From Vulnerable to Changemaker

Published on
April 16, 2024 at 2:29:28 PM PDT April 16, 2024 at 2:29:28 PM PDTth, April 16, 2024 at 2:29:28 PM PDT
 Channoeurn now enjoys joyful relationships with her children and helps them learn at home.

In the bustling community of Tuol Char, Cambodia there is a remarkable individual making a difference in the lives of others. Her name is Channoeurn, a 33-year-old single mother who has undergone an incredible transformation from a vulnerable widow to a true changemaker through her unwavering commitment and participation in community.

Coming undone

Toul Char didn’t have much of a social safety net, so when Channoeurn’s husband suddenly passed away in 2018, she found herself solely responsible to provide for her two small children. It was a big shock.

“[Before], I had the support of my husband to provide income and take care of our needs. I was able to focus solely on my family life,” Channoeurn explains. “But after he passed, I started to feel overwhelmed with the responsibilities of taking care of my family. My daughter and son were still young and our family situation was challenging.” 

Channoeurn’s response to her new challenges is not uncommon. The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) in the UK reported that anxiety stops 41 per cent of single parents in the UK from doing what they like or need to do, most or all of the time—in other words, they live with debilitating anxiety.

Julie Cameron, Associate Director at MHF, explains: “Parenting is a challenge and for people who are raising a child on their own, the pressure can be immense. Worry and anxiety can intensify when you are solely responsible for looking after your child, paying the bills, and providing everything a child needs.”

Channoeurn wasn’t sure what to do to ease their financial strain, so she sold her cows. This meant she lost some of her primary assets, and while she still had farmland, without her husband there to help she couldn’t make full use of it. The result? She still didn’t have enough income to support her children.

“During that time, I experienced depression and felt frustrated and anxious,” she shares.

Her stress grew and Channoeurn began to unravel. She sadly recounts times when she would become violent with her children, “unable to consider their emotions” because of her own poor state of mind. 

So many single mothers like Channoeurn struggle. One study showed that single parents, particularly single mothers, are at higher risk of experiencing PTSD symptoms than two-parent households. She couldn’t be the mother she used to be, the mother she so desperately wanted to be. 

As Channoeurn’s capacity to do routine tasks like keep the home clean diminished, her daughter Nounay and son Phichit’s health declined. Trying to be both father and mother to her children—their financial provider and emotional support—was too much.

Channoeurn teaches children about their rights and how to protect themselves. 

She realized her negative actions and words were affecting her children—they became rebellious, used “inappropriate language”, lost interest in school, and didn’t care for each other as siblings. Channoeurn was devastated. 

“I was upset and wanted to correct their behaviour and encourage them so they would have an interest in school, again, but I was too worried about their future,” she says.  

Embracing hope

Thankfully, through her work with FH-initiated groups, Channoeurn found community, and hope.

She joined the child sponsorship support team and volunteered with the child monitoring group. Eventually, she became a Community Partner Volunteer. “I developed strong relationships with other volunteers working together to engage with children,” she says. “The FH staff motivated me to change my mindset and behavior, fostering hope and positive thinking.”

Channoeurn picked up practical skills that helped her improve her children’s health and begin generating income. She learned home gardening, fish and frog raising, pig rearing, and rice farming. She also leased some of the land she couldn’t use to gain supplementary income. 

Developing new streams of income, like pig rearing, dramatically reduced Channoeurn’s financial stress.

As Channoeurn received support, she began reducing toxic stress at home. “I now teach my daughter and son, taking care of their education and encouraging them to build positive relationships with other children in the community,” she says. “Within my own family, I am dedicated to maintaining a warm and nurturing environment.”

Channoeurn is now a powerful community advocate for child rights and protection, childhood education, and violence prevention. 

“My life is filled with happiness as I have learned how to plan for my family’s future and save money. I participate in community development planning…and write community projects that bring hope to the community.”

Single parenting can be a lonely experience. Jule Cameron points out that almost one-third of single parents in their study felt anxiety due to loneliness. “It’s important that single parents have support networks, people they can talk to who understand what they’re going through,” she says. 

When Channoeurn began to experience social and emotional support from her community, her entire outlook on life changed. Instead of being overwhelmed by her own circumstances, she was able to look outward with empathy for others. 

“I have started to think about my less fortunate neighbours and report their situations to ask for help from leaders and partner organizations,” she explains. “I share the knowledge I’ve gained with other communities. I have also become more vocal about child protection rights and the long-term benefits of education. I teach children who have dropped out and encourage them to attend school again.”

Channoeurn participates with her child monitoring group.

Channoeurn now has healthy, flourishing relationships with her children, neighbours, and community leaders. 

“I am delighted to have the strength and independence to support my family,” she smiles. “I have the privilege of contributing to the transformation and development of the community.”

Lun, a child monitoring facilitator, shares about the transformation she’s seen happen in Channoeurn’s life: “I’ve had the privilege of witnessing the incredible transformation of Channoeurn. Her unwavering commitment, extraordinary courage, and strong determination to bring about positive change within her community have been truly awe-inspiring. Not only does she consistently strive for herself, but she also selflessly imparts her knowledge to others, advocating for the welfare of her fellow residents and extending a helping hand to those in need. Without a doubt, she serves as an exceptional role model for both the children and the entire community.” 

Learn more about FH’s work (and how you can help!) to strengthen the mental health of those we serve in partner communities.

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