Rith* is only 16 years old now, but for half of his life he has pretty much be on his own.
The oldest of three children, his earliest years were spent as part of a street living family. He has never attended public school. When he was just 8 years old he began spending more time away from his family and living in different parts of the city with a group of older street kids, only occasionally going back to visit his mother and siblings. Rith and the other children and youth he was hanging around with would survive day to day by begging, stealing, collecting trash, or making a little money by helping with car parking. At night they would sleep on the beaches after the shops had closed. At 12 years old he began using drugs, first sniffing glue and then moving onto harder drugs as he got older.
M’Lop Tapang’s Drugs Team has known Rith since he was a young boy. He would spend some time at or 24-hour Drop-In Center where he had access to food, showers, sports activities, a safe place to sleep, health care, counseling, and non-formal education programs. Like many of the children our Drugs Team works with, Rith would stay at the Drop-In Center for a few days at a time and then return to the streets. This was Rith’s pattern for years.
A few months ago, after years of encouragement, Rith, now 16 years old, decided that he wanted to make some changes in his life. Seeing other youth he knew go through our Vocational Training Program he announced he wanted to do the same. For the last three months Rith has been living at our Drop-In Center and in the daytime studying electrics in the training program. With the exception of a few days relapse he has stopped using drugs, our staff have noticed a positive change in his behavior, and he has even started to reconnect with his family.
The challenge now is to support Rith as he tries to change the direction of his life. It is not uncommon for former drug using youth to relapse and stop their training. However, we are confident that the years our team has spent building a trusting relationship with Rith can help with his transition to a healthier and productive young adult.
*name and photo changed for confidentiality.