From rural Cambodia to the small screen

From rural Cambodia to the small screen

Nita is a normal nine-year-old girl – if there is such a thing.

Any parent will tell you that this age, on the cusp of both childhood and adolescence, is a roller coaster to navigate. They’re crucial years in the development of a young woman both from an emotional and intellectual perspective, and can set up or pull apart self-esteem, which forms much of the path ahead.

But Nita isn’t a normal nine-year-old girl by Australian standards. Nita faces issues that nine-year-old girls here are fortunate to rarely, if ever, have to consider. Nita wasn’t guaranteed a quality education by virtue of being of schooling age.

Many of the schools in Cambodia are full to the brim, which means students can get left behind if they require more direct support or if their teachers don’t know how to handle them. The classrooms are often ill-equipped; many text books are old or dilapidated and sometimes they don’t have toilets or clean drinking water.

This was the case for Nita’s school, until funding from child sponsorship enabled a proper water system to be set up. The students now have adequate drinking water to keep them refreshed during the school day. They can also go to the toilet at school without having to cycle the sometimes many kilometres home; or publicly defecate.

Sponsorship also helped provide training for teachers in how to manage large numbers of students appropriately, without using physical punishment as discipline.

Two girls walk past a school building

Nina and Clara have a special bond with Nita through sponsorship.

Nita is sponsored by the Kirk family from Victoria. There are two little girls in the family named Nina and Clara and they write regularly to Nita, sharing tidbits about their lives to which Nita replies about her own life.

A recent conversation had the girls talking about their favourite foods, and resulted in Nina and Clara cooking one of Nita’s favourite dishes with their mum, Junia – fried cucumber!

Both Nina and Nita are around the same age; albeit facing different challenges. The Kirk family sponsored Nita to educate their two daughters on the good and bad realities facing children around the world. 

We were lucky enough to meet Nita and her family in their home and community whilst filming for our Christmas TV ad to promote child sponsorship. Junia came with us to meet Nita and her family. The connection that was formed by letters and gifts in the mail transcended words on a page to become a genuine mutual affection.

Junia and Nita couldn’t speak to each other because of the language barrier, but the body language, the long hugs, and of course, the tears from both sponsored child and sponsor, proved how much this connection meant to both of them. 

It was also incredibly obvious that Nita was engaged with Nina and Clara’s lives; she knew their faces in the photos on Junia’s phone and bound off to her shared family bedroom to retrieve the letters and parcels the Kirk family had sent. They were her special gifts from her Australian friends.

“When I get letters from the girls it makes me really happy!” Nita told us.

As we were welcomed into Nita’s home to learn more about the girl behind our television commercial, it became obvious that Nita and her family are getting by with the bare minimum. All their possessions were piled in one room, and a shared bedroom with no mattresses or beds seemed to be where the family slept, watched television and enjoyed other family time.

They didn’t have a bathroom or toilet. It was a stark reminder that whilst Nita has a great education, a loving family, a genuine connection with her sponsor and the world seemingly at her feet, she is still a young girl living in poverty and will face challenges associated with this into the future.

Our chat with Nita was briefly interrupted by raucous laughter coming from the trees surrounding her family’s home, which you get to by going down a hidden path from the main road lined with trees on one side and a river on the other. Laughter is the national sound of Cambodia. Anyone who has been there can tell you that the warmth, kindness and jovial nature of the Cambodian people is something you’ll never forget. Given the dark history of the Khmer Rouge that has often plagued the country, it’s a true testament to their resilience, determination and strength of spirit.

Nita was giddy with excitement as she re-joined the conversation; her eyes darting between her best friend and the translator and her head turning coyly on the side as she talked about herself and smiled: “I like reading and drawing pictures!” she told us.

A child places a book on a library shelf.

Through child sponsorship, conditions at Nita's school have improved and teachers have gained important skills.

Given that formal education was abolished during the Khmer Rouge, literacy is incredibly important for the future generations of Cambodians. In 2019, 11, 000 children in Cambodia attended special reading camps run by World Vision to improve their reading skills.

Having met grandparents of children who have learnt to read, and hearing they too are learning to read thanks to their grandchildren helping them, it goes to show that you’re never too old to learn, and you’re never too young to teach.

Nita taught us a lot about the similarities of nine-year-old girls around the world. But she also taught us about the differences that poverty brings and how its unique challenges are often connected – and therefore so hard to overcome. But with Nita’s strong spirit, her family’s belief, and backing from her sponsor and community, she’s going to be just fine.

After we left, we found out that the local World Vision team had installed a toilet at Nita’s home; real impact that will make real change for a nine-year-old girl with a world of potential.