Seeing Kong Sovanmony with the grannies and grandpas looked after by CCF, it’s clear that they share a very special relationship.
The grannies, in particular, adore him and all make a fuss of him whenever he visits their community or drops by for a quick chat.
“They love me like a son,” he smiles.
And he loves his job, saying that making sure that the grannies and grandpas are happy, feel loved and secure, and have someone looking out for them, is the best part of his work.
Sovanmony - known as Mony for short - is CCF’s Granny Sponsorship Coordinator, in charge of the program arranging sponsorship for the grannies - and grandpas - supported by CCF, many of whom endured very difficult lives beforehand.
“Before we accept them to be in our Granny Program, they must really need our help, so most of them have faced a lot of difficulty in their life,” says Mony. “Without our help, they cannot survive.”
Some of the grannies in the program would have once been forced to scavenge among rubbish on the streets to find recyclables to sell to buy food.
Contributions from sponsors can change a granny’s life, helping CCF provide food, a safe home, free healthcare and a regular stipend to ensure they will never again know a life of poverty.
It’s Mony’s job to manage sponsorships for the 25 grannies and one grandpa and currently chosen for sponsorship, out of a total of 80 grannies and four grandpas in the Granny Program.
His responsibilities include preparing the Quarterly update on each granny’s progress, chronicling the big and little moments in their life, to send to sponsors. Skype calls can also be arranged. Mony also takes photographs, capturing the grannies and grandpas at events or activities, to email to sponsors.
When the granny or grandpas gets a sponsor, they are really, really happy and excited like a kid. They are so pleased to be sponsored.
When he’s not busy behind his desk at his office near CCF’s Nursery, Mony often wanders down to the community to spend time with the grannies and grandpas.
“I walk down to the village very often to see the grannies, to see the community people too,” says Mony.
“I like to make sure that the grannies are fine. I like talking to them about their life and sometimes they have a problem, so I can use my knowledge and understanding to solve the problem. I can help them, and encourage them to be hopeful.”
Mony has a calm, self-assured, demeanour and it’s easy to see why the grannies hold him in such affection. His reassuring manner may also have something to do with his profession before he joined CCF.
Mony trained to be a Buddhist monk when he was younger and studied Dhamma (or Dharma), the teachings of Buddha. Born in Takéo province, south Cambodia, he lived with his grandparents from the age of six and dropped out of school after Grade 9.
“We didn’t have money to pay for school and I didn’t have to bicycle to go to school, so I had to quit,” says Mony. “It was very hard because my family was very poor.”
For many young boys growing up in disadvantaged circumstances in Cambodia, the only way to get an education is often by joining the monkhood, which offers them opportunities to study at Buddhist school and go on to university.
Mony became a novice monk at the age of 15 and started school again. He studied hard and later gained two full university scholarships to study Khmer Literature at a Buddhist university in Phnom Penh and English Literature at The University of Cambodia, attending one in the morning and lectures for the other in the afternoon.
During my study, I heard about Scott Neeson [the founder of CCF] and I was really inspired by him. I saw that he was a very big tree who was bringing a lot of benefit to people in Steung Meanchey, and I wanted to become a small flower or plant nearby him, and help him.
In 2014, after graduating, Mony got a job at CCF as a Sponsor Relations Officer, looking after the nursery and kindergarten children with sponsors. Three years later, he was promoted to Granny Sponsorship Coordinator.
“Grannies and grandpas are very important in Cambodian society; they are like the roof of the community,” says Mony.
“When parents divorce or move away, it is often the grandparent who will look after the grandchildren, taking them to school and caring for them. Some parents when they leave [often for work] will never come back, but the grandparents will never leave their grandchildren.”
Mony has two children, a boy aged three and a baby daughter, and met his wife at CCF, where she works as a teacher in the Kindergarten Program.
Aside from his work in the Sponsorship Team, he enjoys being a MC (Master of Ceremonies) for CCF events, with his personable approach and vocal skills much in demand.
In his free time, he volunteers at another local NGO in Steung Meanchey, giving motivational speeches to deprived children and helping develop their leadership skills, and gives similar talks to university students.
“I like to inspire people,” he says. “When they meet me and have a chat with me, mostly they become hopeful and they feel relaxed and they start a new life.”
Looking to the future, Mony talks about one day moving back to the countryside, growing vegetables, and building a small school on the land to teach Khmer and English to children from poor families, giving them the chance of an education as he was given as a boy.
For now, however, his focus is the grannies and grandpas at CCF and continuing his mission to make a difference in the lives of those in need.
This job is what I dream about. I dream to help people with Scott. I cannot make a lot of money to help the poor people but with sponsors, with Scott Neeson, with donors, I can use my energy and use my knowledge to help all the poor people, all the poor people here. It means a lot to me.
The elders in our community are bringing back traditions, mentoring students, and raising children who have no one else. That’s why we call them our yeay and ta, our grannies and grandpas.