The province of Svay Rieng is the poorest in Cambodia and this was apparent as we travelled through the area on our adventure to Svay Thum. Han from ChildFund Cambodia had met us the day before to help us buy gifts and we soon learned that nothing was too much trouble for him.
The vibrant hustle and bustle of other places we had visited in Cambodia was absent in Svay Rieng. There were no road side stalls, markets, or visible means of transportation.
As we drove to the school, we searched for a child who resembled the photos on our fridge door. And then we saw her, just as in the photo, a small serious, shy child, with her hands by her side.
Sreynich came forward to meet us, joining her hands in front of her face and bowing in that special Cambodian way. Her mum gave her an encouraging gentle push and she came forward to hold my hand.
We then sat with Sreynich, her family and anyone else in the village who was interested. Han interpreted for us – Sreynich’s family asked us how long it had taken to travel from Australia, how big our families were, did we have any pets and we asked similar questions.
They showed us around the school and we marvelled how a group of around 30 young children who followed us did not once have to be asked to behave themselves. Although we had imagined our visit would be very special, we did not understand just how meaningful it would be.
Following the visit we thought about how the family existed with almost nothing, a subsistence existence, with minimal income and nothing to buy, as the market was 7km away and there was no transport to reach it. We often think of the people we met when we waste $5 or throw our leftovers from dinner in the bin. We wondered what Sreynich would make of Darling Harbour in Sydney when we visited there recently; the yachts, the buildings, the wealth.
Sreynich remained serious and barely spoke during our visit, but her poise and grace in such unfamiliar circumstances, representing her community as a sponsored child, were extraordinary.
We admired her enormously. And we wondered how, just purely by chance, we had sponsored the most beautiful child in Cambodia.