ON A MISSION
Television news anchor Sandra Sully recently travelled from Sydney to visit CCF and meet her sponsor child Srey Nait for the first time. In the second part about her trip, Sandra talks about the experience and meeting her sponsor child for the first time
Picking her way through piles of rubbish in one of the most deprived parts of Cambodia, Sandra Sully is a long way from home.
As one of the most recognisable faces on Australian television, she is more used to the comfort of an air-conditioned studio preparing to anchor TEN Eyewitness News First At Five Sydney. Hundreds of thousands of viewers know her name.
But here in the heat and squalor of Phnom Penh, 7,000km away from the glamour of TV, Sandra is just a stranger. Curious children peek out from behind their parents’ legs at the blonde lady walking past and exchange a shy smile.
Sandra stepped from behind her desk in the studio to visit CCF and see first-hand the work that is being done to help these children and their families, some of whom are still struggling in the grip of grinding poverty.
Taken on a tour of the local community with CCF Founder and Executive Director, Scott Neeson, Sandra saw the best and the worst of life around the former Steung Meanchey garbage dump.
In the worst parts, the muddy ground is hidden under a stinking carpet of rotting rubbish. Underfoot is decaying food, broken glass, piles of plastic bags and discarded household items, shifting with each step.
Behind are tiny ramshackle shacks made of out old bits of wood with makeshift corrugated iron roofs – homes for sometimes up to a family of six.
“It was equally confronting and humbling,” says Sandra. “The work of Scott Neeson and the team at the Cambodian Children’s Fund is truly remarkable. I met so many children and families whose lives have changed profoundly. They have been given hope and a helping hand to make their own way in life. “
The trip was emotional for Sandra, who has been with Network Ten for more than 28 years, in more ways than one.
Three years ago, she signed up for CCF’s Sponsorship program to help fund an education for children who once scavenged on the former city landfill dump or are part of an impoverished family where it’s a choice between putting food on the table or sending the to school.
During the visit to CCF, Sandra would be meeting Srey Nait, her CCF sponsor child and the girl she calls “my sponsored daughter and the newest member of our family”, in person for the first time.
Srey Nait was due to turn 15 shortly after the visit.
Sandra’s involvement with CCF began four years when she hosted the Australian office’s annual charity gala in Sydney. When she was asked again the following year, she took along her husband Symon and stepdaughter Mia.
By the end of the evening, the family had decided to sponsor a child.
Sandra, who in May again hosted CCF’s annual Australian Gala, says: “the act of giving is reward in itself. Knowing you are changing someone’s life actually warms your soul. They need so very little yet it’s enough.”
Finally meeting the new addition to the family was the next part of their journey together.
“To be honest we were just so excited about meeting Srey Nait, and of course, a little nervous. We were worried she would be too timid to really connect and did she really want to meet us?,” recounts Sandra.
“We need not have worried. That very instant we locked eyes on each other, we all lit up with excitement and joy, and hugged each other. For me, it was quite emotional.
“I distinctly remember our embrace when I felt her tiny frame, and her arms wrap around me. I smelt her hair and realised this sweet girl could hopefully be a part of in our lives forever. It was real, tangible and a golden memory etched into my mind and heart forever.”
Language barriers aside, any awkwardness instantly disappeared, and with the help of one of Srey Nait’s friend, and a CCF counsellor, they all spent the day together.
After a shopping trip the mall where Srey Nait was treated to a new backpack, a pair of sneakers and a T-shirt, Sandra and her family received a gift of their own when they stopped for lunch.
“To our enduring surprise and delight, she had hidden a gift for us, inside her friend’s backpack to present to us at the right time,” says Sandra.
“In a wonderfully touching and tender moment, Srey Nait trepidly gave us a piece of her own artwork, that she had laboured over for some time, in anticipation of this very meeting. It was deeply personal and she had inscribed all our names in the drawing, with small details she had gleaned from our emails about the three of us. All this wrapped around the word – Family.
“That’s when we knew it meant as much to her as it did to us.”
Back at the hotel, it was Mia’s turn to deliver a surprise, presenting Srey Nait with a poster of her favourite South Korean pop boy band, BTS.
“I can still hear Srey Nait’s squeals of delight and see her face light up when she opened the gift,” says Sandra.
Back in Australia, Sandra, Symon and Mia have many memories of their Cambodian trip and time with Srey Nait to look back on.
“We all took endless photos and videos of our time together as keepsakes, until the next time we visit,” says Sandra.
“In the meantime, we’ve all been exchanging emails and trying to coordinate some Skype calls when she returns from (leadership) camp.”
The support of Sandra Sully and her family is changing Srey Nait’s life, creating a brighter future for not only her but her mother and two brothers.
The little girl who once lived and worked among the filth of the garbage dump, foraging for food or something to sell to make a few dollars a day, is now a teenager with a head full of dreams and the support to make them happen.
To sponsor a CCF child or find out more about the sponsorship program, click here
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