Big Brothers and Sisters of Cambodia (BBSC) began as part of a community-based project to support the hundreds of children orphaned by AIDS in poor urban areas of Cambodia. A group of ten Christian young people were recruited as youth mentors for these children. Their enthusiasm quickly spread. Soon many other youth were asking how they could be involved.
BBSC now provides a simple but powerful way for Christian youth in Cambodia to put their faith into action by becoming a ‘big brother’ or ‘big sister’ to an orphan or child at risk in their own community. The big brothers and sisters commit to visit their little brothers and sisters on a weekly basis. Orphans receive a friend who will pay attention to them, notice when they are struggling and encourage them in their achievements.
Working through the local church
BBSC works with the youth department of the Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia (EFC). This gives BBSC a profile within Cambodian churches and helps make contact with local Christian leaders. BBSC visits youth leaders’ camps, seminars and training sessions for pastors or youth leaders, to talk about the needs of children who have lost their parents to AIDS. Pastors and youth leaders help to promote the vision in local churches and youth clubs as well as to check the suitability of potential new volunteers.
Big brothers and sisters form themselves into groups of between five and ten young people, so that they will have support and encouragement from their peers. Each big brother is then matched up with one little brother and each big sister is matched up with one little sister from their local community. The orphans are not related to their big brothers or sisters. It is important that brothers and sisters live in the same area to enable regular visits. During the weekly visit, the big brother or sister simply spends time with the orphan – encouraging, listening, talking, playing, praying, eating and having fun.
The big brothers and sisters are not given any financial support by BBSC. Instead they share what they have with their little brothers and sisters. In this way the community is not dependent on outside help, but is helping itself. It sounds difficult to expect young people from poor communities to give to others, when they may be struggling to be able to afford the basics themselves. Yet even without money, these young people still have legs to go and visit, ears to listen, mouths to give encouragement and hands to reach out in love. Little things can make a big difference. One young volunteer told us how happy she felt being able to give some of her clothes to the orphan who has become her little sister. Previously, her little sister had to wash her single school uniform and wait until it was dry before putting it on again.
BBSC is a movement of volunteers that is learning there are many ways to challenge, mobilise and inspire people without using financial incentives. For example, BBSC regularly provides training, encouragement and advice to the groups of big brothers and sisters. BBSC sends out a newsletter several times a year containing news, photos and ideas. T-shirts, certificates, photos and other small items give volunteers a sense of identity and achievement. The groups of big brothers and sisters also meet regularly to support each other, pray for their orphans and have fun outings together. There are now groups in four different provinces, and 120 big brothers and sisters visiting 120 children each week. The word is spreading …
Philippa Miner is an Advisor for Big Brothers and Sisters of Cambodia.