I have been following Cambodian Children's Fund (further CCF) activities for a while. It was captivated by Scott Neeson's story, about what he gave up in order to help the community around Phnom Penh's former municipal garbage dump at Steung Meanchey. I have been following the CCF success stories and I got more and more drawn to it. I felt strongly about the cause, however I thought that will not feed a hungry stomach. CCF offers child sponsorship program and I decided to give one child a chance for better future.
I became a sponsor of a lovely 7 year old Srey Vy. Everything went very smooth from the beginning. As they stated in sponsorship guideline, between Srey Vy and myself was established and with help of a translator (shout out to Ravy) we started to exchange messages to get to know each other better. I learned about Srey Vy and her family background and I told here something about my own. An sponsor information package with some useful documents and DVD introducing CCF and their activities was sent to me. I had a good idea how much work has been done from CCF's humble beginnings to this day and I was sure people at CCF really do care.
Part of the sponsorship program allows sponsors to visit their sponsored child and take them out and spend some time with them. I decided to do exactly that. I got very excited when the day I was about to meet Srey Vy. To be honest, also little nervous. I made my way to the facility. Srey Vy came along with her older sister and translator who accompanied us. This day was all about the girls and I wanted to make it special for them. First we made our way to playground as that was their wish.
After that we continued with lunch in supermarket followed by big ice cream. Next came the most exciting part for young ladies. We headed to Central Market to do some shopping. Here the girls really came alive. I can't even describe how good it feels to make somebody this happy. For kids like this the new clothes and shoes can mean a world. They both picked nice new clothes and shoes. It was interesting to observe them how they shop around. Even if they had never a chance to do this before they handled it with professional lady like attitude :) Finally we stopped at stationary shop to buy some school supplies and also a book store to pick up some English/Khmer books.
Next day a CFF representative showed me around some of the facilities. I got a brief introduction about all the programs and activities CFF provides to kids as well as whole community. Most of the sponsored children stay with their families (if circumstances allow so) which I think is very important. Thanks to sponsorship funds (that go to whole family) they no longer need to spend the day on the streets or scavenging garbage dumps. They wear clean clothes, sleep in clean bed, have access to clean water and also education. But CCF didn't stop here. They soon realised that it is important to improve the life of the whole community if they wanted to succeed long term. With few facilities in Phnom Penh as well as some satellite facilities in more remote locations they offer whole lot to community such as nursery, food distribution system, care for elderly, parental education, health care, access to clean water and many more. During my visit I was shown the extent of CCF program and I must say I was very impressed.
At CFF1 facility we found older kids, some of who attend university. They have their computer room, study room, library, classrooms as well as living area. CFF5 facility is the biggest one and mostly accommodates for infants and younger kids. As we walked around, it was explained to me how things work and I got answers to all my questions. Right at the gate there is a source of clean drinking water that is available for entire community. For families with income about $2 a day it is not an option to buy expensive bottled water. CFF stepped in and now they offer clean water which is probably the only one in Phnom Penh that is safe to drink from tap. There are few class rooms, healthcare centre,food distribution centre, nursery and many more. And education is going on in all levels. I noticed as class of little children left the classroom for lunch. They were nicely walking in the line and right before lunch they all washed their hands. This is sadly not common even in developed countries. Whole place feels very lively with all the kids running around. Some are playing, some are having class. Altogether very positive vibe.
As I made my way through facility some little ones are following me, hanging on me, asking me for a hug or photo. I am getting pretty emotional here. So little I need to do to light the fire in their eyes...just a simple hug and smile. I just regret I don't have more time at my disposal.
Shortly after the excursion we visited the translators room. All communication between children and sponsors goes through here. When new email from a sponsor arrives they bring in the child and together with translator they reply. Here is where I met Srey Vy again. She wore the new shoes from yesterday's shopping outing :) Still a little shy we sat together for a while. I showed her photos from day before. Sadly, soon it was time to say goodbye which was very hard for me but I do my best to come for visit again. We shortly stopped at main headquarters which was located again at different place. I picked up some t-shirts which will be later available through online shop. I also met with some folks who I have been in contact with when we organised all the matters about sponsorship.
All staff is very kind and they all are very passionate about what they do. CCF employs cca 300 staff which many of them are parents or relatives of the children of CCF. This way an income opportunity is given to some the families. Unfortunately there was no time to visit bakery or the restaurant that CCF also built for the community. It seem there is nothing that can stop the expansion. This is generally a very happy place and I feel privileged to be a part of it. I have no doubt in my mind that everything that CCF does benefits the children. After all the change is visible. Places where I was walking around used to be infamous Steung Meanchey garbage dump, one of the saddest place in the world. There is no sign of it now. I am not saying everything is perfect but things are improving and improvement are tangible. I am looking forward to continue my sponsorship activities, to talk to Srey Vy on regular basis and strenghten the bond between us. I am very excited about her future and I cannot wait to see her grow from little shy girl to a beautiful young lady.
For those that are considering donations or sponsorship I have only thing to say. Do it. It is immensely rewarding and life changing experience. Even a small help can go long way. If you have chance to visit Cambodia stop by at CCF, and see for yourself. No money is wasted here. It goes where it belongs, to those that need it most.