Twin sisters Chiea Sieang Ee and Chiea Seang Eng used to wake up to only leftover rice for breakfast. They had no school materials, proper clothes to put on, or snacks during school break time. They also slept on a shared bed with other family members.
As is common in large farming families, the twins were among eight children and they were eventually sent to an NGO in Kampong Speu when their parents could not afford to care for them anymore.
“We were introduced to the NGO by our aunt. She saw that our family condition was quite tough and she wanted to take both of us to the Full Gospel Assembly Cambodia Child Care Centre (FGA CCCC) where she worked as a house mom.
“A family with eight children posed a big challenge for our parents,” said Seang Eng, now 25 years old. The twins spent the next 12 years at FGA CCCC, which became their second home.
FGA CCCC’s mission is to support orphans, street children and those from poverty-stricken homes. According to the organisation, it provides a family atmosphere for the physical, educational, emotional, and spiritual development of children during their stay.
Its director Sonny Foo Shuan Sai says: “The Centre was built to help street children, orphans and children from poor families. But over the years we have also taken in disadvantaged children who are at risk from human trafficking, physical abuse and mentally unsound parents.”
Located in Chbar Mon town in Kampong Speu province, FGA CCCC was opened in 1996 by a Malaysian couple – Tan Hock Chye and Mabel Tan – who was sent on this mission by their church in Malaysia.
The founders retired in 2004 and passed the baton to another couple. Today the Centre is run by Sonny and his wife, Kim.
Sonny tells The Post: “I first came to FGA CCCC in December 1997 as part of a ministry team to celebrate Christmas with the children. That is when I was first introduced to the founders.
“With my wife and children, I visited again in 2001 and 2003 to teach. It was during the latter visit that my wife and I felt a calling to help the children here.”
With the help of the Ministry of Social Affairs and its department in Kampong Speu, children in need were identified and encouraged to enrol at the FGA CCCC.
Since FGA CCCC opened its doors, 294 children have enrolled and 109 of them have graduated from grade 12. Today, about 56 children live there.
Sonny says that children receive full support for their needs including clothes, food, learning materials and even health insurance. They receive a formal education in schools and are trained in computer literacy and English in the Centre.
“But most importantly, we provide them with love and encouragement to see them through their difficulties and give them a helping hand towards success,” says Sonny.
The need for computer literacy was noticed by The Post and this month the paper and HBS Law Firm and Notaries donated laptops to the Centre.
“We want to thank The Post for visiting the children and making this donation on behalf of itself and HBS Law Firm and Notaries.
“The children are very happy and thankful to have the computers to help them learn, especially with the closure of schools during the Covid-19 pandemic,” Sonny says.
Several children who have finished high school were enabled to pursue their studies in Phnom Penh and FGA rented a house in the capital to accommodate the tertiary students and continued to support their educational needs.
“We take children from age six years and above and provide them with education until they complete high school. Some of those who are academically-inclined may continue to receive support for their tertiary studies,” says Sonny.
After years of living and learning at FGA CCCC, Sieang Ee became an accountant in a private company while Seang Eng is now an administrative officer in a school.
They tell The Post: “We experienced a comfortable and happy life in the Centre – one that our family could never afford. We learned a lot there.
“We had nice food to eat, a good place to stay, people encouraging and guiding us to make the right decisions in our lives, and a good house mom who took care of us when we were sick.
“We were allowed to have new experiences and to communicate with people from various countries. We enjoyed our lives tremendously.”
At FGA CCCC, children have extra lessons after school and learn communal responsibility through participation in duties like maintaining the cleanliness of their rooms and the grounds.
On special occasions like Khmer New Year, and birthdays, FGA CCCC prepares a small celebration with games, performances and dances which all the children take part in and enjoy together.
“Children are allowed to visit their homes twice a year – Pchhum Ben and Khmer New Year. We provide them with transportation so they can go home to visit their families,” says Sonny.
The children also have opportunities to learn some skills like planting, arts and craft and music. Older children are assigned to accompany international visitors to the villages to teach English and educate the local children, often acting as interpreters for them.
“When children reach high school, we encourage them to be involved in social activities that can help them improve themselves. This way they also learn to serve others as good citizens.
“Often, they help by working with medical teams and volunteers mostly from Malaysia, the US and Singapore,” says Sonny.
He says the FGA CCCC does not expect anything from the children in return for the years of support they receive. “We just want them to grow up to be good,morally-upright citizens who will serve the country as best as they can.
“One way for them to achieve this is to study hard, graduate from university and help their families to come out of poverty. Our greatest happiness is to see them successful,” says Sonny.
However, he says that FGA CCCC recently started an alumni association at the behest of some of those who had already left, graduated from university and started working.
“They wanted to do something for us and suggested paying the fees for one student in university. We agreed to this suggestion, and they started a Sponsorship Fund among themselves, but nobody is forced to contribute to this scholarship.
“It is strictly voluntary for those who are willing and financially able,” stresses Sonny.
He says he and Kim are proud to see the children they helped bring up get married and provide for their own families.
Like a proud parent, Sonny says that one of them is now a manager at a Brown Coffee branch, while another is a senior official at Canadia Bank. Yet another is an architect who runs his own company. Others have become teachers, engineers, and entrepreneurs.
Tharc Sreythoa, 28, who spent seven years at FGA CCCC says: “My family and my life now are full of blessings from God. I’m working as a dentist in Angkor Dental Laboratory in Phnom Penh,” she says.
But Sonny says FGA CCCC continues to face challenges in keeping the children focused on their life goals, realising their full potential and providing for their needs. “We work within a budget from the sponsors but the cost of maintenance is ever-increasing,” he says.
Despite the challenges, Sonny and Kim continue to be passionate for Cambodians.
“As long as we are able, we will continue to help. We thank God for the fruit that has come from FGA CCCC and hope for more to be blessed by the work here,” he says.
The Full Gospel Assembly Cambodia Child Care Centre (FGA CCCC) is located in Chbar Mon city in Kampong Speu province. It can be contacted by phone at 012 842 969.