Little Hearts planning expansion of not-so-random kindness campaign

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Founder and director of LHO Tony Geeraerts works in close collaboration with the Vihear Suor Tbong village authorities to facilitate the distribution of food packages to the poor and vulnerable villagers most in need of help. SUPPLIED

Little Hearts Organisation (LHO) is an NGO that provides abandoned children with quality educations while also giving support to impoverished families in order to make it less likely that situations as extreme as abandonment ever occur in the first place.

The NGO kicked off its second Random Acts of Kindness campaign in Vihear Suor Tbong village of Kandal province on September 25.

LHO was founded by two brothers – Tony and Jimmy Geeraerts – after they toured Southeast-Asia on dirt bikes and found themselves especially impressed with Cambodia’s people and its culture, while also being especially distressed by the level of poverty they were seeing.

“Travelling through the Cambodian countryside, we saw a great deal of poverty and families living in rudimentary conditions. We saw how these harsh conditions forced many adults to migrate to bigger towns and cities for work, but this also meant that they would be forced to leave their children behind, usually with older relatives.

“But there were some children who were completely abandoned and were in desperate need of help. We never forgot that experience, so after a couple of return trips we decided to start Little Hearts Organisation – beginning in 2009 – to rescue abandoned children from the streets of Cambodia,” Tony says.

The Geeraerts brothers were joined by friends Dimitri Segers and Jo Offeciers and they set LHO up in an unused school building on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

Later on, the government sold the building and LHO purchased a plot of land in a village just outside the capital and built a brand new facility, which opened in 2013 and still serves as their headquarters today and Tony Geeraerts then left Belgium and moved to Phnom Penh full time in order to run LHO directly.

Children who arrive at LHO are given a safe and secure home there after a thorough investigation into their background is conducted in close cooperation with the Belgian organisation Child Focus – a non-profit that manages the European Center for Missing and Sexually Exploited Children – and the Cambodian authorities.

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LHO along with key partners Top Recruitment at the Vihear Suor school. SUPPLIED

The children who stay with LHO all consider themselves to be part of a large family and think of each other as brothers and sisters because for many of them this is the only family they have left in the world.

“Little Hearts has become a genuine, loving and caring home. This is in total contrast to the desperation of life on the streets, which many of the children faced before they were taken into our family,” Tony says.

Tony says that LHO is dedicated to saving abandoned children and orphans in Cambodia from a life of hardship because every child deserves a safe environment, a decent education and opportunities for a bright future.

In addition to providing orphaned children with a high-quality education and a loving home while providing for all of their basic needs, LHO also offers free online English classes to all of the children in the village of Areyksat.

They used to receive most of their funding from Belgium but due to the Covid-19 pandemic donations have dropped-off significantly. To bridge the gap they’ve been increasingly focused on fundraising locally by building partnerships in Cambodia and across the wider region.

“We also fundraise internationally through online donations solicited via social media and we have an option for international donors to give a small monthly donation, because every dollar helps and if enough people were to give even just one or five dollars a month each, it can really add up,” Tony says.

LHO began its Random Acts of Kindness campaign when they noticed that all of the nearby villages were struggling economically due to the impacts of the pandemic on the job market including garment factory closures and the near-total loss of the tourism sector. The basic idea behind the campaign is to cultivate a spirit of giving and encourage empathy for others.

“For the first Random Acts campaign, we were able to hand out food packages, blankets and other basic necessities to cyclo and tuk-tuk drivers in the centre of Phnom Penh. Now for the second campaign, we are providing these care packages to more than 130 disadvantaged and poverty-stricken families.

“The funds received from the first campaign from generous donors were used to pay for the assembly and distribution of the packages, which include 20 kilos of rice, a box of instant noodle packages, fish sauce, soy sauce and other things, to help these families get through this difficult Covid-19 period,” he says.

Tony says that LHO worked in close collaboration with the village authorities in order to select the most vulnerable families for aid distribution, which he says shows how beneficial it can be for an organisation like LHO to really invest some time into establishing a good working relationship with the local government and community.

One way that LHO has accomplished that is through another key initiative of theirs that focuses on organising events and activities that bring the community together by getting people engaged in community service like pagoda clean-ups or food drives.

“There is still much more work to be accomplished but it’s a first step in the right direction thanks to the tremendous amount of support from our sponsors and key partners. Improving the lives of others has always been our goal and this also helps to build a positive community spirit,” Tony says.

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LHO distributed over 130 care packages to families in need in their local area. SUPPLIED

He explains that LHO’s plan is to continue supporting destitute families and building on the positive momentum gained already by launching the third Random Acts of Kindness campaign soon. They will continue donating food, but will also be adding household supplies and basic clothing to the care packages.

They are thrilled with the amount of positive feedback they’ve received so far and Tony says they are thankful to everyone involved from their donors to their partners and the community itself – as well as the village authorities – who were very supportive and whose help with communications and logistics made it possible.

“We hope this food aid will give people some hope and encouragement as they struggle to survive in a time of extremely harsh economic conditions. We hope the recipients of this aid know that they are not forgotten,” he says.

The basic necessities LHO is providing in their care packages will make it easier for families to send their children back to school so they can resume work or find new sources of income as the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted and people can begin rebuilding their lives and participating in the economic recovery.

LHO is also exploring the possibility of opening a food kitchen or food bank along the lines of what some charitable organisations in the west have traditionally done.

They are in the initials stages of planning, but the goal would be to provide simple but nutritious and satisfying meals free of charge to people who are sometimes forced to skip meals and often don’t know where their next meal is coming from or when.

“The best thing about this kind of work is that it strengthens entire communities and encourages the spirit of giving,” Tony says.

If you are interested in sponsorship, partnership or donation opportunities with the Little Hearts Organisation you can contact Tony at: [email protected]

For more information or to donate, you can also visit the LHO website: www.lho.ngo