Rachel Killean knew very little about Cambodia when she first visited in 2011.
A law student in the UK, she arrived in the country to work as an intern at The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, informally known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.
“My boyfriend and I wanted to travel, so the idea was that we would go to Cambodia and do the internships and then we would go to Australia and work. But in the end, we never left Cambodia, we just spent the whole time there, we loved it so much,” says Rachel.
Her boyfriend ended up as a CCF volunteer, helping with everything from running yoga classes to making YouTube videos.
“I would go along to CCF events in the evening and meet the kids,” says Rachel. “James [her boyfriend] was teaching P.E. to the wee ones and they would all come out holding hands in a line, it was the cutest thing you could imagine. You’d have to have a heart of stone to not get caught up in that.
“After we left [Cambodia), it was still in our hearts and minds.”
Sponsorship reminds you on an ongoing basis of what you are doing, you can see how it’s impacting a person in real-time through their life
Rachel’s association with Cambodia continued. She would go on to do a PhD about the Khmer Rouge Tribunal and would travel back and forth, the start of a longstanding research interest in the country.
Rachel also decided to sponsor a CCF child. She felt that sponsoring would be the most meaningful way to make an impact in a child’s life, with more longevity than simply donating.
“When you just donate, you feel good for a few seconds and then just go on with your life. But sponsorship reminds you on an ongoing basis of what you are doing, you can see how it’s impacting a person in real-time through their life, that’s so rewarding” says Rachel.
Originally from Scotland but now a Senior Lecturer at The University of Sydney Law School, Rachel is physically and emotionally close to Davan, their worlds are woven together as their relationship developed over time.
When they first met, Davan was a shy eight-year-old, a little wary of the lady from a world so different from hers. As she grew, so did her confidence, to a poised high school student and now an assured university student.
“I don’t have kids, I probably won’t have kids, and it’s not like it’s a parent-kid relationship, but it does give you some sense of watching someone grow and develop, and change over time. It’s quite lovely,” says Rachel.
“She’s a young woman now and as she gets older, she can share her thoughts with me. It’s a snapshot of the experience of someone quite different to me. To have that long-term connection with her is enriching, it’s a privilege.
“She has known me for a long time, so she feels comfortable. She knows that I will keep coming back and I’m not going anywhere. It’s a real pleasure to have her in my life."
Rachel also sees her contribution as having “a redistribution of wealth’ element, balancing up the scales of fate.
“I saw it as a redistribution of wealth with no expectation of any return but just the knowledge that there is a person that you can rely on if you need to, that you can have a fairer chance in this world.”
Rachel is like a second mother to me
Having the consistent presence of Rachel in her life through the years has been hugely important for Davan, now aged 19.
“Rachel is like a second mother to me. She is very kind, always supports me, motivates me and gives me love,” she says.
“I don’t know how to tell [about] my feelings that I have for Rachel but I know that I love her.”
Rachel has visited CCF and met Davan, the last time being in December. She hopes to return later this year.
To anyone considering sponsoring a child through CCF, Rachel is unequivocal in the view there is no reason not to.
“There is no downside. It’s rewarding, it’s ongoing rewarding, and you get a relationship out of it. I don’t really know many other charities that do that model where it’s just one sponsor for a child and it’s not just generic updates, it’s a direct relationship,” she says.
“You should also understand that it’s a commitment beyond financial. I think it works best if you’re willing to engage. As with most relationships, you get more out of it, the more you put in.”
Rachel says she’s committed to supporting Davan through her degree - currently majoring in management - and beyond.
“I hope we are always in each other’s lives,” she says.