Stories from the field

Stories collected by our field staff – real people with real stories.

Marriage later, studies first

By Gloria Das
World Vision Bangladesh

In a Bangladeshi village, a group of school girls trill a little melody inside a classroom. They are celebrating. The marriage of their friend, 15-year-old Suborna Khanam, has been annulled.

The young girls who gather in this classroom are the members of a children’s group that works with World Vision. Suborna, a sponsored child who lives in Maksudpur ADP, who is among them, and is in Grade 10.

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This youth group is one she helped start, along with her friends, so that she could become more engaged with social and development work. Little did she know that she would one day need their assistance.

“The Child Forum’s collective are sowing seeds of change. There are weekly meetings where we get together in a safe place to learn, have fun, and talk about what is happening in our communities. We learn about the links between teenage pregnancy and high rates of infant and maternal mortality and all the other adverse health effects of early marriage. The members are sensitised about their rights,” Suborna says.

The group has been working with World Vision since 2010. Such collectives are part of child-focused interventions of World Vision Bangladesh to boost the confidence of teenage children and to fight child marriage – a practice that continues across the country, particularly in rural communities, despite a legal ban.

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Suborna is in a red headscarf

“World Vision has changed my life,” Suborna says.

Recently, Suborna’s father came to the school. He had decided to take his daughter back home, as he arranged a partner for her. A groom with a plot of land of his own and with a little dowry was found. Suborna’s wish of continuing her education was considered a luxury that could hardly be afforded. The family did not have the spare money for the additional expenses and reasoned that marriage was the better option.

“When my father told me I was going to be married off, I felt my life had been ruined. I visualized a life like that of my mother—marriage, lots of children. Full stop. All dreams shattered,” Suborna says.

She immediately protested. She told her friends in the Bandhan Child Forum. When the group learned about Suborna’s situation, they immediately intervened and contacted her parents.

“We were sure we’d be able to prevent her wedding,” says a confidence Raihan, the group’s leader. “We talked to her parents at length and tried to make them understand what evils early marriage involves. Finally, we succeeded and Suborna came back to school,” Raihan smiles.

At school, Suborna was performing brilliantly.

“Neither of her parents can read nor write. So, she was not supposed to be allowed to go to school,” explains Suborna’s uncle. “The village (her parents live in) also does not have any high school and she would have had to travel 3km if she wanted to continue her studies. So, I took her with me,” he says. From primary school to current day, Suborna has stayed with her uncle.

But as her uncle is also a landless farmer, like her parents, he did not have enough income to take care of his niece’s educational expenses alone. Soon after Suborna came to live with him, he learned about World Vision’s sponsorship programme from one of his neighbours. Suborna then became involved with Muksudpur ADP’s child sponsorship programme and received educational support, including special coaching classes organised for the sponsored children of the ADP.

Things were passing smoothly. Suborna passed her primary school studies with good results and then was admitted to Grade 6 at a high school in Muksudpur Upazila.

“I was just thrilled with joy when I remember the first day of my new class. I still could feel the smell of my new books. Thank you World Vision, my real friend in need,” Suborna says.

In secondary school, after her parents initially told her she would have to get married and returned to school, Suborna continued to achieve good marks.

“I can remember the day when our class teacher called me and gave me the good news – I stood first in the class,” Suborna says.

Suborna decided to go back home to share the good news with her parents. But Suborna’s parents were unimpressed. Instead, they again raised the issue of marriage.

“I was so unhappy about the marriage. This time I told my mother who also did not agree with me and they locked me at my room. Then I sought help,” she says.

Scared, Suborna made a plan. She pretended to become seriously ill and was taken to a nearby hospital. At the hospital, she snuck out and returned to her uncle’s place. She was safe, at least for the time being.

“From her childhood, she was not like other girls of her age. There was something different in her. I was so impressed to see her strong confidence to stand up to wrong, to care for others and especially for her strong craving for higher studies,” says Helal Qazi, Suborna’s 40-year-old uncle.

Back at her uncle’s place, Suborna immediately contacted with Child Forum members and informed them about the incident. They, in turn, contacted a World Vision child forum coordinator who worked for the Muksudpur ADP.

The child forum coordinator talked to Suborna’s parents and explained the law, as well as other implications, related to child marriage. Finally, her parents gave their consent for their daughter to not get married before she turns 18. However, they also stated that they could no longer afford to pay any expenses related to Suborna.

Finally Suborna’s marriage was put on hold.

To help her earn money, World Vision helped Suborna complete a seven-month Life Skills Based Education (LSBE) course. She now works as a facilitator and coaching volunteer groups to work at the community level. She works on campaigns and teaches rural households about different social and development issues like health, water, sanitation and hygiene, women and child rights, dowries, women’s empowerment and violence against women.. She is now getting Taka 800 (RM34) per session and facilitates 16 sessions in a month.

“This course leads to better psycho-social competence and helps participants to make responsible decisions and build the competency to lead a healthy and productive life. It is also helpful for developing leadership capacity of adolescents. At the same time, I could work for my community’s development also,” Suborna says.

Monika Biswas, the child forum coordinator of Muksudpur ADP, says, “World Vision use a multi-pronged approach for child development – empowering adolescents by forming child forums, building youth groups to work on child marriage issues, Life Skill Based Education courses (LSBE), women groups, children in schools, etc. Along with all this, we aim to integrate a community-based strategy involving village leaders, community groups and government departments to reintegrate children into formal school system. These initiatives became an integral element of our work on child marriage.”

As Suborna’s story illustrates, success stems from this collective approach. She is now a household name in her community when it comes to protesting against underage marriage.

“We decided to join hands and campaign against the evils of child marriage. We enjoy certain privileges like being able to go inside the house and communicate with the women – something men don’t,” Suborna explains.

Suborna’s track record is quite commendable. She and her child forum friends also prevented many other underage marriages in her village. Grade 6 students Kamalika, Chaity and Dipti and Grade 7 student Hena are some of the names who went back to school, thanks to Suborna’s initiative.

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Suborna is in a red headscarf

“World Vision has made my parents to proud of me. I finally made my father understand that his daughters could be his support in old age. And I succeeded. My youngest two sisters are now also going to school,” Suborna says smilingly.

“Now my eyes are filled with new dreams, dreams of hope and aspiration. I want to study more and become a teacher in the future so that I could improve up my community with an education,” she says.

Shahid Fakir, who was once disgusted with his daughter’s obstinacy, is a proud father today. “I was going to make a big mistake, but my daughter stopped us in the nick of time,” he smiles.

The Worldwide Calling

By Brandon Ng
30-Hour Famine Advocate 2012

The last part of my trip involved visiting a district where World Vision has already been a part of for the past few years. The objective of the visit was to see the difference in the standards of living after World Vision had started helping out in the commune. The district was the Yen Thuy district.

World Vision Vietnam has established the Yen Thuy ADP since 2008. They had set up a variety of different programs and resources for the community such as starting up a nutrition club for wives around the community. Mothers and wives from around the commune would meet every month or so to learn about the preparing nutritious food for their family to treat malnutrition. When we were there, we actually visited and took part in one of the nutrition club’s sessions. The session for the day was about diarrhoea. Each mother had to draw on mah-jong paper and present their opinions to everybody else. It was so gratifying to see the women take part in the session and interact so well while learning.
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After the session, we visited one of the women’s (Sen)family. While we chatted, we could see the confidence of the family – much more than that of the previous families we had visited. They were more composed,they smile easily and answered our questions cheerfully. They had a baby, called Hoa, and she was 9 months old. Hoa was 9kgs at her age! Healthy as an ox. The family told us how much World Vision has helped improve their living conditions. Sen, who participates in the nutrition club, was taught how to raise Hoa properly to the healthy baby she is today. The family, while far from being rich, was in a much better condition and much more self-sustainable compared to the previous families we’ve visited.

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Little Hoa and her family were the last people we interviewed and visited on our trip. Our group headed back to Hanoi to rest for a night and for some sight-seeing.

Overall, my visit to Vietnam opened my eyes to a few things.

1)    About the reality of poverty running rampant amongst the people around us.
I met with people who were actually living below the poverty line and watched how they struggled through their daily lives, not knowing how much yield they would get from their crops, not knowing when their next meal would come.

2)    Charity work is not just about donating money.
I mean sure, most times you think that as long as you have the money you can do anything. The important part is collecting as much money as you can right? Wrong. The crucial part to charity is the implementation. The allocation of funds would be crucial to building a sustainable life. The key to helping these communes would not be to just give them the money, but using the money for them to build a sustainable life.

If you give a man a fish he can eat for a day, if you teach a man how to fish, he can eat for a lifetime.

3)    The improvement that World Vision has brought to the community.
World Vision Vietnam has improved the lives of the people in the HuuLoi commune by leaps and bounds. I can only hope that the same improvements can be made in the future for the various communes in the Mai Chau district for the people I’ve come to meet and know there.

Poverty is man’s greatest enemy. I’ve seen the war and I’ve been part of the battle. And here we are, hand in hand, fighting the good fight. Will you join us?

The Side You Don’t See

By Brandon Ng
30-Hour Famine Advocate 2012

The next few days were a whirl of events. We interviewed three families, visited a school and a health station.

In the Tan Mai commune, one of the families we visited was Toan’s family.  The family works on a farm.  The plight of Toan and his family truly had a big impact on me. Toan is a 6 year old boy who walks at least 2km to and fro from school every day in the hot sun.

His younger brother, Tinh, recently underwent surgery at a hospital in Hanoi to treat his leg, suffering from muscle inflammation. Their parents had to borrow up to 20 million dong (approx. RM3,000) from relatives in order to treat Tinh’s leg. However, after the surgery, it was found that Tinh’s bone in the leg had not been rejoined properly, and was growing at an awkward angle.

The situation is quite dire and the parents are financially tight. Even as they struggle to pay the enormous debts they owe to their relatives, they have no idea where to get the money to be able to pay for Tinh’s second surgery.

They earn at most 17 million dong (RM 2,720) a year of which they spend at least 7.2 million dong (about RM450) at least on food – mainly rice and fish. They really want to send Tinh back for treatment but they have no means to. There is no more pain in the muscle but the bone is not fixed together properly after the surgery and that would affect Tinh’s development if it isn’t fixed soon.

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We also had the opportunity to visit the Toan’s parents’ farm. And boy was it difficult to reach. It was set on the mountain, and all of us had to hike up the mountain to get to the farm. Some of the people in our group couldn’t even make it to the top. This puts things into perspective. Day in day out, Toan’s parents have to climb all the way up the mountain to do their farming, with only very minimal yield, insufficient to sustain their daily needs.

I used to love to play games like Farmville, or Harvest Moon which simulates farming on as a video game but this; this was a totally different ball game. This was a huge reality check for me. In reality, farming was not an easy task, the uncertainty of the yield, the dependence on the weather. Farming as a job was just too unpredictable.

Another activity that we conducted was that we attended a primary school in the Pu Bin commune. I was in charge of the games and we played various games like “Eagle and Chick”, kite-flying, football, and a little bit of catching. We had a wonderful time with the children and I think they had fun too.

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I realised one thing through this activity, though — Football is in every little boy’s blood. While there was lukewarm response from the children in our efforts to fly the kites that we brought, the moment we took out the football and gave it to the children every boy came out and started chasing after the ball. And I mean every boy. The sight was incredible, how 30-40 boys were screaming and chasing after the ball.

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Children after an exciting game of football. From left, Jym from MY FM, Al from Says.com, Brandon the Famine Advocate, Michelle the Famine Advocate behind in blue and Kimberlylow.com at the far right.

In our sharing that night, Jym, from MY FM, said : “When I played with the children, I realised that happiness is shared by everyone. When we were playing we didn’t care who was black or brown or yellow or white, but we were all happy together. Even though there was a language barrier, where we couldn’t speak Vietnamese, we were all still able to enjoy a great time together.”

It was quite gratifying for me to see how even when living in such a poor state, the children were capable of being so happy. But I really believe, to the core of my heart; that these children deserve so much better. A better life, a better future, not to be stuck in this vicious cycle of poverty they’re in if WE DO NOT DO SOMETHING.

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Stepping Up, Stepping Out

By Brandon Ng
30-Hour Famine Advocate 2012

So there I was, at the airport, at 7:30 in the morning, after being dropped off by my parents. There, I met up with complete strangers.

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Brandon, the youngest in the group is seated in the front wearing black. Photo by kimberlylow.com

You see, me, little old me, was chosen, to be one of five Famine Advocates to be – well, advocates of the 30-Hour Famine cause in Malaysia and I was chosen to take part in this media visit, with other people from various media portals. I was going to Vietnam to witness World Vision’s community development work in 3 communes. To witness the poverty that is actually happening right now in Vietnam. To be honest, right down to the very last hour I felt that the whole experience was pretty surreal. I truly did not know what to expect from this trip. I was leaving Malaysia, my home, behind and venturing into a different country, a different culture, to have a hands-on insight into the reality of poverty.

If that wasn’t counted as stepping out of my comfort zone, I don’t know what is.

The timetable on the first day was pretty easy on us. There wasn’t much to do besides being on the road  day. After touching down at about 12pm local time, we headed straightaway to the Mai Chau district, in Hoa Binh province. It is 130km away from Hanoi and 40km from Hoa Binh city. The whole journey took up to 5 hours on the dusty, dreadfully bumpy roads of Vietnam. I was quite shocked by the culture and the driving habits of motorists on the roads of Vietnam. It seems as though they use their blaring horns every other second to notify other motorists of their presence on the road. Then again, it was interesting to be on the right side of the road for a change.

As much as the roads in Vietnam were dreadful, the scenery, on the other hand, was beautiful. The road that we took passed by lots of mountains and hills. The view was the postcard-material kind the whole way. Talk about greenery at its finest.

We checked into the hotel late evening and had our dinner at a nearby restaurant. After that we walked to the very recently set-up World Vision office (that very day in fact) in the Mai Chau district 1km away for the briefing and introduction to the Mai Chau Area Development Programme. There we learnt about the different communes that were in the Mai Chau. There are a total of 23 communes and World Vision Vietnam has pinpointed the 5 poorest communes to partner with – Pu Bin, Noong Lung, Tan Dan, Tan Mai and Phuc San, and have begun to work with them. The two communes that we were planning to visit were Tan Mai and Pu Bin commune, where the poverty rate was estimated to be at 83% and 54% respectively. There, we were going to meet different families to learn about their struggles of living in poverty.

It was made known to us that these five communes were going through A&D, i.e. the Assessment and Design process. It is essential that World Vision build a good relationship and co-ordinate with the children, families and communities. This relationship had to be built over time to enable the workers to determine the source of poverty among the villagers and to decide on the best way  to utilise funds to help the villagers create a self-sustainable environment to live in.

That, in a nutshell, was my first day in Vietnam. We walked back to the hotel after the briefing and had a good rest, as we were all tired from a whole day of travelling. There was a spirit of anticipation in the air as we looked forward to the next few days, where we would truly step into the actual world of poverty.

Mrs Ornanong and Richard Supat – lives that inspired me

Last month, I had the privilege of meeting two former World Vision sponsored children from Thailand and The Philippines, who were in town to offer their voices and share their lives with the Malaysian public. And because of my job scope, I had the honor of sitting through their interviews with the media. With that, I try my best now to share with you their stories. Simple yet powerful stories, of how lives were transformed. Stories of hopes that became realities. Stories that made a person pay attention to listen, not because one has to but because one is attracted to.

Once in a while, we meet people who inspire us, who made us believe in the goodness of humanity again. Such were the sweet encounters with Mrs Ornanong Panyawang Awakul, from Thailand and Mr Richard Supat, from The Philippines. One was a former Ms Thailand 1992, who is now a well known actress, TV host and a celebrity in her home country. The other, holds a degree in Mass Communications and an MBA, spearheading the Human Resources Department of a location-based services in his home country. Neither of them ever thought that their lives would take such a turn.

Richard Supat

Both were born into a poor family, struggling to survive on daily basis. Richard’s parents were working in a peanut butter factory, depending on daily wages. Richard, who grew up in the ‘shanti’ (slums) area of Metro Manila known as the ‘sin city’, got emotional when speaking to The Star journalist, reminded that sometimes he only had rice with salt. Life took a gradual turn after he got selected into World Vision’s Child Sponsorship programme, teaching him values beyond classroom education – learning to be thankful and to be a good steward of what has been given. I believe lessons like these are the ones that shape a person’s world views. Richard eludes a quiet yet friendly persona and his humility amazed me when we met. When he sang “You Raised Me Up” at our This Is My World Vision Campaign launch, each word came alive from a soul who truly understood the lyrics. I must say, some of the audience present were at the verge of tears.

Richard Supat

In his interview with BFM 89.9 BFM 89.9, Richard said “Never in my entire life, I would imagine that someone I don’t know would help me. So that is a big responsibility and that has taught me to love other people who you do not know and just be there for them.” This is the beauty of the World Vision Child Sponsorship programme, it not just about a programme or the donation of RM65/ 80 per month but more than that, it is a journey together – the sponsor and the sponsored child.

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Mrs Ornanong, was always pleasant and one of the most down to earth celebrity I’ve met. She was always polite, even when speaking through an interpreter and there was a certain radiance about her smile. This was a child who came from a family of 7 siblings and her father was a construction worker by day and a tricylce taxi peddler by night, relying on daily wages. Her mother was a factory worker and sold fruits in the market. Growing up, she taught she would turn out to be a fruit vendor like her mom.

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World Vision came to the school she was studying one day and identified the poorest families, offering if they would like to be a part of its Child Sponsorship programme. The rest, as they say, is history for her. She kept her grades at school and eventually learned the traditional Thai dance, which contributed to her winning the title of Ms Thailand in 1992. She made public her background of poverty and that she was a sponsored child to the media upon winning the crown, believing that one should not be ashamed but instead, be grateful of how much her life has been changed because of the generosity of others. Today, she sponsors 6 children with her husband, saying that she can relate to them because she was once in their shoes. This is her way of encouraging the sponsored children that they must not give up on their dreams.

“World Vision is like a boat, it collects people on-board along the way and bring them to their destination”, she said through her translator to New Tide magazine journalist. Will you join us in this journey? Thank You, Mrs Ornanong and Richard, for being such amazing living testimonies.

I am writing this entry, not because its part of my job as a staff but because I truly believe in the work World Vision does. I hope you too, can believe in us to Build A Better World For Children. You can be that person for someone else too.

From a Sponsor’s Heart (Part II)

By Chew Sue Lee

It’s refreshing to see the community in action, especially when you live in the city where individualism takes first place. We stayed at one of the communities one of the nights, and after dinner, we had fellowship with the community. Obviously that place being the only place where there was electricity, it was where everyone gathered. And we had fun together. How different it is from us being at our homes, where every family is in their individual houses, and every family member is in their own room! 


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Meeting my sponsor child and her mom was really special. She’s a really sweet girl whose mom obviously loves her very much. Margareta is no longer just a name to me but a person with a face, with a history and a story. Perhaps that’s the value of joining World Vision’s child sponsorships programme versus just paying a donation to a community. Because in having a sponsor child, at least for me, i feel not only compassion and a desire to help my kid, but the whole community. Because I know that if the community my child lives in is in dire straits, then my child too can’t move very far in life. We know that most times poverty is not so much an individual problem, but a societal problem caused by failed social structures, systems and flawed leaders. I guess that’s why God calls us to seek justice for all, and to usher in His Kingdom. We all have roles to play and perhaps for some of us it’s doing the work, but for some of us, it would be providing the resources for others to do the bulk of the work.


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Sue Lee and her sponsored child, Margareta

Being in Indonesia and talking to some of them villagers also helped me look at Indonesian workers in Malaysia in a different light. They are people with stories, with perhaps difficult backgrounds, and they have families whom they are trying to give a better living to. I guess it’s true that unless you step into a person’s shoes, you can never pretend to know what their life is like and the kinds of things they are dealing with.

I can learn to be more emphatic towards them.

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I hope more people will consider sponsoring a child through World Vision. We live a blessed life and we too easily take things for granted – no water for 10 minutes…”WHAT?!” The daily amenities we have each day, should be and is cause for great thanksgiving.

Cheers, Sue Lee

From a Sponsor’s Heart (Part I)

By Chew Sue Lee, Child Sponsor

The Singkawang Sponsor visit spanned over 5 days in December. We were in Pontianak/Singkawang visiting the many community projects handled by World Vision or Wahana Visi (as the Indonesians call the organisation).

A bulk of the projects curently focuses on providing clean water to the communities, by helping them to build water tanks. Amazingly the water is clean and fresh as it comes straight from the source up in the mountains. Before these tanks, many of the communities had to transport unclean water from a far away river, consuming much of their time. They had no toilets and no running water, and that in itself is a cause of many health problems such as diarrhea etc. There are many more communities without running water but the communities themselves are now seeking to help their neighbors obtain fresh water supply.

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World Vision also helps to set up kindergartens (also know as PAUDs = Pendidikan Anak Usia Dini) at these little villages. Providing pre-school education for the rural children is important because without it the children really struggle when they enter primary school. Of course World Vision also works hard to encourage children to finish at least their primary school education as many drop out due to the usual reasons of “it’s more profitable to work than study” or because children have to take care of their siblings, or it’s too difficult to get to school (some children walk over an hour to get to school, no matter the weather).
The situation is even bleaker for those wanting to finish secondary school as they have to pay monthly school fees which many of them can’t afford. Other things World Vision helps with, is teaching them how to save and invest in the local credit union (even little children!), as well as simple but important things like providing mosquito nets to families.

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What’s cool with World Vision’s work there is that they work hand in hand with the community. So whatever good that comes out of the village is a credit to the people there as well since without them, nothing can be accomplished. They are the ones to build the water tank, to dig the trenches for the pipeline, to build the school etc. World Vision just provides the resources, the expertise and the support. So it’s cool to see World Vision working together with the people, empowering them to improve their standard of living for a better future. The World Vision field staff there are amazing people who are full of passion for the work and for the people they are serving. Theirs is not an easy job!


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The children Malaysians sponsor benefit from all these World Vision projects, obviously, and our RM65 or 80/month perhaps goes further when collected together to be used for the community, rather than just as a handout for the children. And what amazed me about these communities is that in talking to the adults, you don’t get the sense that they pity themselves. They have a lot of dignity and even though they are less fortunate, they are generous people, and full of love and care for each other.

Cheers, Sue Lee

p/s do look out for Part II of Sue Lee’s story in Singkawang!