The German-speaking community in Singapore raising funds for their orphanage project. Photos by Darren Boon
SINGAPORE – For three years now, members of the German-speaking Catholic community in Singapore have been sponsors or “god-parents” to some 70 children at the Kampong Thom orphanage in Cambodia. Each sponsor pledges US$1 a day to a child, to meet the child’s basic needs such as food and education.
But members of the St. Elisabeth community, as they are known, started feeling that the sponsorship was not enough.
So recently, the group has initiated additional projects to help improve the lives of the children. These include house-building and renovation, furniture purchase, installation of a solar energy system and training the residents to use and maintain the system.
Education, nutrition, and personal healthcare have also been identified as important areas in the project. Due to a lack of quality education in the government schools, teachers are engaged to provide after-school lessons on subjects such as English. There are also provisions for rice and apples, as well as toothbrushes for the children and a nurse for the orphanage.
Father Hans-Joachim Fogl, chaplain to the German-speaking Catholic community, told CatholicNews that apart from the existing projects, future plans include supporting vocational education for the home’s children in other parts of Cambodia and the feasibility of providing a water filtration system.
These projects require additional funding outside the sponsorship. Hence, community members have been raising funds by selling Cambodia-made handicrafts and bags, as well as canvassing for donations in churches around Singapore.
The last sale was held on Nov 29 at Blessed Sacrament Church.
According to Deputy Speaker of the German parish council, Meike Tilkorn, 38, the community has held fundraising efforts at St. Joseph Church (Bukit Timah), Church of St. Mary of the Angels and Church of St. Ignatius.
Father Hans stressed that this project was not specifically aimed at evangelising or converting the Cambodian children to Catholicism. It will be their decision to convert if they are touched and impressed by the Christian example the sponsors are setting, he said.
“As Catholics, we have a task to go, to help and to show to people what it means to be a Catholic… helping people in need is fundamental to our Catholic belief,” he said, adding that the children sometimes attended Mass with the sponsors when they visit Kampong Thom.
The project began when Sean Chea, the director of the orphanage, visited the children whom two families from the Singapore German-speaking community had adopted. A fundraiser was then taken up for the orphanage and the money went into building a housing extension. In March 2006, Father Hans followed up with a visit to the orphanage to assess the situation. Friendships and ties were deepened, which led to the start of the various initiatives for the orphanage.
Sponsors usually make an annual trip to the orphanage, sometimes to celebrate Christmas. For the St. Elisabeth community teen confirmands aged 15 and 16, it is their Confirmation project to visit the orphanage and help in areas such as house renovation.
The teen confirmands changed after visiting the orphanage, said Tilkorn. “They were very impressed and want to help, and they correspond regularly with some of the older kids in the orphanage.”
Father Hans added that the teenagers’ experiences were a wake-up call and eye-opener for those who are used to living in an affluent society like Singapore, causing them to cherish what they have.
Tilkorn, who is ‘god-parent’ to two Cambodian children and who recently returned from a visit to Cambodia, said: “It’s very nice. It’s like having new family members. You feel responsible for them.”
You first give money in the hope that the children’s lives can be better, she said, “but when you see them, you’ll feel much more responsible… you’ll see them smiling… you’ll not forget them”.
Tilkorn added that her own five-year-old son, who helped to canvass for donations at Blessed Sacrament Church, once said to her: “Everyone has to pay one dollar on his sixth birthday to help the children.”
“From there I could see he already has the [desire] to do something for people in need. For me, it’s nice to know that he has this understanding,” Tilkorn said.
The German-speaking Catholic Community will be holding a “Fiesta of Senses 2010” carnival at the German European School located at 300 Jalan Jurong Kechil on Saturday Jan 30 from 3.00-7.00pm. Some of the older children from the Kampong Thom orphanage will be present. There will be music, drinks and food stalls. Admission is open to all.
Apart from the fundraising efforts in Singapore, said Father Hans, the community enjoys the support of their friends back in their home countries where some have generously donated money for the projects. The German Bishops’ Conference and German embassy in Phnom Penh, too, have donated to the various projects.
The Singapore German-speaking Catholic Community was established in 1991. There are about 1,000 registered members comprising families and singles of German, Swiss and Austrian nationalities.
By Darren Boon