Stories

“Before ChildFund came to our village, I lost two sons because of unsafe water from the creek,” says 40-year-old Sok Ren from Kratie province in rural Cambodia. “One was four years old and my other son was only three months old.”

Sitting next to his wife, Vun Rom, on a bamboo bed in front of their small cottage, Sok Ren describes how he lost both his children.

“In the village we traditionally used and drank dirty water from the creek. It was a parasite in the water that caused one of my sons to get malaria and the other to get diarrhoea,” he says.

“I had no money and the health centre was a long way away from us so my sons passed away.”

Sok Ren and his wife live in Damrei Phong commune. Villagers from this area travel hours through forest, along rocky mountain roads to reach the closest district centre, located more than 30km away.

Before ChildFund’s water project began, people found water sources at the creek, from rain and through a few old open or tube wells in the village. Most did not understand the importance of hygiene and never used a toilet.

“A decade ago, at least four to five children died every year, mostly because of malaria and diarrhoea,” says Mr Hom Ly, vice-village chief, who lost three of his own children to these preventable diseases.

“However, the situation is getting better with the support of ChildFund’s water and sanitation project,” he says. “The rate of child sickness has decreased from 60 per cent to 20 per cent after four new wells were constructed in our village.”

In 2016, ChildFund Australia ambassador Danielle Cormack travelled to remote villages in Cambodia to see the impact Gifts for Good made in the lives of children. Over the last decade, ChildFund’s Gifts for Good donors have helped provide more than 2,660 solar lights for children in Cambodia.

This year’s Gifts for Good catalogue is filled to the brim with gifts that can make a difference in the life of a child this Christmas. Whether you choose a goat or a bike, you are giving children and their families the practical resources they need for a healthier, safer and stronger future.

Visit this year’s Gifts for Good to find the perfect gift.

In  a country like Australia, it is all too easy to take electricity for granted. It is interwoven with the fabric of our daily life. Not only does it make everyday living less of a chore – enabling us to cook, to wash, to light our way – but it gives us access to the world from our living rooms, through television, radio and technology. If fire is counted as the greatest invention of humankind, then electricity must be our second.

But really, it was not until I found myself sitting in a small, remote Cambodian village at nightfall that I realised its intrinsic value. As the sun dropped, I was suddenly in darkness. Absolute, impenetrable darkness – the kind where you can barely see what’s in front of you, where there are no street lamps, no reflected light from nearby buildings, no roads with passing traffic. Literally, no light.

Right now, around 70 per cent of people in Cambodia have no access to electricity. This not only puts children and families at risk, but acts as a major obstacle to their future development. Hearing Tharin’s story made this all too evident. At age 13, living with electricity has already had such a terrifying impact on her family.

Like most of the community here, Tharin’s family rely on kerosene lamps at nightfall – while toxic and dangerous, they are much cheaper to run than torches, as batteries are expensive to replace or difficult to recharge. When the family is unable to afford fuel, they use fire sticks – literally, a branch with a flame, and even more dangerous, particularly for children.

In the evening, Tharin and her brother would sit as close as possible to the lamp to do their homework. Unfortunately, the inevitable happened – one night, her homework book caught fire, spreading quickly to the rest of her bamboo home. Another evening, the family forgot to extinguish the lamp before retiring to bed and woke up to a house in flames. Tharin’s father sustained a severe, and permanent, disability from burns to his leg but ultimately her family were lucky – no one lost their life. This isn’t always the case.

Fortunately, those dangers have now been removed. When I visited Tharin, we sat outside her rebuilt thatched home to talk. The sun had set. But we could see each other’s faces, because between us sat her new solar lamp which Tharin had just switched on, with no fumes, no need for fuel, and no danger.