“I am so happy that I can go back to school…”
Chanheng is 11 years old and lives with her two younger siblings and their elderly grandmother in a small house in the Prey Veng province of Cambodia.
Her parents separated when she was young and shortly thereafter her mum was forced to move to Phnom Penh and work in a factory to provide for her children.
Even with her mum’s job in the factory, Chanheng and her siblings will often go without enough food for a while.
Chanheng loves going to school but getting to class each day is a challenge.
She lives far from the nearest school and had to walk a long way to get there and back.
“I was often alone, and I felt unsafe walking all that way,” she says.
Her fears were not unfounded as Cambodia struggles with child trafficking and abuse, particularly in rural districts like hers.
Each day she also had to cross a large canal that often flooded and could be hard to navigate.
But it’s not only distance and danger that lay between Chanheng and getting an education.
Her family could rarely afford the school materials (books, pens, bags and uniforms) she needed, and the combined weight of these costs and challenges lead Chanheng to consider dropping out of school many times.
Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic
The pandemic hit Chanheng’s family particularly hard. Her mother’s work became unpredictable and they went without enough food for long stretches during the lockdowns.
Even when lockdowns recently relaxed and schools began to reopen, it looked doubtful that they would be able to afford for Chanheng to return.
What they didn’t realise was that, right at that moment, the principal at Chanheng’s school was nominating her for Sunshine Cambodia’s School Development Program.
Enter Sunshine Cambodia
Shortly after being accepted into the program Chanheng and her family received hygiene materials (including a water filter, soaps, hand sanitiser and face masks) and a series of food packages (which included rice, noodles, fish sauce, soy sauce and sugar).
This meant Chanheng and her family could now worry less about where the next meal was going to come from, and it also reduced their chances of getting Covid and many other diseases that they had commonly struggled with (often due to poor hygiene).
But perhaps the most exciting of all for Chanheng, the program is providing her with school fees, a uniform, study materials and a bike to get to school with.
“I am so grateful for all of the support and encouragement from everyone at Sunshine Cambodia,” she says, “It gives me hope and motivation to continue studying and achieve my dream of being a doctor.”