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20 Years of Hope: Rena and Her Brothers

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Ten-year-old Rena was worried.

She’d been left in charge of her three little brothers for over a week while her mom went searching for work. They’d been sleeping along the Cambodian border on public land, after fleeing to escape domestic violence. Their meager food supplies had been out for days. Rena knew she had to be brave, but she was just so tired. She hoped the creek water she was giving the baby would fill his stomach enough to make his cries of hunger stop.

Older sister holds baby brother on her lap as both suffer from malnutrition 20 Years of Hope Rena and Her Siblings

This was the situation our team encountered when they first met Rena while distributing emergency food relief to rural villages left destitute by the COVID lockdowns. As Rena began sharing more of her story with our team, we knew that simply leaving rice and food supplies was not enough for this exhausted little girl. Instead, we made a promise to Rena and her little brothers that LWB would bring new hope into their lives.

Rena shyly told us that because she had to serve as her brothers’ caregiver, she’d never been to school — but she dreamed of someday learning to read. Her brittle, yellow hair was a clear sign of malnutrition, and our medic confirmed the children’s poor health status. Baby Gregg weighed just 11 pounds at 8 months of age and was actually in liver failure.

We were able to enroll Rena and her brothers in our life-changing children’s programs. They began to spend their days in school at our Sokhem Village campus where they received hot, nutritious meals and continuous encouragement from our caring staff and teachers. Our staff continued to check in to see how the children were doing outside of school.

During one of these visits, our team discovered that the children’s mother had fallen ill. With her permission, Rena and her brothers were placed into temporary foster care. Tragically, their mother never recovered from her illness and passed away several months after the children left her care.

Although this was a terribly sad turn of events, by this time the children had settled in with their foster family and were living a much easier life.

Four children smiling and playing in a hammock

Our foster care manager tells us that although Rena had done her very best to take care of herself and her siblings, she had many basic skills to learn from her foster mother. She learned about good hygiene, keeping her clothes clean, and how important it is to get a good night’s sleep. Most importantly, Rena got to learn what it is like to just be a kid!

Girl in a black shirt hanging colorful laundry on a clothesline

School was an on-again/off-again part of the children’s lives for a while as COVID restrictions were lifted and then set back in place. But Rena was driven by her dream of learning to read and studied hard both at school and at home. Her wonderful foster father even taught her to use a computer! Now, Rena is doing so well that she has begun to help her friends with THEIR lessons when she has a bit of free time at school.

Girl holding a pen does homework outside in Cambodia

Notice the color of Rena’s hair! These days, it is dark and shiny, just the way it was meant to be.

Cambodian girl smiling in a blue and red soccer shirt

Fast-forward to 2023, and the youngest brother, Gregg, has become a talkative toddler who loves to learn new things from his sister and two big brothers. Johnny (in the red shirt below) is a good student like Rena, and he also loves soccer and other physical activities. Caleb (in the blue shirt) always gets right to his homework when he arrives home from school and is working hard to master his math skills along with spelling and writing. He finds that Rena is a good study partner.

Three brothers with their older sister in colorful clothes sit on a bench in front of a green curtain

Rena and her siblings have learned that safety, love, and family are treasured gifts. We know you will agree that all four of these resilient children deserve every minute of love and kindness they receive.

We are truly grateful for all the amazing donors who support our foster care and education programs in Cambodia. Our supporters have provided an amazing gift that has given countless children the chance to break out of poverty and make better lives for themselves.

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