How a Holt child sponsor is empowering one young girl in Cambodia to stand up, speak up and become independent and strong.
In rural Kampot, Cambodia, Holt sponsors and donors help over 350 school-age children, and 200 preschool children, go to school. Many of these children are girls who would likely drop out early if not for the uniforms, supplies, books and lunch money their sponsors provide. At school, girls sit side by side with the boys. They learn to read and write, to speak up in class and voice their ideas.
Through local women’s empowerment groups that donors support in Kampot, many of their moms are also learning to speak their minds — and create change in their families and communities.
“We encourage them to speak up in the group,” says Kosal Cheam, director of Holt Cambodia, during a weekly meeting of the “Brave Women” — a six-year-old group named by the women who helped launch it. “Our goal is for the women to raise their concerns to their community about the difficulties in their families … We have to raise awareness to women that they have the right to speak, the right not to be victims of abuse, to stop violence in their families.”
Before they joined the group, few women would attend community meetings alongside their husbands. But now, many of them go to voice their opinions on issues facing their community.
“They thought they had no right to speak,” says Kosal. “Now, they are brave. They are motivated to be brave when they see other women be brave also.”
One member of the group is a young mother of three whose 9-year-old daughter, Sreyka, often comes with her to take notes. Sreyka’s mom never learned to read or write. But Sreyka can.
Sreyka’s mom hopes her daughter will have more opportunities than she had growing up in Kampot.
“I want her to see different things, to see the world. Not like me,” she says, sitting with her shoulders hunched, her eyes soft and a little sad. “I don’t know anything.”
Sreyka and her mom live in a one-room house, with a packed mud floor, and a single container of rice to last them the next four months. When we visit, Sreyka sits by her mom on the edge of the porch — her mom holding Sreyka’s younger sister in her lap as we talk.
Sreyka’s family is one of the poorer families in the community. Her father is a farmer, but when poor rains delay their rice harvest, he travels to the city to try to find work. Her parents sometimes struggle to provide enough food — evident in the orange tint to her mom’s hair, a common sign of malnutrition.
Until recently, Sreyka was often sick and lethargic, and frequently missed school.
Then, a little over a year ago, a Holt sponsor began supporting Sreyka with monthly gifts to cover the cost of her school supplies. While these monthly gifts have helped Sreyka stay in school, the generosity of her sponsor has helped her family in other ways as well.
“I am so relieved that I no longer have to pay for school supplies, uniforms, bags, shoes and other learning materials,” her mom tells us. “My daily expenses are reduced and I can save some money for other purposes.” Purposes like food when the rice harvest is poor. Or medicine when her children are sick.
Sreyka tells us that before a sponsor started helping her family, she was very quiet and sat very still in school. She didn’t want to play with the other kids.
When we ask her why, she says, “Because I knew that my family was in difficulty.”
Now that she has the support of a sponsor, and of COCD social workers who work directly with her and her family to ensure their needs are met, Sreyka says that she feels more like making friends and having fun at school. She wants to be a teacher, she says, “because when I can learn, I can teach the others to learn like me.”
Like her mom, Sreyka is learning to stand up, to speak up and be independent and strong. She is a brave girl.
“If there is someone who wishes to support me to continue to study at university, I would be very thankful and would commit to getting first rank.”Sreyka
“Even though I live in a poor family, I am committed to finishing the end of grade 12,” she says. “But if there is someone who wishes to support me to continue to study at university, I would be very thankful and would commit to getting first rank.”
Her mom says that already, Sreyka is often first in her class.
“I am very proud of her,” she says, holding her younger daughter and looking with admiration at her eldest, Sreyka. “I want her to keep learning, and achieve her goal.”
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