Siblings inspiring transition from an orphanage to independent living

February 2024


At sixteen, Vanna is an orphanage survivor and a valued member of CCT’s Care Leaver Network. Vanna, along with her three siblings, Chanra (14), Samart (20), and Hanna (21), lost both of their parents in 2020. Today, CCT supports them as they embrace independent living together as a family.

“Growing up, I was happy living with my parents,” says Vanna. “They took good care of me and loved me very much. Even though we didn’t have much money, they ensured I had everything I needed.”

One day, Vanna’s parents told her that they couldn’t afford to raise her and her siblings anymore and that they were taking them to an orphanage. Vanna remembers the heartbreaking moment she watched her parents drive away from the orphanage. “I felt that my parents abandoned me and left me to live with strangers. I thought they didn’t love me anymore. All my siblings cried, and we hugged each other.”

She quickly realised life at the orphanage wouldn’t be easy. Vanna and her siblings were put to work, cleaning, hand washing clothes, clearing trash and feeding the animals. “I never got enough sleep because I had to wake up at 4 am. If I didn’t, the orphanage nanny would pinch and hit me. She would threaten me so I wouldn’t scream.”

While at the orphanage, Vanna missed her parents more than anything. She waited for their return and held onto hope of their reunion. “During Khmer New Year, my father came to see us and wanted to take us out for the day. But the orphanage staff told him that he couldn’t take us. No words could explain my excitement when I saw my father. I cried so much. I couldn’t speak, so I just hugged him.”

After a few years of living in the orphanage, Vanna’s father was permitted to bring her back to her hometown for a short visit. However, Vanna ran away when the orphanage staff came to collect her. When they eventually located her, they asked, “Why don’t you want to return? It’s a happy place.” Vanna responded, “Happy? You abuse me every day.” Eventually, the orphanage gave up on bringing Vanna back and let her live with her father.

CCT met Vanna and her family a few months later, in 2017, after they were referred for support by the local authorities. Sadly, three years later, both of Vanna’s parents passed away, leading to her relocation into CCT foster care with Chanra and Samart. Meanwhile, her eldest sister, Hanna, resided in an orphanage and was reluctant to leave as she had been promised the opportunity to study overseas.

CCT’s social workers continued to visit Hanna in the orphanage with the long-term plan to reunify her with her siblings. In December 2022, Hanna decided to leave the orphanage, realising that the promised educational opportunities abroad were unlikely to materialise. In February 2023, CCT social workers supported Hanna to leave the orphanage and move into independent living.

One month later, Vanna and her younger sister, Chanra, achieved a significant milestone as they transitioned from foster care to independent living, joining Hanna. The three sisters are now supported to live independently in the community, with CCT renting a home for them and providing a monthly support payment. CCT is also supporting Hanna to attend university. Meanwhile, their brother, Samart, is living in Siem Reap and completing vocational training in hospitality.

“CCT is helping me a lot, including my study materials and food. When I go to school, someone will bring me there. I feel safe living here. I can go to the doctor for a check-up when I get sick. I get support from a social worker and no longer live apart from my family,” says Vanna.

The siblings are active members of CCT’s Care Leaver Network. The purpose of the network is to provide support, encouragement, mentoring and counselling to young people in Battambang Province who have grown up in an orphanage. Through the network, they have learnt that their experiences in the orphanage are not uncommon. Today, Vanna uses her experience to raise awareness about the harms of orphanages and advocate for family-based care.

Vanna believes every child should have the opportunity to grow up in their family and firmly believes that orphanages will harm all children. “I think that our country and the world shouldn’t have orphanages because they restrict freedom and abuse children. The most important thing to know is that only the family can truly support a child,” she says.