Retirement? This grandma would rather work

This post is by Scott Neeson, founder and executive director of Cambodian Children’s Fund.

What we do and what we don’t do:

Little Dany here has no parents. She was living in such squalor than even my hardened senses would occasionally cause a wretch. Perched knee-height about open sewage and a small enclosure of ill-looking pigs, Dany’s grandparents borrowed money for food and were frequently ill. Dany had chronic respiratory illnesses. When the grandmother was strong enough, she would set out to scavenge for recyclables, to pay for food, to pay down debts, with nothing left for medicines.

When I found them, the grandmother’s first reaction was to offer me Dany to care for. It was a purely selfless act, as they clearly adored Dany but couldn’t provide for her.

What we did not do was say “OK, thanks” and take Dany off to a brighter future, away from her grandparents.

What we did do was to get Dany into school, both public school and Cambodian Children’s Fund’s incredibly cool and popular education program.

We then found a better place for the grandparents to live, paid the first 3 months rent and had the 3 of them treated at our medical clinic. Dany never spent a night away from her grandparents throughout this time.

Near the end of CCF’s support period, usually 3 months, we normally develop a longer term plan with the parents/ guardians, so they assume a large degree of independence. Given the grandparents age and frailty, this wasn’t so easily done. My proposal was to let them “retire” and CCF could pay them a stipend each month.

Yes, this is unbridled charity but these old folks have lived through Cambodia’s darkest years, raised Dany and at these ripe years, they deserve some peace (and I will gladly debate this position).

That worked for about three weeks, before the grandmother came to us saying she didn’t feel right sitting around. Part of it was her work ethic. Part of it, I think, is the uneasiness that besets those who have lived long, tough years, working each day in order to eat that night. For these people, sitting still brings the fear of perishing.

Newly emboldened by her health and security, the grandmother asked for a loan to open her own business, a flash mobile cart selling flavored shaved-iced drinks.

Today, if you visit our Community Centre, chances are you will see granny outside our gates selling her drinks to the many children that pass-by. Each afternoon, Dany returns from school and helps her. Granddad often joins too and around 6 p.m., they pack their wagon and head off home together.

Admittedly, our way of doing things is neither the quickest, cheapest or most expedient. Taking Dany to live at CCF would have done that. But we did what was right and I will bet a cherry-flavored shaved ice drink to anyone who can prove me wrong.


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