My daughters were adopted from Cambodia. We visit Cambodia every year to keep them connected to their birth country and we visit their birth families in their villages. We have also taken our girls back to their orphanages to see where they used to live. Perhaps they are still too young to benefit, or perhaps too immature to grasp the meaning, because they seem to think Cambodia is just a place we visit. Those barefoot, half-clothed children running around the villages who live in thatch huts have no relevance for my daughters, even though they are their birth cousins. Those old people in shabby clothes, offering us bananas from their plot of land, may as well be strangers, even though they are my daughters’ birth grandparents. And the orphanages where they lived as babies are probably just decrepit buildings in their eyes. My daughters are, after all, only 4 and 6 years of age.
It wasn’t until we visited our sponsor boy, Sivak, in Phnom Penh that they began to appreciate how other people live. As we sat around a table at Swensen’s, I handed Sivak the menu.
“I want vanilla,” shouted my youngest.
“I want chocolate,” screamed my eldest. “With sprinkles.”
“Yeah. I want sprinkles too,” the youngest bellowed.
“How about ‘please’?” I said.
“Pleeaaassse,” they shrieked in unison.
“Have you tried ice cream before?” I asked Sivak.
His head shook.
My daughters stopped talking. Trust me, if they both draw breath at the same time, it’s a fairly momentous occasion. I have tried explaining to them God knows how many times that many people in Cambodia don’t have much more to eat than a small bowl of rice each day, but it is always met with disinterest. I have tried educating them about the basic living conditions of people around the world, but they are too young to comprehend. Yet someone whose lips have never touched ice cream is seriously interesting.
“Mummy, he’s never had ice cream?” my eldest whispered in shock.
It took just one moment with Sivak for my daughters to register what I have been harping on about for ages.
If only my youngest hadn’t ruined my false sense of accomplishment on the way back to the children’s home where Sivak lives. “Which hotel do you stay in?” she asked him.
Let’s put aside the hotel comment, because I can ensure you that sponsoring a child does not only benefit the recipient, it is a great lesson for your own kids. I sit down with my girls and read them the emails Sivak sends us regularly, and I show them the pictures he draws for us. They, in turn, dictate responses for me to type, and they select photos to send him. They might think he stays in hotels, but at least they have seen for themselves that life is not one big ice cream.
Click here for information on sponsoring a child from Cambodian Children’s Fund.