Sponsors meet their students for the first time
When sponsors agree to fund a TSF orphanage child or older student, the foundation works very hard to maintain some communication between them, through photos, letters and even drawings. However, this January, eight of the sponsored youth had the opportunity to meet, for the first time, the individuals who have made so much possible for them. We asked the sponsors, all with the group visiting from the First Religious Society in Carlisle, MA, to share a bit about this unique experience.
Michael Dundorf, college sponsor of Phorn Vandy: "My first contact with Phorn Vandy, my first college student, was a bit embarrassing for me. It occurred at the orphanage and I did not expect her to be there. She came up to me and introduced herself by name, but I did not recognize her nor did I hear her name clearly. I moved on to meet others that were present. Fortunately, she came back to me, indicated who she was, and a bond was instantly created." After graduation, Vandy worked for a few years, married a fellow graduate from Norton University, and is now raising their three-month-old son.
Mary Lou McColl, sponsor of Preap Chamroeun: "I never expected to be so emotional when I was introduced to six-year-old Chamroeun, a shy little boy with a definite twinkle in his eyes. He tried so hard to understand everything that I said to him. I knew that art was important in Chamroeun’s life. With large pieces of sidewalk chalk, our real communication began. He crouched down on the sidewalk and started to draw a large house. After I drew a tree next to it, he countered by drawing a better one, and we were off. Soon another little boy joined us, adding things to our picture.
"Chamroeun’s ability to share was again manifested when I saw him give a large part of the frosting on his cake to a little boy who had received a smaller piece. I was struck by this spirit of kindness and sharing which seemed so prevalent at the orphanage. "I had a chance to speak with Chamroeun’s teacher and heard he was doing well in school. The children all seem so motivated to learn; they treat school as a gift which they are lucky to receive. I will enjoy watching Chamroeun’s progress in his studies and art."
Linda Clark, sponsor of high school student Chheun Borey: "It was a very brief moment, but a life-changing one for me, and a memory I will hold dear to my heart. Walking into the courtyard of Roteang’s village school at dusk, I met Borey, the freshman high school student I sponsor. With a bright smile and tears in her eyes, she approached me. Formalities were quickly put aside as we embraced. Her first words were, 'Thank you'.
"There was so little time, so much to say as the dark settled in and I entered her evening English class to give a short lesson. In our brief moments together, she impressed upon me a strong conviction that this educational opportunity is her chance to change her life. It was clear that she not only felt its importance, but also a sense of responsibility to meet this challenge and work hard. As a teacher in a country that so often takes education for granted, I found this incredibly profound. "I will be Borey’s biggest cheerleader as one more ripple moves out in the pond of The Sharing Foundation."
Michael Dundorf, college student Sok Vandy: "I had the pleasure of visiting Sok Vandy, first at the dinner at the Anise Hotel in Phnom Penh, and then at her dormitory at Norton University, along with seven of her classmates and Roteang Village friends. The dorm is neat, clean and cheerful, with bright colors everywhere. We spent most of the time sharing what life was like in Cambodia for them, and in the USA for me (e.g., what is snow like?). I look forward to continued and much deeper communication with my Cambodian 'granddaughter'."
Margaret and Eric Darling, sponsors of Srey Len: "We began sponsoring Srey Len, a beautiful and intelligent disabled girl from the rural countryside, shortly after seeing her sunny smile in TSF’s newsletter in 2006. During the intervening years, we have received many photos, letters written in curly Khmer, and colorful drawings bordered in flowers. Thanks to TSF’s provision of food and other staples to her family, which frees her from the necessity of subsistence work, she is the first of eight siblings to receive an education. "After traveling several hours, Srey Len met with us over lunch in Phnom Penh, with Elephant translating our conversation. Though brief, it was a powerful and emotional experience. Her warmth, gratitude and happiness touched us deeply."
Jeanne Reynolds, sponsor of Sok Chan: "I met nine-year-old Sok Chan at the Roteang Orphanage after her delightful dance performance. I was not sure if Sok Chan had any idea that I was her sponsor or even what that meant. However, it was enough for me to know that Sok Chan was happy, healthy, well cared for, and that I had a small part in making that happen."
Margaret Darling, sponsor of Ly Sopheak: "On our first visit to Roteang Orphanage, we gathered in a large immaculate room to watch a dance performance that had been prepared in our honor. The first dancer to enter made my heart leap — it was our sponsor child, Ly Sopheak, dressed stunningly in a ruffled silk costume, her graceful artistry reflecting the training in classical Cambodian dance these children receive. Afterward, while touring the girls’ dorm, I introduced myself and my husband, Eric, and asked if we could take pictures. The moment when she happily snuggled up to my side and wrapped her arms around me will live in my heart forever."
Jean and Chuck Bagnaschi, sponsors of high school student Nem Chan Malen: "Our most emotional experience was meeting our sponsored student, Malen, an 18-year-old senior at Jayavarman VII High School. We knew her through her photos and letters, but meeting her proved overwhelming. As we embraced, we sobbed tears of joy. It was like a reunion with a long lost relative! While our time together was brief, our connection was intense. She is grateful for the opportunity to attend school where she excels in her studies, and we are so thankful for the opportunity to make a difference in her life a world away.
"Not long ago, we couldn’t conceive of being in Cambodia, let alone having a personal connection with one special young woman in a small Cambodian village. We look forward to supporting Malen as she continues her education. Her hope is to do well on her exams and attend university. Because of her hard work and determination, we are confident that Malen will be successful and will make a difference for herself, her family and, hopefully, for Cambodia."