This spring, World Vision’s Siân Merrylees travelled to Cambodia with Celebrity Ambassador Linda Barker. Just a few hours drive from the tourist sites of Siem Reap, Siân and Linda were struck by young children they met who were living with often ailing grandparents, while their parents worked far from home, often across the border in Thailand. One girl they met – 13-year-old Lee-Ap - particularly stole their hearts.
By Siân Merrylees, World Vision Media Team
As we approach Lee-Ap’s house, I can see that there are no locks on the doors of the tiny building, and there is no electricity. Once daylight fades in this remote village, it’s very dark.
Two years ago, Lee-Ap's life changed dramatically. Her father drowned in a fishing accident and her mother struggled to keep her four young daughters. Eventually, desperate to provide for her girls, she was forced to seek work miles away.
Lee-Ap found herself at home alone looking after her three younger siblings. She was just 11. There are few employment opportunities in this dusty, remote village. Villagers usually fish or farm and most children dream of becoming teachers because this is the most prestigious and well-paid position they come across.
As we sit in the opening of the simple straw hut, Lee-Ap explains that she and her sisters (then nine, five and one-years old) felt terrified when they were left to fend for themselves.
"When I was at home alone with my sisters I really missed my mother and I was terrified that some men might come to take us away," she says.
Lee-Ap took over all the household responsibilities: cooking, cleaning and doing the laundry. She loved school and proudly shows us her school books covered in neat handwriting, but looking after her sisters meant she had to stop studying.
Lee-Ap’s mother found it difficult to earn enough to keep them - the family, like many others in Cambodia, sometimes survived on just two meals of rice flavoured with a little sesame paste or chilli. So Lee-Ap also helped out by working for a fisherman, filleting fish for around 50p a day.
Lee-Ap told us she puts aside a tiny amount of what she earns to help pay for future studies, but most of all she longs for family life. When we met Lee-Ap, her mother had been gone for six months and wasn't expected to return home for another seven.
"I feel sad and miss my mother very much. I call her and ask her to come to visit but she says she can't afford to come back yet," says Lee-Ap. "I miss being a family - being all together with my father, mother and my sisters - and most of all I miss hugging my mum and her warmth next to me at night."
World Vision is working to introduce modern irrigation techniques to make harvesting rice more profitable for farmers. It will help small scale farmers – mothers like Lee-Ap’s – grow crops that they can sell and cook to ensure a healthy, nutritious diet for their children.
More importantly the programme aims to reduce the need for parents to leave vulnerable children for long periods while they scrape together enough money for food and ensure children like Lee-Ap can complete their education.
World Vision is fundraising for agricultural projects like the one that Sian and Linda visited this spring through our new summer campaign, Floral Friday. We’re asking supporters to wear something floral on July 10 and text FLORAL to 70060* to let hope bloom for children like Lee-Ap.
*This is a charity donation service for World Vision. Texts cost £5 plus your standard network rate message. World Vision will receive 100% of your donation. If you have a question about your payment call 0203 282 7863. If you would prefer we didn’t contact you again in future, text NOCOMMS WORLD VISION to 70060. Charity no. England and Wales (no. 285908).