Imagine if you were the reason a 10-year-old boy could wear a mask to protect from COVID-19 and go to bed with a full stomach - for the first time?
Life hasn’t been easy for Doeurn, who is now in grade three. His mother, Sum, is the sole breadwinner, carer, supporter – the everything – for Doeurn and his two brothers.
“It’s difficult being a mother and a father at the same time; it’s such a big responsibility,” says Sum.
And COVID-19 has only made Sum’s juggle to protect her boys harder. “A mask is more expensive than 1kg of rice. I could not afford it,” Sum says.
The pandemic has pushed them to the very edge of survival, because Doeurn’s family was already living in the margins. Poverty and hunger have been a constant in 10-year-old Doeurn’s life.
Some of his earliest memories are of the small rented room in a town near the Thai border, a world away from their hometown in rural Cambodia, where the boys stayed while Sum worked long hours in a factory. Sum took the job for the money, but she didn’t make enough to buy nutritious food so they were often sick, and she couldn’t manage to send them to school. Then one day, “I arrived home and my second son had a very high fever. I was scared I would lose him.”
Sum left her job at the factory and started working as a nanny instead so she could be there for her sons, sewing clothes at night to help with their costs. But money was very tight, especially when her own father became sick and she had to pay for his medical care.
Sum quit her job as a nanny and took her boys back to their rural community to help care for him, but sadly, her father – Doeurn’s grandfather – didn’t recover. With his passing, they had nowhere to go but a vacant piece of land outside the town, where they set up a shelter. To Sum, it seemed like their life had reached a new low point - but worse was still to come.
“I was hopeless and thinking about suicide because I had nothing but my three sons,” says Sum.
“I work harder than any man does, earning money and taking care of my children.” Yet, they had few possessions and nothing in the bank.
Finally, Sum found a seasonal job in a rice field and managed to send the boys to school for the first time. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The borders closed and Cambodia’s agricultural exports stopped overnight. Sum lost her job.
“I couldn’t sleep because I knew that in a few days our rice supply would finish and I had no money left to buy more. We ate less to save food for the next day,” says Sum. Doeurn and his brothers foraged in the forest nearby for food, but it wasn’t enough.
On top of that, COVID-19 was a constant threat - there was no way Sum could afford masks for her family to protect them against the virus and no money for medical care if they became sick.
But Doeurn and Sum’s story changed dramatically the day he was sponsored. It was the first time in a very long time that they had hope.
“We were down to our last little bit in the rice jar, just enough to make porridge, when we received food from World Vision,” says Sum.
Thanks to sponsors, Doeurn and other children in his community received an emergency food kit, which included 25kg of rice, noodles, canned fish, salt, soy sauce, fish sauce and vegetable oil. They also received masks and COVID-19 prevention training.
And Doeurn, now a sponsored child shouted: “I will eat two plates of rice!”
For the first time, Sum and her sons have support to weather the tough times and can see hope in their future. They are starting a vegetable garden to grow a continual supply of healthy food to eat and extras to sell for income. “We can survive,” says Sum.
2021 is turning into a humanitarian crisis for children. But you can be the reason a child like Doeurn has faith in a brighter future, instead of an uncertain tomorrow.
There’s never been a better reason to
Make this a year of hope. A year of empowering children to break free from poverty, for good.