“Little Did I Know Where That Path Would Lead Me”: What an American Teacher Learned from a Cambodian Student

Sometimes when we give, we unexpectedly find that we are the ones who are transformed and improved by the experience.

We are inspired by the following story of Patricia Gross’s life-changing involvement with Cambodian Children’s Fund and her commitment to her sponsored child, Rachna.


I am a 65-year-old divorced woman and as a mother, and a former psychiatric nurse and middle school science teacher, I believe almost nothing at first glance. When I saw the documentary regarding Cambodian Children’s Fund, I paused and then decided to investigate the organization. I studied the financials and read every article written about CCF. I was impressed: most of the money goes to the children. Initially, I was going to give a one time small donation because I have limited means. When I saw the faces of the numerous children who needed a sponsor, I knew I could tighten my belt and make it work.

I made a silent commitment to Rachna: I would not let her down.

One of the qualities of this organization that I like best is the emphasis on the children. If I could not write to my sponsor child on a regular basis, then they discouraged sponsorship. Children need consistency, no matter where or whatever their station in life. I made a silent commitment to Rachna, my sponsor child, and to myself: I would not let her down. Little did I know where that path would lead me.

Rachna and I have been writing by email to one another for over two years. Since I am a teacher, I have given her small assignments and she has given me assignments as well. One assignment was for me to learn about Angkor Wat, a World Heritage in Cambodia. She wanted me to learn about different Cambodia holidays and I did. She told me about school and her love for dancing. I told her about my dogs. Her emails became the light in my day. I felt such pride!!!

It occurred to me last January that I was not getting any younger and if I was going to meet Rachna, I’d better start making plans. I would be traveling alone half way around the world. I contacted CCF for guidance and then made my travel arrangements. I found a small boutique hotel in Phnom Penh (I later found out the owner sponsors two CCF children). I wrote Rachna in March 2014 and we both began the countdown until October when we would meet.

I thought my heart would burst.

There are moments in life that you feel like you are walking in slow motion and you know you are memorizing every sound and sight. I felt like that when Rachna stood up to greet me for the first time. I thought my heart would burst. She also brought a friend and a translator from CCF.

The four of us went shopping as previously planned (what fun!!!! we laughed and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the young people as they made their choices at the market). We later had lunch together and made plans to see each other at the school the following day.

The translator took me to two schools, the clinic and nursery. The students were engaged in their studies. I saw happy, healthy, courteous children. I looked at some of their notes: neat writing (that’s the teacher in me). I spoke to a class of about 15 teenage students. I was surprised by their ease of speaking English. They learn Khmer, French and English. How many American public schools can boast two required languages? Almost none. The schools were modest and orderly. The children give direct eye contact and there is a quick smile on their faces. If you know anything about students, that speaks volumes.

Take it from an old woman who went half way round the world by herself.

There are almost 2000 students who attend school through CCF and 10,000 thru their outreach program. Through the vision of Scott Neeson who visited Cambodia in 2003 and began the school in 2004, this is an organization that works! There are no Fat Cats living off donations and going to fancy retreats. This is the real deal. I feel thankful that I have been able to play a small part in keeping this organization alive.

CCF does so much for so many people. They NEED more help. No one asked me to write that statement. Do you need that pedicure, another outfit or that fancy bottle of wine? If you cannot commit to being a sponsor, send the money to CCF. Your donation DOES matter. It feeds and educates children. It gives them a meaningful future. You’ll never regret it. Take it from an old woman who went half way round the world by herself, who looked into those young intelligent eyes.

Patricia S Gross,

RN, BSN, Masters of Education


If you’re inspired by Patricia’s story, please recommend it so others may find it and follow the GreatNonprofits Giving Stories publication on Medium for more.


For more information on Cambodian Children’s Fund and stories of other nonprofits making a difference, visit GreatNonprofits.org.

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