Lay Yimey’s name is familiar with many people who sponsor children through Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF).
They have never met Yimey (known as Mey) but know her through the emails she sends them updating them about big events in their sponsored child’s life, such as birthdays and significant Cambodian holidays.
“Everyone knows my name,” smiles Mey.
“I write to all the sponsors so they know me, but most have never seen me.”
If the sponsors were to meet May in person, they would find a gregarious, intelligent and sensitive young woman with a friendly personality.
She lights up talking about being involved in helping children born into poverty in Cambodia have a second chance with access to life-changing education through CCF.
While she had a happy childhood in Kampong Cham province, around 123km from Phnom Penh, Mey knows what it’s like to grow up with not much.
“My parents sold vegetables at the local market. There was not much money, just enough to support the family,” she says.
Her parents still live in the simple, single story building that was home, with their youngest son and his family.
It was hard to see. I was struggling a lot, sometimes I cried
Mey’s parents understood the value of education - and the opportunities it could offer their daughter to aspire to a better life - and sent Mey to Phnom Penh after high school to attend university.
Before starting a degree, she needed to learn English (many degree subjects in Cambodia are taught in English).
“Coming from the province, my English was not very good, I only knew a little. So I had to study,” she explains.
Mey then undertook a four-year Psychology degree at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. After graduating, she worked in a clothes shop to earn money while looking for an opening at an NGO.
In 2013, she got a job at CCF as a mail translator (now known as a Sponsor Relations Officer) assisting communication between a sponsor and their child. Mey worked with CCF’s little ones in daycare and the nursery.
Seeing the appalling conditions that the children lived in among communities in Steung Meanchey was a shock at first as she had no idea there was such deprivation in the city she had made home.
"I could not imagine that they lived like that,” says Mey.
“They are in Phnom Penh, a civilized city, but they are living like that. The kids were just picking up garbage and their family did not have enough money to support them."
“It was hard to see. I was struggling a lot when I went home, sometimes I cried."
“Then you would see how happy the little ones were when they joined CCF. They had time to play, and study in a clean and safe environment. And they had a brighter future.”
Mey also started a second university course for a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) degree, with a scholarship covering half of the costs and CCF covering the rest.
Seven years ago, she was promoted to Sponsor Liaison Coordinator. It’s her job to tell the sponsor when it’s their sponsored child’s birthday and upcoming holidays such as Khmer New Year and Pchum Ben.
When a sponsor makes a donation for their sponsored child’s birthday, she informs the sponsorship team on the ground so they can arrange a birthday outing for a cake and present.
She’s also in charge of organizing the annual holiday card, which is made by every CCF child for their sponsor for the December holiday season. It's a huge project, made possible by great teamwork, which starts in August.
The cards need to be finished by October. They have to be ready to be packed up and sent to CCF International Offices around the world in mid November, to be sent out in December to each sponsor.
“My job is busy but I really enjoy it,” says Mey. “To see the kid and sponsor have a good relationship makes me happy."
“I really appreciate all the sponsors; they are kind and generous, and give encouragement to their kid, and they love the kid. It encourages me to work harder.”
I love CCF because CCF helps children and families have a better life
While she doesn’t work directly with CCF children any more, she catches up with the little ones she used to help - now grown up and in primary school - at CCF events.
Outside work, Mey, lives with one of her brothers in a small apartment and enjoys reading, exercising or meeting friends for a coffee.
She has been lucky enough to travel to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore but says her dream destination is Australia. “Some close sponsors come from Australia and they inspire me a lot, I want to see it. I want to see how people in Australia are and how they live.”
She also wants to see a kangaroo and koala, she adds, laughing.
Mey, now 35, is close to her family (an elder sister and two younger brothers) and has three nieces and a nephew.
She’d like a family of her own one day but for now, counts her CCF colleagues as like family.
Being part of CCF is special to her.
“I’ve been here almost 10 years and I’ve seen CCF grow and change a lot. When I first started with CCF, some classrooms had no windows and no wall, and now you see the NCA (Neeson Cripps Academy, CCF’s flagship high school built in 2017 ). It’s fantastic. I have seen big changes."
“I have seen the children grow up and move on. When they're younger, we cannot imagine them going to university or studying overseas.”
Mey remains fiercely passionate about helping others and gains inspiration every day from looking around her at work.
“If I am close to someone, I will love them from my heart and will help them from my heart,” she says.
“That’s why I love CCF because CCF helps children and families have a better life.”