. Often I would stop and chat with my limited Khmer. These kids were extremely poor but I never got the impression they were unhappy. Maybe it's time that Westerners learned about happiness from the beautiful kids of Cambodia.