Friends International: Using Business To Help Street Children

Friends International is a social enterprise dedicated to improving the lives of street children and other vulnerable children around the world.

Friends International began in 1994 when Sebastien Marot and Barbara Adams, two friends passing through Cambodia on their way to Japan, began feeding some street children who slept outside their hotel. They soon met another foreigner doing the same and learned that an estimated 1500 children were living on the streets of Phnom Penh and another 10-20,000 worked there. The three decided to found an organization to help the children on a more permanent and systematic basis, and appointed Sebastien the leader. Today, the organization has expanded its operations to five other countries in Southeast Asia, providing assistance to more than 50,000 children every year, as well as providing support for other organizations working with street children in Egypt, Mexico, and Honduras.

As a non-profit social enterprise, Friends International accepts funding from multiple sources, including donations, grants, and income from its own businesses. Friends International hopes to be 100% self funding by 2020.

What They Do

Friends International starts with outreach programs to build trust and provide basic services to street children, including basic health care, life skills training, sports and games, access to books and other educational materials, and more. The Education program encourages children to attend school and helps children who have dropped out or never attended to reintegrate. Friends International also offers vocational training for teenagers in 11 different areas, including cooking, mechanics, sewing, beauty, and more.

Many of these students go on to receive practical, hands-on experience at Friends International’s businesses, which include successful restaurants, stores, and more.

Friends International also offers vocational training and job assistance for parents of street children, to enable them to earn a better income so they can send their children to school instead of having them work on the streets. Friends International stores, such as Friends ‘n’ Stuff in Phnom Penh, offer crafts, clothing, jewelry, toys, and other products made by children and their parents. These include a variety of recycled products, including jewelry made from recycled beads, bags made from recycled comics, and more. In addition to local stores in Cambodia and Laos, Friends International products are sold in the US through retailers such as Global Goods Partners. For a full listing of US sources of Friends International products, visit the international store directory.

Friends International also provides drug awareness and treatment programs for street children, including a rehab center and social rehabilitation programs designed to help former drug addicts return to their families, schools, jobs, or other social obligations, and a transitional home for street children to live while Friends International helps them prepare to return to their families or seeks permanent accommodations elsewhere. At the transitional homes, the children can receive education, health care, food, and a dormitory bed, in addition to counseling and other services.

Finally, Friends International coordinates the ChildSafe Network, which seeks to involve people at all levels of society in the drive to reduce the number of street children, child abuse victims, and other victimized children around the world.

How You Can Help

In addition to shopping with Friends International, you can choose to make a general donation or a donation to a specific Friends International program. Donations are tax-deductible in the US and Switzerland. For more information, please visit the Friends International official website.

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