World Challenge partners are working to make sure one very special Cambodian girl can make it through school.
When Rachana was a baby, her feet were unusually large. Her parents examined them then shrugged. They had no money to take her to a doctor, so like many Cambodian parents, they simply made do as best they could.
However, as Rachana grew, the bones and connective tissues of her feet grew even faster. The little girl’s oversized toes began to warp in different directions as she struggled to walk.
As she hobbled to school, other children would hiss and giggle. Even her few friends would look away sometimes, walk too fast and leave her behind.
When Rachana’s parents passed away, her brother and sister were taken in by family members, but they hesitated with her because of her health issues.
Finally, one of her aunts heard about the situation and offered to take Rachana into her home. They lived in a small village, and her aunt worked at a nearby factory to support them.
Neighbors muttered that the aunt should leave Rachana, that the girl was just a burden.
Her aunt wouldn’t hear of such talk, and she began picking up extra hours at the factory to pay for Rachana’s school fees.
Finances were still tight, though. If one of them became ill, there often wasn’t money left over for food. More than once, Rachana and her aunt went hungry in order to visit the local clinic to receive treatment for dengue fever or malaria, both common Cambodia’s mosquito-infested jungles.
Rachana talked to her aunt about leaving school and getting a job to help support them, but her aunt would always emphatically shake her head. “You’ll go school and study hard until you finish high school, at least.”
Fighting Long Odds
One evening while studying, Rachana heard someone running up to their home. A neighbor who worked at the factory waited outside as she came to the door.
“Your aunt has collapsed. She fell unconscious, so we’re bringing her home.”
Horrified, Rachana made the decision there and then to get the first job she could find so her aunt wouldn’t feel as if she had to work so much. As she went around the village, shop owners would look at her then at her deformed feet and painful, slow gate. Then they would shake their heads and waved her off their step.
Someone finally offered her work as a dish washer, and she immediately began putting her meager salary toward buying food and paying for her own schooling.
Her aunt praised her hard work between a job and studying but often warned her, “You finish school, you hear? Then you can have a better future and job.”
However, they both knew that the odds were against them.
The Future Opens Up
The story of Rachana’s situation reached one of World Challenge’s Cambodian church partners who sponsor orphans and students in need. They approached her aunt to learn more about their situation.
In the end, they offered the family a monthly food-packet along with new school supplies and clothes.
Because of this act of compassion, Rachana decided to investigate the church, and she was surprised by her reception. “They didn’t treat me badly because of my feet. They were very kind and friendly.”
She stayed to listen to the service and hear more about Jesus. After a few months, she decided to dedicate her life to God, and now she goes to church every Sunday.
The team has begun looking for an organization to help treat her feet. It’s believed that she may have a kind of overgrowth syndrome, but nothing can be determined for sure until she’s diagnosed officially.
To supplement her schooling, she has begun attending a computer class offered by the church. She likes the program and hopes it will help her find better work when she graduates.
In the future, she wants to be either a teacher or a nurse who offers health services to poor children. She’s still deciding.