Making It Count
From humble beginnings, Lao Channtha worked hard to get to university. She’s now using her experience to help children with the Cambodian Children’s Fund
As a child, Lao Channtha harbored ambitions to be a doctor. It was a dream that she knew could never become a reality.
From a poor farming family with seven children in rural Cambodia, Channtha was aware from a young age that there would never be enough money to fund the years of studying it would take.
She was determined, however, to make something of her life and avoid the struggles that she had seen her parents go through.
Channtha made it to university - to study accountancy not medicine, working to pay her way through the degree with help of a scholarship, and is now using her own experiences to help children in the same position as she once was.
I always tell them about my life experience, how I had to keep trying very hard and never give up until I got a better life.
She is an inspiring role model at Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF), where she works as one of the Sponsorship Team, leading by example and showing that, with hard work, anything is possible.
“I like to share my experience with the kids and motivate them to study hard,” says Channtha.
“I always tell them about my life experience, how I had to keep trying very hard and never give up until I got a better life.
“I tell them to keep trying, even though their family situation may not be good, and that they can have a better life too.”
At high school, I had plans to study medicine.I wanted to be a doctor, but we didn’t have much money and my father could not support me to study.
Channtha is the embodiment of CCF’s belief that education can transform lives, and that, given an opportunity, a child can fulfill their potential.
She gives hope to the many children who cross her path that you can control your own destiny.
Channtha, now 39, had a challenging start in life, as do all the CCF children she deals with as a Sponsor Relations Officer, working as the link between the child and their sponsor.
Her father was the sole provider for the seven children, toiling on the land to support the family.
“It was hard, sometimes we helped my father do the farming,” says Channtha.
“At high school, I had plans to study medicine. I wanted to be a doctor, but we didn’t have much money and my father could not support me to study.”
All the seven children did attend school but never had the chance to learn English. So after high school, Channtha left home and traveled to the nearest town, Battamang, to become a boarding student at a small NGO to study English.
“I was there with other poor students. We helped each other build a place to sleep from wood and coconut leaf for the roof. I stayed for six months.”
From there, Channtha went to Phnom Penh and boarded for another six months continuing her English studies to reach the standard required for university entry, before moving in with her brother and his family.
To fund her degree course, she started teaching English to small children.
Channtha was lucky and secured a scholarship from an organization helping impoverished students, which meant she only had to pay 50% of her university fees.
The day that she enrolled at Build Bright University (a private university in Phnom Penh) as a student was an incredible moment - and just rewards for all her hard work and dedication.
She chose Accounting as her major, studying in the mornings and working at nighttime teaching to earn money to pay for her degree course.
Initially she taught at private schools but, with her background, was drawn to working with disadvantaged children.
“I heard about CCF from my brother and I was interested in working with poor children, so I applied to be a teacher there and then I stopped working with the private school,” she said.
In 2010, Channtha finally graduated from university. “I was so happy,” she says.
Sadly her father, who had encouraged all his children to get an education, was not there not there to see his daughter graduate. He passed away in her first year of university.
Channtha was unable to find work as an accountant so continued teaching and in 2011 switched to become part of CCF’s dedicated Sponsorship Team.
Channtha now works with CCF high school students who are sponsored and is based at CCF’s Neeson Cripps Academy right in the heart of the Steung Meanchey community, one of the most deprived parts of Cambodia.
She loves her job.
“I like helping the kids and communicating with their sponsor,” she says.
“I also share some of my knowledge with the kids when they need it or come to discuss things. They talk about their life and their family, their story. I can understand how their family situation is because I had the experience when I was young.”
Channtha is a much needed positive influence for CCF children, offering guidance and a reassuring word.
Out of seven children in her family, six siblings got to university, a remarkable achievement given their early life. All worked at the same time as studying to pay their way through their degrees.
Two sisters are teachers and a brother and another sister also work for an NGO in the province.
“My mum is very proud of me and she is very happy because all of her children have good jobs,” says Channtha.
“I am glad that my parents allowed me and my other siblings to study. It’s sad that my father cannot see us all today.”
Channtha and several of her siblings now support their mother, aged 71, who has had ill health for many years and limited mobility. She still lives in Battambang with her youngest sister.
Channtha still lives with her brother and sister-in-law and their two children. When she’s not working at CCF, she enjoys getting out of the city to the clean air of the mountains or the green space of the countryside.
She also attends church and has done so for many years.
Having achieved her childhood aspiration of getting a degree, her dreams for the future now include starting her own business selling baby clothes and items.
But that is in the distance.
Channtha has been with CCF for almost 13 years and has no intention of leaving anytime soon.
I think I have a part to play helping the kids and community.
“I am really thankful for CCF giving me a chance to help poor people and kids,” she says.
“I feel that I want to stay here to help. Even though I cannot help much, I think I have a part to play helping the kids and community.
“I want to show them that you don’t have to start with much but, if you work hard, you can get your dream.”