Check Vorn prided himself on being a good husband and provider for his family.
When he was widowed for the second time, it became harder to give his three daughters the life he wanted as he struggled to work and care for them as the sole parent.
Old age and failing health left him unable to continue working as a scavenger.
The future looked bleak for the family until Vorn was accepted into the Granny Program run by Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF).
His daughters received an education, safe housing and Vorn had access to free healthcare.
“Life is much better now and I am so grateful to CCF,” says Vorn, 64, who also receives financial support through the Granny Program.
Many elder members of the community have suffered hardship, from poverty, neglect and abandonment.
CCF’s Granny Program gives them back a life of dignity with emotional and practical support. They receive weekly visits and help with cooking and cleaning from CCF students and junior leaders, who in turn get to spend time with elders who can pass on knowledge of old Khmer customs and values - a much-needed bridge between generations.
The Granny Program also gives them a chance to enjoy life again with events and trips away - something most cannot afford.
There are currently 90 grannies or so in CCF’s Granny Program and around seven grandpas.
Men in communities like Steung Meanchey where CCF works are often reluctant to ask for help, and when families split up, children often stay with their mother or female relatives.
Meet Grandpa Vorn and two other super CCF grandpas:
Grandpa Vorn, 64, was born in the rural province of Prey Veng, one of the poorest in Cambodia, one of five siblings.
Only Vorn and one brother survived the Khmer Rouge regime - his parents died shortly after liberation - but they were separated and he hasn’t seen him for over 44 years.
Vorn married young and had four children but when his wife died, he moved the family to Phnom Penh in search of a better life but with a limited education, it was hard to find a job.
“I can only read and write a little bit. My schooling stopped during Pol Pot and I never went back,” says Vorn.
He finally found work as a scavenger, trawling through rubbish on the streets to find recyclables to sell for a few dollars.
“I could not earn very well, life was hard,” he says.
Vorn remarried and had another three children - all girls. While his wife stayed home to look after the growing family, he was the sole breadwinner.
Five years ago, his second wife also died, leaving him alone to raise the youngest children.
The Granny Program has been a lifeline for Vorn, who can now longer work with old age and health issues. His daughters - now aged 20, 19, and 10 - were able to receive the education that he was denied.
His second eldest daughter, Srey Nhanh, became a karate star winning medals in competitions and has recently started her first year at university.
Grandpa Vorn lives with his three daughters in two CCF World Housing homes. He no longer has contact with his four eldest children.
The Granny Program provides the family with rice and a weekly stipend, and while Vorn cannot join activities or excursions away due to a bad leg, he enjoys life and says the best part is now being free of worry about the future.
Sorn Soth, 77, is known as the ‘golden grandpa’ of CCF for his remarkable dedication caring alone for his five children, the oldest 16 and youngest aged eight.
He rises at 4am every morning to prepare breakfast for the family and ensure they’re all dressed and ready for school. If one of them is running late, Soth will take them to school on his bicycle. In the evening, he cooks dinner.
“It’s really hard but I have no choice, they are my grandchildren and I have to take care of them,” he says.
Grandpa Soth was born in Kampong Cham province, where he later farmed a small plot of land to support his wife and seven children. Daily life was a struggle, living hand-to-mouth
Three children would die over several years and Grandpa Soth’s wife was diagnosed with liver disease and died in 2011.
The family remained stuck in poverty and when his daughter passed away, Grandpa Soth’s five grandchildren, left orphaned, became his responsibility - that he has taken on with strength and unwavering love.
CCF stepped in when Grandpa Soth asked for help. His grandchildren - Srey Mean,16, Kanha, 13, Sophea, 12, Maly, 10, and 8 year old Rattana - were accepted into CCF’s Education Program and he was able to join the Granny Program.
They all live together in a CCF World Housing community where they get vital support; a lifeline for Grandpa Soth whose health problems and old age prevent him from working.
CCF also holds adult literacy classes for the community and Grandpa Soth was finally able to graduate from school, collecting his certificate from Her Royal Highness Norodom Arunrasmy.
“I didn’t get the chance to go to school because I was orphaned as a child,” he says. “Now I can read and write my name.”
The family receives monthly assistance and rice from CCF, along with medicines for Grandpa Soth and healthcare.
Grandpa Soth is friendly and active among the few grandpas in the Granny Program. Known for his lively sense of humor, he likes socializing and is always keen to participate in activities, community events and trips away.
He laughs that the grandpas are heavily outnumbered by the grannies - who can be a bit bossy, he says with a smile - but talks of being looked after by older women in the community, who sometimes cook him and the grandchildren a hot m
“I’m really grateful to be part of the CCF family,” says Grandpa Soth.
“I am in old age and I am unable to send my grandchildren to school, and not even able to provide them daily food or school materials. CCF has provided me and my grandchildren with the support that we need.
“I always encourage my grandchildren and other juniors in my community to study hard so that they can have a good future.”
Widowed, old and jobless, Grandpa Chornam faced a lonely and sad life until he joined the Granny Program.
Now, aged 69, he has a home and support package to ensure he will never face hardship again, and he recently joined a trip to the beach with other CCF grandpas and the grannies.
He was 50 years old when he met and married his wife, who was 19 years older, in 2004. The couple were devoted to each other.
Grandpa Chornam’s wife was accepted into CCF’s Granny Program,, while he worked as a trash scavenger. When his wife became ill, Grandpa Chornam lovingly cared for her, doing all the cooking and cleaning, while continuing to work.
His wife passed away at the beginning of 2022 and Grandpa Chornam struggled on his own for a few months before joining CCF’s Granny Program in May.
CCF provides food and financial assistance, and he has access to all the support services he needs.
“I miss my wife but now I have CCF to care for me,” says Grandpa Chornam.