About eight years ago, in the days when Hope for Cambodian Children was an orphanage, Mrs Chanmony* was a House Mother caring for 15 kids in a room, including three of her own and a foster son she’d rescued. He called her Mum, from the heart, because that’s what she was to him.
Hope volunteers who worked alongside Chanmony describe her as a powerhouse, someone with more energy, passion, drive and love than many people put together. While she was living at Hope, she fell in love with and married the young gardener, a handsome, strapping young man who eventually had to leave to join the army six hours away on the Thai border.
Before long Chanmony joined her husband with their children, but the army wage was barely enough to survive on, so Hope supported the family by sending up rice and hygiene products, and paying for some bills, school books and bicycles for the boys.
But Chanmony and her husband were facing more than financial challenges. During her first marriage she had contracted HIV from her husband. While Chanmony and her second husband were at Hope, Hope’s social welfare team counselled them at every opportunity on the methods and importance of practising safe sex. Sadly, it seems that Chanmony’s husband, even after this, did not fully understand or take the message to heart, and eventually contracted HIV. Often skipping medication, and not cutting back on drinking and smoking, he began to spiral down.
When he passed away on the border, Hope helped out with funeral and medical costs and continued supporting the family. Then it received a call from a worried Chanmony: the family was about to be thrown out of the house and off the plot of land they were living on.
Hope investigated, and found that because of her husband‘s length of army service, the family was entitled to a house with a plot of land, which would then become theirs if they lived there for some years.
As she’d done when she was a house mother at Hope, Chanmony began growing vegies, this time on her own new plot 15km from Battamabang. But lack of nearby water meant she had to travel a distance to the closest supply, then cart it back home, severely limiting what and how much she could grow. So Hope and two Australian Hope sponsors stepped in, arranging the digging of a pond to provide year-round water outside the rainy season, and helping with the purchase of seeds and small plants. From little things, big things grew.
These days Chanmony is growing Chinese cabbage, root vegetables like cassava, plus sugar cane and a variety of seasonal crops. She and her boys also raise 45 chickens for eggs and eating – frogs too! – and what the family doesn’t use from its produce it sells at the local market.
Hope volunteers describe Chanmony’s sons as “just a little bit different”, even when she was raising them at the orphanage, always well mannered and impeccably polite. The eldest two, academically inclined, now stay with temple monks in Battambang during the school year, as the roads from their farm plot 15km away are often impassable. They hope to go to university, and if they do Hope will support them – but things could have turned out very differently for the oldest.
When he was living at Hope, both Chanmony and his teachers noticed a change in him as he became rebellious and disruptive. Eventually they took him into Battambang hospital, where tests revealed he’d developed a deafness problem. He hadn’t been able to hear what was going on in class, and had blamed himself for his own deafness. Once a hearing aid was fitted, he was back to his best in class and happily playing soccer again. After all, when it came to facing adversity, he had a good role model.
“She never asked for anything,” says Hope ambassador Peter Butler. He spent several years as Hope’s In-Country Director in Battambang, got to know Chanmony, and was inspired by her.
“She always climbed every mountain,” he says. “She and her family deserve every chance.”
* name changed to preserve privacy