The telling signs of anxiety creased his face, borne of years of worry and care far beyond what a child should have to bear. He was an orphan seeking shelter, a solace of hope and the comforting arms of love that he hadn’t felt in too long a time. Saona had journeyed from an economically depressed rural province of Cambodia, where he’d lived in an impoverished bamboo and grass-roofed hut, into another world: the Light of Hope Children’s Village in central Cambodia, operated by International Children’s Care (ICC).
On his very first day in the village, Saona received new clothes, realised what a full tummy felt like and was seated at a school desk, learning. Like so many other orphans who had come before him, Saona was a recipient of the generous support that caring donors around the world have made possible through their largesse. This was back in 1996, when Saona was just nine years old.
What was your childhood like when you were nine? For most of us it would have been a comfortable home life with a regular school schedule, meals three times a day, with a choice of foods. Perhaps we even had time to watch TV and play games with friends, and had the odd sleepover and the occasional treat.
I’m challenged by the remarkable and providential placement of my own birth in a country that cares, within the protective shield of a government that has safety nets, with a skin colour that doesn’t attract stigmatisation and into a family with love to spare. I’m also keenly aware that this doesn’t in any way negate my inherent social responsibility toward a child who needs assistance, a home and basic human rights.
People say we live in a global village. If we all lived in the same village, how would we react to poverty, the division of resources, wealth creation or aid distribution? Would our daily decisions be affected differently if our neighbour happened to be a young, hungry boy who slept in the open on the corner of our street? How much more engaged would we be in the lives of young girls if they were sold and prostituted in the basement of our workplace?
Compassion overflowed the day Saona walked into the Light of Hope Children’s Village, as those around him rallied to bring him the joy he now recalls.
“I remember living in a peaceful environment where people loved and cared for me,” he says. “I was surrounded by many ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ and I remember learning about Jesus and becoming a Christian. These convictions have stayed with me to this day.”
Setting a whole month apart for prayer and to hear God’s counsel, Saona felt led to further study and on completion of grade 12 he set about obtaining a degree as a teacher at a Cambodian university. His prayers were answered when he returned home—to the only real home he ever knew—the Light of Hope Children’s Village.
Accepting a full-time teaching position in the school he once attended as a little orphan boy was not just a dream come true; it was yet another example of God’s providence and favour as Saona faithfully followed His call to duty and service.
Today, almost 20 years later, officiating as an ICC Cambodia school administrator, Saona knows that God has led in his life. He loves children and loves teaching them, and he delights in seeing them grasp new concepts, gain knowledge and reach their full potential. Saona’s contribution to this school, along with all the staff, has allowed ICC to offer quality Christian education to more than 600 children from rural villages.
“I remember my first day in this school,” Saona says. “I was amazed that I could have the chance to study. I look at these young children from the poor villages and see myself all over again. This is my great joy.”
Saona is one of four teachers who have returned to serve at the Light of Hope Children’s Village after being cared for as young orphans in ICC’s Child Protection program in Cambodia. ICC Child Protection provides a safe home, nutritious food, clothing and school support for orphans in a nurturing environment.