Jul. 14 –  Rather than hold a cocktail party to celebrate Israel’s 61st Independence Day, this year the Israeli embassy for Thailand and Cambodia used its budget to donate a playground to the Krousar Thmey (“New Family” in Khmer) halfway center for Phnom Penh’s street children. The 6-12-year-old residents of the center include victims of child prostitution and orphaned or abandoned children who live there until foster homes are found for them in the local villages. At the inauguration ceremony, Yael Rubinstein, Israel’s ambassador to Thailand and Cambodia spoke of the Cambodian children’s plight after decades of war. Ahead of the ceremony, the drab walls of the center were painted in bright colors by Israeli backpacker volunteers. The backpackers project, also initiated by Rubinstein, encourages Israelis after military service to spend three months at the village where they work intimately with the local population, teaching English, mathematics, IT, health, and occupational training. The project is jointly financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Lametayel, an Israeli outdoor gear and travel company. According to Rubinstein, Chi Pat was selected for the project based on its urgent need for aid. Children there receive only two hours a day of schooling and none speak English. Five percent of children do not reach their first birthday, 10% of women die during childbirth, and the oldest person in the community is 57 years old, she said.