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Coso Orphanage

Mr. SeanSamnang a founder and president of the Cambodia Orphan Save Organization (COSO), a shelter for the poor, homeless and orphaned in Siem Reap Province, Cambodia. He was born in 1980 and grew up in a very poor family. He worked on a farm to pay his way through secondary, high school and university, and he also worked for seven months in a tailoring factory for ten to thirteen hours a day. To complete his education, he received help and encouragement from a sponsor in Thailand. He moved to Phnom Penh where he worked for a charitable organization on a voluntary basis, but received his board and lodging. Voluntary work in return for board and lodging is still common in Cambodia today, and the members of staff at COSO are all local volunteers. Since he himself had received help when he most needed it, Samnang wanted to be able to provide help and opportunities for others.

 Samnang was offered a position as branch manager of a new orphanage in Siem Reap while he was still studying (he finally completed his education in 2007). The initial aim of this project was to bring in children from the surrounding neighbourhood to teach English and Apsara (the traditional Cambodian dance). Although this venture was welcomed by the local community, it sadly failed due to a lack of donations from passing tourists and the help of a stable sponsor, and the project had to close.

The area around Siem Reap is extremely poor, and Samnang still wanted to be able to work in this area. He understood the steps he needed to take to get official permission to open an orphanage, but he lacked the money to begin the process. His parents offered to use their home and piece of land as a guarantee against a bank loan. They were thus able to borrow 1.000.000 Riel (US$250). With this money Samnang was able to pay for the documents to be processed, to pay for necessary travel, to design a logo and to rent a small house and piece of land. The documents were finally complete on 5th December 2006, and the organization was called the Cambodian Orphan Save Association (COSA). The house had originally been a mushroom shed and needed a great deal of cleaning and preparation. A neighbouring generator caused a loud noise for most of each day, but it was a beginning. The first step was to invite local children to come for Apsara and English classes. A number of the children wanted to come and live at the house, but at that point there was no funding, so Samnang went round the villages asking for donations of food. The families knew him from the first venture that had failed, and they trusted him and gave whatever they could.

At first, Samnang took the children to the Lolai temple to ask tourists for donations. This was a great source of funding as they were able to raise $30 to $50 each day during the tourist season, and after only four months COSA was able to move to a bigger and quieter location just a hundred metres up the road on the Sras Srang Lake. With a generous donation from an Australian sponsor of $4,000 Samnang was able to build a new orphanage on this land; he later changed the name to Cambodia Orphan Save Organization (COSO). During 2007, after a year of collecting donations at the Lolai temple the police told Samnang that the children were no longer allowed to work there. This was very hard on the orphanage as it had lost its main source of income. However, tourists still stopped to visit the orphanage and gave donations, but these were not as frequent as they had been before. Many children still wanted to live at COSO and so Samnang began to look for a larger piece of land, and today the COSO children live at Trang Village on National Road 6, 7 kilometres east of Siem Reap.

COSO now has an on-going programme for continued development, however the children still depend entirely on the generosity and compassion of passing tourists to provide their daily food, clothing, school expenses and all other basic needs. Samnang and his wife Borey have a two-year-old son, David, and they live with their extended COSO family on the site at Trang Village.

After COSO moved to Trang Village, Samnang realised there was still a large need for assistance in Sras Srang, and the old orphanage space became the home to another organisation CDO (Cambodia Development Organization). Currently this organisation is run by Samnang’s brother, Samnong, under the direction of Samnang, and 22 children are housed there.


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