ICC – Project SKY

Photo of young students
photo by Ari Vitikainen

What is ICC – Project SKY?
ICC – Project SKY seeks the safe reintegration and social inclusion of young adult orphans back into communities. We aim to provide services and opportunities that counter the effects of institutionalisation, nurturing positive attitudes and changes within both orphanages and the surrounding communities.

SKY is a Khmer acronym which means ‘building up the lives of young adult orphans’.

What need is ICC – Project SKY meeting?
According to research conducted by ICC – Project SKY in 2007, there are currently 2,938 children and young people living in 41 orphanages and shelters in Phnom Penh. Some of these orphans are now as old as 25, with nearly one third aged 15 and above.

During interactive workshops conducted by ICC – Project SKY, over 500 young adult orphans revealed that they fear discrimination, victimisation, joblessness, homelessness and even starvation once they leave the orphanage. Many believe that society does not value them and they fear they no longer have the skills to be part of an outside community.

Their fears may not be misplaced. Many of the concerns shared and character traits exhibited by young adults during this research are well-known and widely-accepted indicators of institutionalisation. Without a suitable family base, life skills and careful preparation, young adult orphans leaving orphanages in Cambodia could end up as grim statistics.

The reality is that, when young adult orphans leave the orphanages to live in the community, they will be among the most vulnerable members of society, in many cases facing the very reasons that they found themselves in an orphanage in the first place. Too often, orphanages have not removed their vulnerability, but only delayed its effects.

Girls Laughing together
photo by Ari Vitikainen

In what ways does ICC – Project SKY work?
Having uncovered the fears and needs of these young adult orphans, and with the realisation that orphanages often do not take the future needs of their young adult orphans into consideration, ICC – Project SKY commits to working with these young people and on their behalf.

ICC – Project SKY focuses on creating bridges between young adult orphans and the wider Cambodian society by linking them into appropriate services, both inside and outside the orphanage, which prepare them for safe and independent adult living within a community setting.

Inside the orphanages, this means meeting regularly with orphanage directors to encourage them to take the development and preparation of their young adults seriously. We are also involved in establishing youth clubs within each orphanage, giving young adult orphans the chance to express their emotional and practical needs as well as helping to foster greater understanding between them and the orphanage management. We also offer training opportunities, such as life skills and practical work skills, which focus on the needs identified by the young adult orphans.

Outside the orphanages, ICC – Project SKY works with churches and temples to identify older men and women who can befriend and mentor these young adults as they prepare to leave the orphanage. We also partner with businesses to provide short-term work experience opportunities along with scholarships for young adult orphans to access existing vocational training programmes.

Two University Students
photo by Ari Vitikainen

In 2008, we will begin researching into Cambodian family values, measuring how these values impact the reintegration of young adult orphans into families and the wider community.

What are the hopes of ICC – Project SKY?
By providing opportunities for life skills, work experience, vocational training and relationship building, ICC – Project SKY hopes that young adult orphans will move towards independence and be able to play a full role within society, free from the effects of institutionalisation. We look forward to seeing the potential of these young people released both for their own benefit and for the benefit of their employers and wider society. ICC – Project SKY also recognises that orphanage care is not ultimately in the best interests of young people. We hope to encourage orphanage directors to understand and respond to the need for preparing both young adults and younger children for life outside the walls of the orphanage as well as involving communities in the reintegration process.

Our vision is for communities across Cambodia to take full responsibility for all their members, recognising their duty to protect and care for children who are vulnerable and have no one to depend on – thus making the need for orphanages a thing of the past.