Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | October 17, 2010

Imparting Smiles

Poipet, Cambodia | 14 October 2010

I first visited Poipet on a dreary, overcast day in the Fall of last year. The dark gray clouds and misting rain deepened the sense of despair that seems to have this place in a death-grip. Located on the border between Cambodia and Thailand, Poipet is strategically poised to become a major gateway between these two Buddhist nations. This once backwater town has seen exponential growth in recent years. A major attraction to the area is the Las Vegas-styled casinos that have been built in the no-man’s land between border check-points. However, these casinos have attracted more than gamblers, they have also attracted those who traffic in sex and drugs. And, as many as 100,000 poor Cambodians have come to Poipet in search of a better future.

The deluge of poor people who have poured into Poipet have strained the already inadequate infrastructure of the town beyond capacity. Multiplied thousands of these people live in a makeshift slum community that stretches for miles. As many as 40,000 of those who have come here in search of employment cross the border into Thailand daily in search of day-labor. Because no child-care is available, these mothers and fathers leave their children unattended during the day and sometimes for days at a time. In some cases, parents never return. The unattended children are vulnerable to being kidnapped and trafficked for sex and labor or to abuse at the hands of unscrupulous individuals in the slum community.

For lack of a better term, Poipet has become the Devil’s toilet. There are more reasons to avoid this place than there are to compel people to come here. One travel guide said that if you spend ten minutes in Poipet you have stayed five minutes too long. But, my friend Steve Hyde, the Director of Asia for Jesus, is prepared to invest a lifetime of minutes here. Where others see danger, Steve sees opportunity for the kingdom of God. The Buddhist governor of Bantaey Meancheay Province heard of Steve’s work with orphans and at-risk kids and invited him to care for the children of Poipet. He even provided the land for Steve to build on.

Steve recently completed the first two buildings to house orphans and at-risk kids in the area. The buildings are large and spacious and built in a beautiful Cambodian-style architecture. There are almost fifty kids in residence and under the care of some wonderful house-parents. These kids have a safe and clean home to live in, are receiving a good education from a full-time teacher, and are learning about Jesus. The name of this children’s center is “Imparting Smiles” — a perfect name for this island of hope located in Poipet’s sea of despair.

Through a generous gift from a Kingsland member, Steve hopes to purchase additional land to build a larger facility that will specifically care for the children of Poipet’s day-laborers. These children will have a safe place to stay while their parents look for work. And, they will also have an opportunity to receive an education. Steve has a big vision for these children and is determined to see it become a reality. We need more guys like Steve Hyde working to bring the hope of Jesus to people who live in places like Poipet — difficult and dangerous places. God is using Steve and his wife Noit to change the faces of Poipet, one smile at a time. To learn more about how you can help Steve to impart smiles, visit the Imparting Smiles website.


  1. Omar,
    I accessed the site and navigation seems a bit of an issue, but was able to access the slide show. The picture of the children on the swings brought a smile to my own face!

    What beautiful children!


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