Putting it All Into Perspective

One Family’s Story: A Glimpse at Holt’s Partnership with Pathways to Development in Cambodia

Orion, an IE3 Global Intern, sits down with 14-year-old Chenda. Chenda and her family are receiving support through Pathways to Development and their partnership with Holt International. Pathways to Development is a non-governmental agency that began in 2003 to help improve the quality of life of Cambodia’s rural poor.


By Orion Falvey, IE3 Global Intern

Takeo Province, Cambodia — The sky, a soft blue sheet, void of any clouds, adds to the quieted peacefulness of Takeo Province. To my left are the vast never-ending rice fields dotted with cows, children, and the occasional palm tree. It is dry season now and there is no water in sight. As I walk down the road, the houses of Khvav Commune come into view, most of them look the same, built up on stilts with palm frond roofs. You can tell a family’s income level by whether the house has walls, and if there are cows, chickens, or pigs in the yard.

Seeing a westerner is a rare occasion for these families; one might come through town once or twice a month. The children in the houses and on the streets are always very intrigued. Some are excited to practice their English, and yell out a, “Hello, how are you?” Others are shy and peer around a fence, their eyes focused on me.

Even though school got out several hours ago, many of these children are wearing their school uniforms, a dark blue top with white pants or dress. For many children, their school clothes, which are a requirement to attend the village school, are the only clothes they own. I now fully understand the importance of Pathways to Development’s activities to provide over 200 children with school uniforms and supplies.

As my day resumes, I will continue to witness how Pathways to Development, in partnership with Holt International, provides support for these children living in extreme poverty.

Walking down the dusty road, I pass a boy who looks no older than 6, marching three cows toward the rice fields—he carries a small stick, letting the cows know who’s in charge. During the dry, non-planting and harvesting season, most villagers have little or no work. Six months out of the year they take their cows, if they have them, to the rice fields to eat. The men also climb palm trees, cutting down the fruit and cooking it into palm sugar, which they can then sell at market. This activity generally brings in around a dollar per day for the family.

In order to help combat this lack of income generation, Pathways implemented a micro-lending program, providing women with start-up loans in order to create small businesses for their families. This program, going on its second year, has seen a 100% payback rate, and now has over 15 members.

I finally arrive at my destination, where I sit down with one of the Pathways sponsored children and discuss her story – the highs and lows. Her story makes me think deeply about my own childhood, the work that I am doing in Cambodia, and how to find ways to move forward through the challenges.

*Chenda is 13 years old. Dressed in her school uniform, she is waiting for me, and gives me a big smile as I walk into her yard. I can tell that even though she has lived an extremely challenging life, she is confident and sees the positive side of things.

Right off the bat, she tells me she wants to be a teacher, and would like to attend university in Phnom Penh when she is older. She is currently the top student in her class.

In 2006 a Pathways outreach worker in Khvav Commune, working closely with the village chief, heard about Chenda’s family’s situation. Both her mother and father are living with HIV. Her father goes through periods of severe illness and is unable to provide for his family. The village chief knew that another NGO was helping the family cover the cost of medicine and providing them with chickens, however the children, Chenda and her four sibling, were not receiving any type of support.

In the rural villages, when parents have HIV, it is common for them to blame themselves, feel hopeless – sometimes even suicidal – and in fighting this deadly disease they often have no time to care for and love their children.

Chenda, being the youngest of the children, was neglected, scared, and lacked confidence.

Upon seeing the family’s condition, Pathways, with the financial assistance and backing from Holt International, started providing Chenda and her siblings with support though their child sponsorship program.

A Pathways outreach worker meets with Chenda and her family several times per week in order to provide support in the following areas:

Education: Pathways and Holt provides Chenda with a school uniform and supplies, and helps assure that she stays caught up in her studies. Additionally, Chenda attends Pathways’ free after-school English class 5 days a week.

Physical health: Previously, Chenda and her siblings did not receive enough food. Pathways provides food packages to Chenda’s family, and also loans them rice through the community rice bank. Chenda now receives three meals a day and has maintained good physical health.

Sanitation and hygiene: Chenda and her family receive education on the importance of washing hands, brushing teeth, taking showers, and using a latrine. Chenda has not been sick for the past year and is very happy to feel healthy.

Her social, emotional, and psychological well-being: Pathways provides many opportunities for Chenda to engage with her peers, such as the after-school English class, monthly breakfasts, and an end-of-the-year celebration.

The support provided by Pathways and Holt International allows Chenda and her family to remain healthy, confident and positive. What may seem like little things to the privileged, such as myself, can have a huge impact for a child with nothing at all. For example, a school uniform costs only $20. This uniform provided Chenda with confidence and the ability to attend school. During my time spent with the family, it was apparent that they cared for and loved their children, and that Chenda’s opportunity to attend college was a top priority.

As I sat and listened to the end of Chenda’s story, I noticed many children passing by, all headed to a house just down the road, where one of Pathway’s after-school English classes is held. I told Chenda that I didn’t want her to be late for the class. She told me that she goes to class every day and that she was happy to hang out with me. I told her I would go to class with her, and so we walked over together.

Taking a seat with the class, all eyes were on me. The children, with big smiles on their faces, all said “Hello,” before laughing and poking their friends sitting next to them. Class began, and each time the teacher called on the students to answer a question, many hands shot up in the air, all eager to show their English in front of a foreigner.

After several failed attempts to be called on by the teacher, Chenda finally was chosen. In perfect English she said, “I am a student, you are my teacher.” Then she sat down, looked back at me and smiled.

*Name has been changed

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