24 November, 2020

“Seeing my children face these problems, I felt helpless. Even as their mother, what could I do?”

Theakong’s home in north-west Cambodia is surrounded by tall green grass, puddles of water marking the end of the rainy season, and a dozen cows, their tails flicking to keep the flies at bay. Four children chase each other around the yard, their laughter infectious. But life hasn’t always been this way for Theakong.

“I was living in poor conditions,” Theakong says. “We didn’t have enough money for food or clothes for the kids to wear. Because we were facing difficulties we decided to migrate for work.”

But work prospects in Thailand were not much brighter. Theakong and her husband were only just earning enough as construction workers to live day-to-day. After three years they decided to return home. But rural Cambodia has few work opportunities. Once again, Theakong was stuck.

“When I came back I was still facing the same problem,” says Theakong. She picked up her business of selling cakes again, but the profit was never enough. Compounding her financial struggles, the family was constantly battling ill health due to unsanitary living conditions.

“We didn’t have a toilet; we used the bush around our home,” says Theakong. “We didn’t have a water filter or clean water to drink. So we would drink any water that we could find.”

The family tried collecting water from their roof when it rained, but it was no cleaner than river water. “Sometimes we would see the water worm swimming around.”

“We got sick – vomiting, diarrhoea, coughing,” Theakong says. “We were taking traditional medicines as I didn’t have money to go to a health centre or hospital.”

So when an ADRA project began in Theakong’s village, she was eager to participate.

Theakong’s family now has access to clean water

“ADRA talked with me about raising chickens, growing veggies, having good sanitation, and building a latrine,” Theakong recalls. “This made me feel hopeful.”

Theakong faithfully attended workshops, learning new skills about animal raising, gardening techniques and how to practice good hygiene. She latched onto the thread of hope that with her new skills she could provide a living for her family in Cambodia and they wouldn’t have to migrate anymore.

Now, Theakong is raising and selling chickens, growing and selling vegetables from her own garden using seeds provided by ADRA, and with the help of ADRA she turned an idea into a business: cow raising. Not only does Theakong raise and sell her own cows, others board their cows with her for a small fee.

Theakong’s daughter Sreymoch enjoys helping her mother with the cows

Crucially, Theakong has also witnessed her family’s health drastically improve.

“ADRA helped me get a latrine,” Theakong says. “No more bad smell!”

ADRA also provided Theakong and her family a water filter so they no longer become sick from drinking contaminated water.

“Since we received a latrine and a water filter our family is better,” says Theakong. “ADRA brought change to my family. Our kids could have good health and they are able to go to school. It’s better than before.”

The children ready to ride to school

Theakong finished school at grade six, her education cut short by the genocide regime of the time. Now it is her deepest wish for her children and grandchildren to graduate from high school. And now, she is confident they will.

“I would like to say thank you to ADRA and the supporters who have helped my family to change our lives.”

You can help give a family the gift of clean water this Christmas. To donate, visit adra.org.au/christmas