A Heartfelt Encounter in Cambodia

A Holt sponsor meets her sponsored child.  A Holt intern meets the children and families she set out to serve.

In the coming months, Oregon State University student Lauren Fletcher will shine the spotlight on our work in Cambodia, as she completes a three-month IE3 global internship with Holt partner organization Pathways to Development. Lauren, a human services major, just arrived in Phnom Penh.  And already, within her first few days, she accompanied Pathways staff on a journey to visit sponsored children in rural Takeo province.  Here, she also witnessed a truly extraordinary event — the meeting between a young woman named Corrine and the 12-year-old girl she helps support through Holt’s sponsorship program.

Corrine meets Srey Lam, the girl she sponsors through Holt.

Yesterday was a big day for me. Mr. Born, Mr. Chenda, a sponsor named Corrine and her sister and friend gathered at 7am for a journey to visit the child Corrine sponsors through Holt International. Corrine’s sister has been working in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for the last seven months.  When Corrine decided to travel from her home in Kentucky for a 10-day visit with her sister, she made sure to dedicate a full day to visit the child she began sponsoring this past summer.

The drive to the child’s home lasted about two hours, and concluded on a rough, hard-to-access road through rural Treng district.  Along the way, I saw many people planting rice. Born explained that local farmers will help one another to plant and harvest each other’s rice. To sell their produce, farmers keep bamboo stands alongside the road, where sellers sit and wait for customers in hammocks tied between the poles of the stands.

Once we arrived at our destination, Srey Lam* — the sponsored child — and her family walked up to greet us with hands traditionally placed palm-to-palm before their faces.  Because of the language barrier, we walked towards Srey Lam’s home in silence, but this did not inhibit communication between us. Everyone wore smiles on their faces, especially Srey Lam’s mother and father, while the younger siblings looked on with curiosity. Sitting in the shade of their home – an elevated hut – the thick, sweltering air of Takeo province almost felt bearable. A couple dozen people gathered around us, with gentle smiles gracing their faces.  We sat in the shade, happily sipping raw coconut juice directly from the coconut – through bendy straws inserted into their centers!

Corrine reads Srey Lam’s letter.

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Srey Lam is a 12-year-old girl whose family lives in an extremely poor, rural area of Cambodia. Her mother and father have a small piece of farming land in which they produce and sell palm sugar as well as rice for their family. Unable to yield enough food to support their family for a whole year, the family, and Srey Lam, were left in a vulnerable situation. As many of her needs went unmet during her developing years, Srey Lam is very small for her age.

With the aid of Pathways to Development — Holt’s partner NGO based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia — Holt was able to accept Srey Lam into the Holt sponsorship program in June 2011.  Through this program, sponsors give $30 per month to provide food, shelter, medical care and other basic necessities for children in need.  With the support of her sponsors, Srey Lam now eats three meals a day, receives health services, attends school regularly, and is provided with school supplies and toiletries.

Mr. Chenda, the Pathways program coordinator, was kind enough to translate for Srey Lam and Corrine. As Corrine learned more and more about Srey Lam and her family, Corrine happily replied to Srey Lam’s questions as well. To watch their interactions was inspirational.  Although divided by culture, their exchange showed a common understanding, a common humanity.  It was very heartwarming.

Corrine exchanges gifts with Srey Lam.
Srey Lam seemed shy, but any 12-year-old girl might be when meeting a new person. Her gratitude was not hidden by her shyness, however. With family members, children and outreach workers studying their every move, an audible gasp sounded as Corrine presented Srey Lam with a metallic, purple beaded necklace and bracelet. A slight smile creeped across Srey Lam’s face and her body began to sway as though she couldn’t contain her happiness. After many thanks, Srey Lam offered a gift to Corrine as well — a handwritten letter she had composed at school. Beautiful Khmer handwriting covered the left side of the letter, while Srey Lam showed her artistic abilities through colorful drawings on the right side. Chenda then kindly translated the letter. It assured Corrine that Srey Lam was working diligently in and outside of school to remain ranked in the top ten of her class.  Srey Lam also shared her daily routine, including chores, schooling and helping her mother with her younger siblings. Both Corrine and Srey Lam seemed deeply gratified by their meeting.

Although Corrine’s sponsorship funds go to support Srey Lam, her whole family benefits from resources provided by Holt and Pathways to Development.  Srey Lam’s family has access to a rice bank, receives education on sanitation and how to purify water to prevent diseases, and recently had a latrine built next to their home! Sponsors like Corrine make all of this possible.

Towards the end of our stay, the air became denser and muggier as rainclouds began settling in the sky. This weather signaled the end of our visit, as the rain would make traveling out of the district difficult on the dirt roads. With farewells said, we left Srey Lam’s family and community. Sponsors like Corrine are helping to develop these poor areas, giving children like Srey Lam and their families true hope.

Click here to read about Holt’s work and history in Cambodia.

To learn more about sponsoring a child through Holt, click here.

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