In the busy Sponsorship Team at Cambodian Children’s Fund’s head office in Phnom Penh, Seng Sambona is a steady and calming influence.
Bona - as she is known - will soon become a mum for the second time, but she’s also a mother figure to the colleagues she calls her second family.
In her role as Sponsor Communication Manager, Bona, who is 38, provides nurturing guidance for her younger team members, who look to her for advice, support, and a listening ear.
“My team is like my second family. We are more than brother and sister; we share everything together, not only work but also personal life, and we advise, listen, and mentor,” says Bona.
Bona’s own family life has had its challenges.
Growing up in Phnom Penh, she was very sheltered by a strict, disciplinarian father determined his two girls would excel academically.
He had been married before with six children but lost his wife during the Khmer Rouge regime and four of his six children afterwards. Meeting Bona’s mum, 29 years younger, had given him a second chance.
‘My father was half Chinese and half Khmer, a very conservative and traditional man. He was the breadwinner and decided everything,” says Bona.
Educational attainment was highly valued in Bona’s family. Because of his own limited education and his older children's interrupted schooling due to the Khmer Rouge, Bona's father was adamant that his younger children would not miss out.
“He was very strict with me and my sister. We had to study hard; my father was very demanding,” recalls Bona.
“We did not have any toys or television, and we did not interact with other children. It was mostly school and back home. My father always checked our homework, and we had to have a 9 or 10 mark. If we only got 5, we had to do it again until we got 9 or 10.”
All the hard work paid off when Bona got into university to study English Literature.
My dad passing away was the biggest challenge of my life
In August 2008, her father passed away from blood cancer at the age of 80
The family had sold their home to pay for treatment and moved to a rented room. Her mother began to work as a seamstress for income.
“My dad passing away was the biggest challenge of my life,” says Bona. “We had to start again from zero, and I needed to get a job to help the family.”
She applied for a position in the Sponsorship Department at CCF after gaining experience as a weekend volunteer translator for a local church. Her role would involve translating emails between CCF children and their sponsors.
On the day her father died, she received a telephone call from CCF offering her the job.
Bona and her sister would work during the day and study in the evening while their mum looked after the house. She did enjoy a newfound freedom socializing at university and with CCF colleagues.
Bona has been at CCF for 15 years and has been promoted three times.
I have learned that the more challenges you face, the stronger and more positive you can get
She loves her current role as the right-hand woman of the Senior Sponsorship Program Manager, Rubina Jacob, overseeing the Sponsorship Team at CCF’s Corporate Office, ensuring smooth communication between CCF sponsors and their sponsored children, and working closely with CCF’s international offices.
“I have learned a lot from the children, my colleagues, and my team,” says Bona.
“They are my motivation and being able to contribute back to my community and society. CCF also inspires me. I have learned that the more challenges you face, the stronger and more positive you can get.”
CCF has also given her two new families - her work family and a husband and children.
Bona met her husband, Chimann, at CCF, where his current role is Database Administrator. They live with Bona’s mum and sister and their five-year-old daughter, Angeli, who has just started school. Their little family unit will soon become six with the arrival of their second child, another girl they have already named Febbie.
Bona does not intend to be as strict with her daughters as her father was with her.
She wishes Angeli and her unborn child (Febbie) to grow up to be strong and independent and have a happy life.
“I will try my best to give them the best that I can. I do want them to get a good education but also time to enjoy and relax, a happy childhood compared to my life,” she says.
“My father was right about education; he kept us learning until we graduated. Because of that, I can support my family, and we can have an independent life.”
Bona is an inspiring role model in her own right for her daughters to look up to.
“I really enjoy my life and what I have now,” says Bona. “I don’t think too much about the future, and I do not regret the past because it made me who I am today. I have a lucky life compared to some people, so I enjoy it as much as possible.”