What is life like for children in Holt’s sponsorship programs? While every child’s story and circumstances are different, some similarities exist from child to child and country to country. Most children, about 80 percent, live with their families and receive ongoing support to ensure they remain in school, have access to medical care, and receive nourishing food while an advocate — usually a social worker or teacher — works with the entire family to help them recover from life-altering hardships or pervasive poverty. In this way, child sponsorship uplifts not just children, but their mothers, fathers and siblings, too. Here is what a typical day looks like for one extraordinary girl growing up in rural Cambodia — and the single mother who is raising her to be a strong, confident woman.

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This is Kanhna. She is 12 years old and lives with her mother, Phally, 14-year-old brother, Sambath, and young niece in a rural village in Kampot province, Cambodia. Both Kanhna and Sambath have received support from Holt sponsors for two years.

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Sambath is in the 7th grade. Here, Sambath rests in a hammock with his niece after school.

Kanhna’s mother, Phally, is 48 years old. Phally has an elementary school education and has never worked for income — only to help grow and harvest rice on their small plot of land.

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Several years ago, Kanhna’s father fell ill and died shortly after surgery. After he died, Phally didn’t know how she would care for her five children and she relied on her oldest daughter’s income to meet Kanhna and Sambath’s most basic needs. Today, one of the few photos Phally owns of her family is a portrait of herself and her husband on their wedding day. It’s displayed on a shelf in her single-room home.

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Everywhere Holt works, we focus on the most vulnerable members of the community — often single mothers and their children like Phally, Kanhna and Sambeth. When Holt came to Phally’s village two years ago, we enrolled Kanhna and Sambath in Holt sponsorship, and invited Phally to participate in a monthly women’s self-help and savings and loan group. Every month, Phally meets with a group of 30 women who are also striving for a better life for their families. Through the savings and loan program, Phally has been able to borrow a small amount of money to purchase two hens, which have since hatched about 20 chicks. When the chicks grow to full size, Phally will sell them for about $5 each.  In the future, Phally hopes to borrow again — perhaps to purchase a pig or cow, which can help her earn even more income. Here, Phally and her granddaughter participate in a monthly group meeting of the “Brave Women.

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Kanhna and Sambath have three older sisters, but because job opportunities are scarce in rural Cambodia, they’ve all been forced to migrate from their home to find work. Most families survive on subsistence farming —growing enough rice and other crops to eat all year, with a little extra to sell in markets. Many Cambodian families in Holt’s sponsorship program survive on $1-2 per day.  Kanhna’s oldest sister is 20 years old and has one toddler-aged daughter, who she left in her mother’s care while she works as a farmer near the Laos border. Kanhna’s 18 and 16-year-old sisters both work in garment factories in the nation’s capitol city, Phnom Penh. Sponsorship is critical for Kanhna to ensure she can stay in school and not leave early to begin working. Here is a picture of Kanhna’s home, taken from the dirt road that connects her house to her school and other homes in her village.

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“It will take time for Phally to change her mindset. It’s very hard when you’re poor. You believe you will be poor forever. Kanhna will struggle with that mindset, too,” says Pola Ung, the CEO of Holt’s in-country partner, Cambodian Organization for Child Development. “Phally’s starting with two chicks, but we need to be patient. I hope she will do more.”

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Kanhna helps her mother with cooking, washing and other housework. This also means gathering water. Kanhna and her family drink from a man-made water hole about 200 yards from their home, following the path that cuts through the family’s rice paddy pictured here. They carry water in buckets and store it in 100-gallon ceramic pots. Before they can drink their water, they boil it over a wood-fired pit outside their home.

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Based on a government classification system, Phally and her children used to be considered “extremely poor.” Kanhna and Sambath’s sponsors helped replace the family’s thatched roof with tin and Phally took a small loan from her self-help group to replace the thatched walls.  Not only is the family now protected from leaks during the rainy season, but they are also no longer living in extreme poverty. In this image, Pola compares the paperwork that described her family as “extremely poor” to her latest report, classifying their status as simply “poor.” Phally says she’s very proud of her progress, and it gives her hope that one day, she and her children will escape the cycle of poverty. By June 2016, Phally will have repaid all of her self-help group loans, and she can borrow again if she chooses.

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Although Sambath and Kanhna attend the same school pictured here, Kanhna is in 6th grade and Sambath is in 7th, so they study in different classrooms. Because there are not enough public schools in Cambodia for every student, children only attend school for half the day — including Sambath and Kanhna, who arrive at 7 and end the school day at noon. Every child in Cambodia wears the same uniform — a white, button-up collared shirt and black pants for boys, black skirts for girls. While public school is free to attend, uniforms, books and supplies are very expensive. However, Kanhna and Sambath receive these materials for free, with help from their sponsors.

Brian Campbell | Former Team Member

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