By David Biviano
The Cambodian Children’s House of Peace is a residential home for thirty children in Siem Reap, Cambodia, the location of the World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat. There are twelve girls and eighteen boys, ages 10–18, who come from the poor countryside villages in the province.
The nickname for the children’s home is Santepheap (santaypea’-ap), which means “peace” in the Khmer language. In a country still recovering and rebuilding after fifty years of civil war, the bombing campaign during the Vietnamese/American war, and the genocide of the Khmer Rouge, building a community of peace is a main purpose for the home.
I went to Siem Reap, Cambodia, following the three-week segment one of Thay’s 2007 pilgrimage in Vietnam. I volunteered at a children’s home during my visit, resulting in the founding of The Friends of the Children of Cambodia (FOCC) charity in Washington State, USA. When I returned in 2008 to volunteer at that home, it closed, leaving eight children with no home. So, I returned to Seattle, sold my home, and came to work in Cambodia, to start a new home. FOCC now supports Santepheap through the donations of friends from around the world.
The parents and guardians of the children are grateful for the opportunity to send their children to Santepheap, which provides food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and most importantly, access to education that is unavailable in the villages. The children have lived at the home since November of 2008. During that time, they have grown physically and their health has improved from the malnutrition they suffered. They have made great progress in school, moving from the bottom of their classes to the top. Some were able to be promoted two grades after their first year, overcoming some of the lag they suffered from being unable to attend school in their village, due to poverty or lack of schools.
The children of The Cambodian Children’s House of Peace gather each evening after supper for a five-minute silent meditation and brief talk on growing up and living in peace. This is also a time when any conflicts or misunderstandings are resolved, restoring peace to the community and teaching ways to reconcile after a fight or bad behavior.
Here are some of the things the children have to say about the importance of the evening meditation in their lives:
Mol (15-year-old girl): Meditation causes us to be calm in mind, and mindful of how to do the right things for our life.
Bon (14-year-old boy): Meditation makes our suffering less and less, by enjoying breathing in/out.
Sey (13-year-old boy): Meditation teaches us how to be thoughtful and grateful for the present moment. I like meditation and learning to sit quiet and about peace.
Kha (17-year-old boy): Meditation teaches us how to manage our mind when we are feeling angry.
Ny (13-year-old boy): Meditation makes people’s spirit stronger and stronger for a better life.
Voleak (17-year-old girl): I like to live at Santepheap because it is like a real family — school, a place to study, have good food, a place to sleep, and to learn to live in peace.
Visitors and volunteers are welcome at Santepheap, and of course, may join the Sangha for the evening meditation. Information about the home, directions, and contact information are available at www.santepheap.org and email@example.com.
David J. Biviano, Wonderful Stillness of the Heart, of Seattle, WA, is the Founder and Advisor of the Cambodian Children’s House of Peace.