Mith Samlanh Friends The Restaurant
A program for street children, their families, their communities

Friends, or Mith Samlanh, is a non-governmental organization working with street kids and their families in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The organization was started in 1994 and is currently funded by USAID, AusAID and the EEC. The organization helps an average 1500 street kids and their families each day. They do this through a wide range of programs. The main facilities, which are located in central Phnom Penh, house the transitional school, which helps kids aged 5-11 get back into the public school system, the vocational training center, which teaches skills in a variety of trades to teenagers, and Friends, the Restaurant. The organization has 3 foreign staff and 45 local staff members as well as numerous volunteers from the community.

The organization also runs several outreach programs, which educate street youth on important issues like HIV/AIDS and drug abuse. The majority of the youth that are helped by these programs are children who have come to the city either to escape abuse at home or the poverty of the countryside. Many of them, because of a lack of skills, work opportunities and the generally poor state of the economy, turn to prostitution and begging as a means for survival. Friends also operates a hostel for male street prostitutes. Some of these boys are as young as 7 years old.

The vocational training center also provides successful students with micro-enterprise loans to enable them to start small businesses after they have completed their training. Business opportunities vary from haircutting to fixing scooters and setting up food stalls. Like with most micro-enterprise loan schemes, interest rates are very low and the loans require no collateral.

The most recent venture, Friends the Restaurant, is perhaps the organization’s most successful to date. The restaurant is set up tapas style and has become one of most popular eateries for foreigners working in the city. The restaurant is part of the food service training program and acts as the last stage of training before students are assisted with finding work in up-scale restaurants. Such employers offer wages in excess of local standards as well as benefits and security. Compare: some former students earn 120 US $/month, while the official wage for a local law enforcement officer is 20 US $/month, for a government clerk, 40 US $/month and for a garment worker, 45 US $/month.

The creation of the restaurant was the collective effort of students from several of the training programs. The lighting was installed by the students from the electrical program, the uniforms were sewn by the students in the seamstress program and the decorations and pictures were provided by younger students in the transition school.

When the restaurant opened in February of 2001, it was hoped that it would eventually become self-sustaining and perhaps even provide revenue for the other programs. The project was given two years to sink or swim. Within two months the business brought in enough revenue to cover its start up costs and moved into profit. There is now a profit-sharing scheme with the employees/trainees and it is hoped that the restaurant will continue to provide enough cash to assist with the running the other programs.

Projects of this kind are in place throughout the developing world and were originally developed in South American nations.

Friends can be contacted at the following address:
Street 13, House #215
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

There is an excellent web site with information on the organzation:
http://www.streetfriends.org/

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