I began sponsoring Panha in 2017. It had always been an ambition of mine to sponsor a child, which was magnified when I visited Cambodia on a holiday in late 2012. I visited some impoverished areas just outside the capital on Phnom Penh, and being my first trip outside of Australia, it certainly made me reflect on my life here in comparison to developing countries and how lucky I am.
Due to a number of reasons, these reflections did not translate into anything meaningful until early 2017 when I decided to sponsor a child. After researching several humanitarian organisations and how they spend donations, I chose to sponsor Panha – a six-year-old boy living near Phnom Penh with his Mum, Dad, brother and sister.
I was initially drawn to Panha due to his photo on the World Vision website – his beaming smile seemed to contradict the stark poverty he and his family likely lived in. After sending and receiving a few letters from him, my regular donations seemed inadequate and I decided to organise a visit to meet him and his family.
Meeting Panha and his family is a moment Sam will never forget.
I finally made the trip to Cambodia in late September 2018 and was assigned Som, a World Vision staff member, who drove three hours to a village out of Phnom Penh. Later, I discovered that this was not Panha’s home village, but due to recent heavy rainfall, his home was unable to be reached by vehicle and so his family travelled by boat to the nearest village to meet me.
The entire visit was very organised, with Som and other World Vision staff on hand to provide information about how my donations are being spent and other background information about the project.
Som acted as a translator to allow me to converse (albeit in a limited fashion) with Panha and his family. I suggest that any sponsor going to visit their sponsor child should endeavour to learn at least the fundamentals of their sponsor’s language to enhance the experience. I will be learning the Khmer language before I visit Panha again!
I am convinced that the money donated by myself and other child sponsors is being spent astutely within the community. The best part about my visit was spending time with Panha. After informative introductions about the project from World Vision staff, I was given four-five hours to spend with Panha, his brother, sister and cousin. While this does not seem like an adequate amount of time to form a connection with someone, I think Panha and I formed a friendship that will last beyond the length of my sponsorship.
According to Som, the sadness in both Panha and I was very evident when it came time to say goodbye. His family were very appreciative of my donations and my effort to visit them, and they were incredibly welcoming hosts.
As we drove away after the visit, Panha gave me his usual beaming smile and waved to me, which made me both sad and happy at the same time. I feel compelled to go and visit Panha again and plan to do so in 2019.
I have high hopes for Panha and his family and plan to support them for as long as possible. Seeing Panha was an extremely rewarding yet sobering experience. I have gained a great perspective on my life in Australia after seeing the happiness of Panha and his family, and I would highly recommend anyone reading this reflection to 1) sponsor a child and 2) visit them for a truly enriching experience.
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