Sunday, December 23, 2012

Give a little bit...

There are people all of us have met in our life that capture our hearts from the moment we meet them.  At first we may not even be able to recognize why we are so drawn to them--but for some reason, they stand out amidst the hundreds of people we know.  The feelings may come through admiration for what they have accomplished or overcome in their life.  They may come as a result of a common interest or goal.  You may feel drawn to them simply because of the way you feel when you are around them.  An orphanage in Cambodia did just that to our family's heart.
When we were on our humanitarian trip last year the first place we visited was an orphanage in Cambodia called the Cambodia and International Children Friend Organization or CICFO.  The name they decided to call the orphanage still makes me smile.  It is a small orphanage that is home to around 35 children.  I hesitate to even call it an orphanage because the images and feelings that come to mind when you hear that word  are usually negative.  But what makes CICFO so amazing is that it truly feels like a home.   The children are happy and thriving.  

It is hard to explain what it feels like when you are there. Even though these children have been through so much in their life, I never felt anger from any of them.  They were genuinely happy and worked together for the common good of all.   They respected each other and were full of gratitude for a place to live and the opportunity to go to school.  But even more than that, was a great feeling of belonging.  They knew they were loved and were part of a family.  They all contribute to various chores to make it run smoothly... 

I never saw complaining or frustration when it came time to help out--unlike my home where we have been known to have weeping and wailing when it is time for Saturday jobs, dish duty, toilet scrubbing, laundry folding, or the dreaded play room clean up.  I was hoping some of their willingness to pitch in without complaint would rub off on my kids :)   I loved what I felt there as the children all worked together--they knew it was a combined effort to get everyone fed and have clean clothes,  to understand schoolwork, and clean up.  That was one of my favorite things about CICFO--they all worked and helped each other. 

 These are the two women who started it all--Botevy and Vanneth. 
 In 1975 Pol Pot overtook the Cambodian government with his Khmer Rouge, a communistic group.  (Please take a moment and read here and here (except the link is not working so google carefreetimelessness Pol Pot and it will come up) to see how this affected Botevy and Vanneth personally.  It will help you understand the background to CICFO.) Pol Pot was a dictator who reigned until 1979 and was responsible for killing 3 of the 8 million Cambodians living at that time.  Teachers, doctors, lawyers, professors, business men, officials ranked in the military, and anyone who wore glasses or knew how to read were killed.  Millions of others were starved or tortured to death.  There was nothing left after his reign.  This beautiful country had to completely start over.

There were many orphaned and abandoned children.  In 2004 Botevy and Vanneth decided to do something to help these children.  Botevy would stop them and say, "Why are you not in school?"  The children would tell her they did not have enough money to buy a uniform.  This really saddened Botevy and Vanneth so they slowly started taking children in to help them. Soon after CICFO was created.  What a blessing it is to all who live there.

Botevy and Vanneth refer to all the children that live there as their own.  On one of the last nights we were there we gathered under the stars outside and sat together.  

The children shared a little bit more about themselves and what they liked to do.  But without question, not one of them finished speaking (through a translator)  without sharing their feelings about Botevy and Vanneth.  The expressions of sincere gratitude for them was deep rooted and part of their very core.  They were very tender, emotional words.  The amount of love and respect they have for their "mothers" was felt and noted by all who were there.  When someone takes you out of your current conditions of poverty, uncertainty, hunger, and emotional heartache and gives you a humble home but the opportunity to go to school, have 3 meals a day, and feel unconditional love--your heart is forever theirs.  Botevy and Vanneth are changing the stars for all of these children one by one.

Later on that night my mind kept wondering back to the starfish analogy.  I am sure most of you have heard the story of the starfish numerous times, but if not I will share it here.

Strolling along the edge of the ocean, a man catches sight of a young boy. Drawing closer, he sees that the beach around him is littered with starfish.  He is throwing them one by one back into the sea. The man lightly mocks the boy, "There are stranded starfish as far as the eye can see, for miles up the beach. What difference can saving a few of them possibly make?" Smiling, the boy bends down and once more tosses a starfish out over the water, saying serenely, "It certainly makes a difference to this one."
Someone could say the same thing to Botevy and Vanneth..."There are so many children in need here in Cambodia.  How is your little orphanage of 35 going to make any difference at all?"  But when you go there, and you become friends with these children and see how Botevy and Vanneth have given them hope, a family, unconditional love, education, and a vision of what life can be for them--it is absolutely awe inspiring.  35 children will now have completely different lives, which matters very much.  Families will be created and those 35 children will turn into hundreds of people... 

Before coming to CICFO two siblings at the orphanage yearned to be able to go to school.  They lived with their grandmother who was very old and trying to support them.  They were very poor.  She would make Cambodian desserts for the children to sell.  As they walked around selling these desserts they would see other children dressed in blue pants or skirts and a white shirt on their way to school.  How they wished that they could have a uniform so they could also attend school.  They said that they would sell their desserts as quickly as they could and run over to the school.  They would crouch down outside the classroom window and listen to the teachers teach the students.  As she spoke they would repeat the things she said out loud so that they could also learn.
Those siblings went from being sweet humble children like this:

To a sweet humble child like this...all dressed up in a school uniform.

They now have dreams of going to college, becoming professionals, giving their future children a stable home, and helping their families. The stars have changed for these sweet children.  It makes me smile just thinking about it.

One thing that is a constant battle for CICFO is having enough funds.  Since CICFO feels very much like a family, we didn't want to start a program where children were sponsored individually.  We did not want to create a spirit of competitiveness or have some children saddened because they were not sponsored.  The feeling at CICFO is very much, "all for one and one for all" and we didn't want to do anything that would take away from what Botevy and Vanneth have worked so hard to create.

Would you consider donating to the orphanage as a whole?  Every penny donated goes straight to the children.  There are no administrative fees, as everyone on the board or involved with CICFO is a volunteer.  Your donation would help buy food, pay for the children's education, (school is not free in Cambodia), clothing, and other daily needs.  Eventually we would like to start an endowment fund for the children for their college education.  But for now, we are concentrating on getting their immediate needs met.

If you would like to donate,  you can do a one time donation or set up a monthly withdrawal from your bank account.  It is very easy to do and even $20 a month is a huge help to them! You can donate anything from $5 a month to $150 a month which is the amount needed to provide for a child at CICFO.)  Under the donation bar there is a place where you can write a note.  If your family would like to be a pen pal to one of the children there write it in that box.  The children would love it! 

I read about a family that wanted to teach their children to give back.  They wanted their children to have to sacrifice something for someone else.  They got a jar and put it in their kitchen.  They decided that they would give up certain things so they could donate to a charity.  So on the weekend when they wanted to go to the movies, they would go to redbox instead and pop their own popcorn.  They would total the cost of going to the movies and subtract the redbox from it and put the remaining money into the service jar.  Same thing with going out for ice-cream--they would go to the grocery store and buy a half gallon of ice-cream and eat it at home and put the saved money in the jar.  They did this time and time again and the children felt so good inside.  When the jar was full they donated the money to a charity of their choice. I LOVE THIS IDEA.  It gives them ownership, empathy, and teaches them the value of giving.

Service and sacrifice walk hand in hand.  I am convinced there is no better feeling in the world than to know you have eased someone's burden, brought happiness, or lifted another to higher ground.  No one ever regrets it.  And just so you know,  once you start to give of yourself and you feel what it feels like to give, you won't be able to stop yourself :)  A beautiful magnet is formed in your heart that will keep drawing you back to those in need. 

Take a moment and click here to donate.  It will take you to their website where you can choose the amount of your one time donation or set up a monthly withdrawal.  Thank you in advance for helping out the sweet children of CICFO.

ps- If you would like to someday do a family humanitarian trip to Cambodia to visit the children go to .  You will get to visit CICFO and also build homes for needy families in Cambodia.  It is an amazing experience.  Global Outreach Alliance is a non-profit company who takes people or families to Cambodia and Africa to build homes, provide clean drinking water, and volunteer in local schools.  Steven Wrigley (founder) is a man in his late twenties who uses 100% of his fees toward the project you are working on--fabulous.



  1. You are all amazing people and should be very proud of all yourselves as I am proud to even know you!!! Your family and the Cleggs are people that captured MY heart the moment I met you. I am so glad that we are able to keep in touch because I miss you like crazy

    Your friend, Ella Simpson from home and life! X

  2. Oh my goodness!! My family visited this orphanage in October!! They are such hildren and Those women running it are amazing!!! My parents were senior missionaries there (Spencer's) and worked closely with that orphanage for the last 2 years. So amazing to see all those sweet children in your pictures. Thanks for sharing!!

  3. I miss your blog updates. I hope you and your family are well.