Orphans Get Computer Savvy

Five-year-old Krean Panha refused to walk for six months after he arrived at the Australia-Cambodia Orphanage Center, recalled administrator Geraldine Cox.

“We try not to pry into children’s traumatic past,“ Cox said. “From what we have learned, he saw a relative blown up by a land mine. And the relative’s last words were, ‘Panha, don’t walk anywhere.’ ”

Krean Panha now needs no prodding to stroll around the center grounds. Like other residents, however, he occasionally has to be “pried away” from one of the orphanage’s 25 computers, which were donated recently by the Sydney office of Chase Man­hattan Bank.

On Wednesday, donors, dignitaries and others braved muddy roads in Russei Keo district to mark the opening of the center’s $40,000 computer school.

In a ceremony that included performances of traditional music and dance, Australian Ambas­sador Malcolm Leader described the computer school as “an excellent example of what can be accomplished with hard work, vision and cooperation between the humanitarian and corporate sectors.”

In addition to Chase Man­hattan Bank, which provided a $10,000 grant, donors included Segric International, a program for developing countries based in Australia, and the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh.

Cox called the computer school an important step in the orphanage’s development, one that will improve career pros­pects for its 56 young residents.

“Up until now, we’ve provided our children with the kind of normal, loving family environment that many of them have never had,” Cox said. “Before the computer school, however, the only jobs we could get our kids were as drivers, bodyguards, domestic servants or garment factory workers. That now has changed.”

Cox arrived in Cambodia in 1970 in the Australian foreign service and has headed the orphanage since 1993.

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