The Wat Opot Children’s Community (WOCC) was started as the Wat Opot Project, an AIDS hospice, in 2002, when anti-retroviral (ARV) medicines were not yet available in Cambodia. In 2004 ARV medication became available to the adult residents of Wat Opot and for the children in 2005. By 2007, the residents went from dying from the virus to being able to live productively with it and the hospice was officially closed. The Wat Opot Project was transformed into the Wat Opot Children’s Community (WOCC) in order to provide residential care for the children who were left behind after their parents or caregivers died.

It is rare, and perhaps unique in Cambodia, for HIV-infected and non-infected children to live together as family, sharing homes and meals and playing together. This sets an example for the community, and its effect on increasing tolerance and diminishing fear cannot be overstated. Many orphanages are simply holding tanks, where fortunate children are either adopted out, or warehoused until they come of age. Wat Opot is a loving extended family, a place where former kids (now young adults) spend their summer break and return to on holidays, sometimes bringing their own new families.

In addition to our young residents, WOCC financially supports 16 former child residents who are either attending trade school or university in Phnom Penh as well as 9 impoverished children/young adults from the surrounding villages as they pursue an education.

The number of child residents varies anywhere from 45 to 60 and through partner organizations, other NGO’s, local village chiefs and word of mouth, WOCC continues to receive vulnerable children. Home assessments are completed on each new case determining whether the child can stay with her/his family (and attend school) with some financial help or if it’s a destructive situation whereas the child’s physical or emotional health is in danger.

Wat Opot is a very special place and as one volunteer described, “I don’t know what it is, but Wat Opot gets under your skin and then it gets into your heart. By the time you are ready to leave, you are already planning your next visit.”