Here at the CIF main office in Phnom Penh, the communications team recently welcomed the Outreach team into our shared space. Now that we’re in close proximity to each other, we’ve had more opportunities to hear about the work Dy Noeut and his team are doing. A couple of weeks ago, Dy Neout and I sat down to talk about the reintegration of children in institutions back into families and communities. As the conversation continued, we ventured into his personal convictions on the topic, and his own upbringing. He revealed his humble beginnings, and how he came into family-based care.
“I came from a very poor family” Dy Noeut shared with me. The sixth of 10 children, his father passed away when he was still a boy, and he recalled doing his part to provide for the family. “Back then, we were selling bamboo items and furniture to make money. Someone might sell us something for $4, and then we would try to sell it again for $5. We were just trying to make money like this.”
Dy Noeut’s Journey
Dy Noeut’s own story gives him special empathy and compassion for the children and families he works with. His background is in Educational Administration and Leadership and he finished a Masters at Pannasastra University of Cambodia (PUC). Dy Noeut’s first position in family-based care was with Sunshine Cambodia. “At that time, I was a community development manager” he shared. It was his time here, seeing children stay in their family units and access holistic support, rather than unnecessary institutionalisation, which solidified his conviction in family-based care. Instead of sponsoring an individual, they took on whole family units.
“We provided sponsorships to the child and the family. We provided job training, vocational training to… the children and the families. We did micro-enterprise and encouraged families in the community, as a group, to save money and start a business or enlarge their business.”
Eventually, Dy Noeut moved on and started his own NGO focused on education, where he would work for a couple of years before trying out other roles and positions. A man of many talents, he even left social services briefly and worked in the for-profit business world. It wasn’t long before the helping profession was calling him back, however. “It was clear that [this work] didn’t align with my values, so I decided to resign.”
Coming back to family-based care
Fast forward to today, Dy Noeut is the manager of the Outreach Project. Outreach focuses on building bridges between community networks to prevent family separation, and to advocate for family-based care at a systems level. But it also plays an important role in working directly with residential care institutions who are making the shift toward community-based care and helping children transition back into their families and communities.
“Children need to live in families and communities, not RCIs (Residential Care Institutions),” Dy Noeut explains. “There are alternative care options for children in communities. RCIs and orphanages are the last choice and should be a temporary placement only.”
Dy Noeut is clear in our conversation, however, that this isn’t just a personal preference: children can and must be cared for in families and communities. “Research says that living in a community is different than living in residential care,” he explained. “Living in communities makes children more mature. They are more active, they can get experiences with real life. In a center they are just a person that needs someone to care for them.”
And his work aligns with the government’s aims, too. Cambodian officials mandated that 30% of children in institutions needed to be reintegrated into families and communities by 2018. Today, many organisations are joining hands to continue this important work. Dy Noeut regularly coordinates with the staff of other organisations and government offices.
More than words
As is the case with many people in this line of work, however, it’s not all about policies and protocol. It’s about doing what you know to be right, deep down. “It’s about our philosophy,” Dy Noeut reminds me. “Children need to be in their families. This is God’s design and God’s plan for families. He intends for children to live with their families.” And this design applies to the caregivers, as well. “Even with families that are very poor, this is God’s design: for children to live in families. It’s about the parent’s responsibility to take care of the children, not that children need to do something back to earn it.”
Dy Noeut’s goal in Outreach is to develop “a network of RCI (Residential Care Institution) organisations that work and advocate together for family-based care at the national level with government-level social services.” This network can share information and best practices to develop resources that can train other RCIs who want to move toward family-based care. Ultimately, he wants to see organisations, agencies and churches work together to accomplish the goal of preventing the unnecessary separation of children, and placing children back into their families, until everyone realises their right to a loving family.