Sébastien Marot served in Asia with the French diplomatic corps. Returning as a traveler to Cambodia, he encountered a wrecked society where children slept in the streets. He gave them meals but soon realized that giving to child beggars kept them on the streets. He started Mith Samlanh (“Friends” in Khmer) to offer shelter, medical care and education, reintegrating children with family, school and work. Friends Cambodia encourages tourists to patronize approved businesses instead of giving to beggars. As the organization’s success attracted attention, Sébastien was attacked and targeted for assassination by gangs and pedophiles. Yet requests for help and training continued to pour in, and Sébastien transferred leadership of Friends Cambodia to an able Cambodian colleague. He now devotes his energy to Friends-International, supporting replication through two key programs: ChildSafe, which involves local leaders and tourists in prevention, and The Street Children Network, which makes effective services available to street children.
IMPACT AS OF JUNE 2013:
- In Phnom Penh, it serves 95 percent of the city’s homeless youth.
- Friends International now operates in eight countries in Southeast Asia and Central America, serving some 60,000 young people.
- Friends International was recently invited to start a program for the first time in the United States—in Las Vegas.
- Its CYTI Alliance, a Friends-International initiative, is an alliance of NGOs and government services working to build coordinated good practice services for marginalized children and youth. The Alliance aims at working with 150,000 children, youth and caretakers by 2016.
- The ChildSafe campaign now reaches travelers globally with the support of corporate partners like SilkAir, ANZ Bank, Intercontinental Hotel and Geneva Airport. The ChildSafe Network was launched as a national campaign by the Lao Government prior to their hosting the South East Asian Games in 2009. The project significantly increased the number of trained members, raised awareness through targeted campaigns (“Children are not Tourist Attractions” and “THINK, before giving to begging children”) and protected more than 3,500 street children. By the end of the project, 2,948 members in Cambodia received child protection training.
- The Friends Social Business is growing, with a 30% rise in product sales in 2009, improving organizational sustainability and income for marginalized families supported by the program. The model expanded in Cambodia, Thailand and Laos and (via partners) to Honduras.
- Its restaurants and craft shops pay for about a third of Friends International’s annual budget globally.
SEE THEIR WORK IN ACTION: