Changing Lives in Cambodia

Liz French went to Cambodia earlier this year to visit schools supported by the Tauranga based Cambodia Charitable Trust (CCT) and to meet sponsored children. It left an indelible impression.

When I met my sponsored child, she shed tears of gratitude for the difference I was making in her life. It was profound to realise that my $60 per month, less than I spend on lattes, was enabling her to continue her education, eventually earn a good living, and become a valuable contributor to society.

Sear Sun Nary is 16 and attends Ang Rokha Secondary School in the Takeo province of Cambodia. If I was apprehensive about meeting her, imagine how she must have felt! Luckily, we had Chrean, who is CCT’s Cambodian based sponsorship programme manager to interpret for us. I discovered that Nary (their last name is their Christian name) is studying 10 subjects and wants to go to university and be a teacher or a nurse. Her father is a farmer (two cows, two pigs, and a few chickens) and her mother a vendor. They live in a home the size of a large bedroom with none of the facilities we take for granted. She has two siblings. Without support, the family could not afford for her to make it this far through school and aspire to higher education and a career.

Nary is one of thousands of Cambodian children benefiting from CCT. It all started in 2007 when Tauranga lawyer Denise Arnold travelled to Cambodia in search of a cause, as she felt privileged and wanted to do some good. She discovered a country still recovering from the Pol Pot regime which decimated a generation, particularly the educated middle class. She found poverty and worrying evidence of child trafficking.

Denise realised the answer lay in education. Now some 16 years later, dozens of trips to Cambodia (all personally financed), and the creation of a small team of paid staff in that country, backed by many volunteers in New Zealand, the Cambodia Charitable Trust has been recognised by the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport as a partner in the development of education. The letter from the Education Minister, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, “acknowledges the ongoing support and value provided by CCT to deliver improved education outcomes for Cambodian children”.

Hopeful and Humbling

I was fortunate to travel with Denise, who as founder and director of CCT, is quick to acknowledge it could not be done without her team in Cambodia and support from New Zealand donors, sponsors, and helpers. After my emotional experience with Nary, she told me it is quite common for children to weep when they meet their benefactors.

CCT’s support is wide ranging. The dearth of good teachers has been addressed with an emphasis on improving teacher training. Schools that had no library or even hand washing facilities are now benefiting from books and better classrooms, health, and hygiene. And, of course, individual pupils from the generosity of their sponsors. Something as simple as providing a uniform or a bike can be the difference between going to school and not.

Denise and I witnessed the results when we met two university students in Phnom Penh, one a future scientist and the other studying to be a lawyer. Though both spoke some English, it helped to have Chrean as our interpreter again. Keo and Thida both come from poor backgrounds and would never have had an opportunity like this without CCT. Their appreciation was palpable, their hugs full of hope.

Light a Candle

The Covid years were especially tough in Cambodia. Schools closed for long periods. Some families would have starved were it not for CCT’s call to donors to fund bags of rice.

The schools the charity supports are getting back on track, but the more CCT does the more they see that needs to be done. Some schools receive full funding while others belong to clusters which get as much assistance as CCT can afford. So far, CCT have concentrated on schools in one province while broadening their Teachers College scope throughout the country.

When Denise Arnold established the charity, and the enormity of the task was almost too daunting, her mother in law quoted Eleanor Roosevelt: “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

In sponsoring a child, I feel I have “lit a candle” and that my gift to Nary, while having no financial impact on my life (or my lattes!), is making an immeasurable difference to hers.

This is the season for giving, so If you want to join me in supporting a charity where ALL funds go direct to the cause, go to to find out more.

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