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FH staffer Doug Penick plants tree with sponsored child, Sopheap, and her mother.

Ending Poverty, Together: The “Nature” of Child Sponsorship

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WRITTEN BY Robbie Peterson

This story is part of our brand-new series “Ending Poverty, Together.” It will be dedicated to sharing the special and inspiring stories of all those who travel to Food for the Hungry fields, whether they are staff members, supporters, or partners. Follow along as each person shares the impact of their unique experience firsthand.

As Creative Director at Food for the Hungry (FH), I’ve been very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to several countries with photographers and videographers to capture the many impactful stories of FH’s work in the fields. These stories are only possible because of our incredible child sponsors, donors, and partners.

Partners like Greater Phoenix Chinese Christian Church (GPCCC), for instance. This Arizona-based church has been partnering with FH since 2002, and has supported communities and sponsored children in Cambodia for the past nine years. They have seen so much growth, change, and transformation in that time.

During a recent trip to Cambodia with church members from GPCCC, I was blessed to be a witness to this partnership as an FH brand advocate. But later in the trip, I experienced my own transformation, not as a storyteller looking in, but as a sponsor who had fostered a relationship of my own with my sponsored child.

The Heart of the Country

Touching down in February, I expected Cambodia to be hot when we arrived in the middle of its summer. Being from Phoenix, I felt prepared for this heat. I was not. The areas in which we traveled did not have an excess of paved roads. Needless to say, it was very dusty and very hot.

The heat wasn’t the only thing I was feeling. There’s a certain heaviness in this country as you travel through its urban and rural landscape. Cambodia has been embroiled with civil war, genocide, and violence over the years. There is a certain sadness that lives here and permeates its history.

At the same time of feeling this heaviness, I also noticed a certain lightness. Once you start interacting with the children here, you see just how much life and hope there really is in this beautiful country. The kind of hope that comes from the ground up. It grows in the hardest places — the places FH serves.

In these places, parents value their children and in many environments we visited, there is a very family-oriented, bright, and life-giving feeling. I could tangibly see that some of this hope was a result of the programs and interventions that FH supporters make possible, but really, there is something very special about the people in this country. Strength and resilience live here. I was struck by it.

The Beginning of Child Sponsorship

Ever since I started working at FH in 2015, Cambodia has been close to my heart. I knew that I really believed in the work of FH, and I wanted to be a supporter as well. Many of the staff here actually sponsor children themselves. So, I sat down with my family at home, prayed about it, and we decided to sponsor a girl from Cambodia. This young girl, Sopheap, just jumped off the page at us. My wife, daughters, and son were thrilled to begin this relationship. We began praying for Sopheap every night, wrote her letters, and interacted with her as much as possible. My kids definitely light up every time we get new letters from her. Sponsoring Sopheap over the years has been a great experience for me and my family.

As I traveled through Cambodia, helping to capture stories of GPCCC church members meeting their sponsored children, I was really excited to get to the last leg of the trip. I was going to meet Sopheap in person.

The Big Meet

As soon as I got out of the car, I was blown away. There was Sopheap, standing before me. She was beautiful, tall, and strong. Not only that, but she was bold and confident. In my travels, I’ve seen that this is not always the case when you arrive as a foreigner. Families and sponsored children can often be shy or reserved until they get to know you. But the FH staff and Sopheap’s family really helped communicate to her that this was a rare and special occasion. She really owned the moment and was in it with us the whole time.

FH Creative Director Doug Penick meets sponsored child, Sopheap, in Cambodia.
FH Creative Director Doug Penick meets his sponsored child, Sopheap, in Cambodia.

Sopheap walked me around her home and showed me the things she does every day. Things like feeding her chickens and riding her bike to school. After noticing the bikes, I told her I ride my bike to work every day and asked her if she’d like to ride bikes together. We rode up and down those dusty roads. We played card games. Essentially, we got to do very normal things together. I felt so lucky to be experiencing this connection firsthand.

Child sponsor Doug Penick and sponsored child, Sopheap, ride bikes together in Cambodia.
Child sponsor Doug Penick and sponsored child, Sopheap, ride bikes together in Cambodia.

Planting Hope

But here’s something many may not know. In Cambodia, when a sponsor is able to meet their sponsored child in the field, FH facilitates the activity of the sponsor and child planting a tree together.

This was my favorite and the coolest moment of my trip.

I planted a tree with Sopheap and her mother right in front of their house. It was in this moment I realized — the tree is a perfect metaphor for what the sponsor to sponsored child relationship can be. Both of us watch this relationship grow together (no matter how far apart you are) and later it bears fruit and provides sustenance.

This is how my family and I feel watching Sopheap grow up, knowing she will bear fruit later in life. She shared with me that she wants to be a doctor when she grows up. After meeting her parents and seeing the success and ambition of her older brothers, I have every bit of confidence that she can and will become a doctor.

I’m so grateful that FH facilitates not only these sponsor to child relationships, but also this literal and metaphorical growth.

Back Home

Back in the office, as stories come across my desk for review and approval, I also see that even if sponsors don’t get a chance to meet their child face to face, the real, true impact of building that sponsorship relationship is the basis for life-changing transformation — for a child, a community, and even a country.

And though it might take some time, that kind of transformation is worth growing.

FH Creative Director and child sponsor Doug Penick and Sopheap, sponsored child, pose for a photo in Cambodia.
FH Creative Director and child sponsor Doug Penick and Sopheap, sponsored child, pose for a photo in Cambodia.

If you or your family is interested in sponsoring a child, click here to begin a life-changing relationship today.


More stories you may be interested in:

Photo Essay: Capturing Sacred Moments in Cox’s Bazar

The Key to Sustainable Solutions: Taking the Driver’s Wheel

God’s Story: “How” Is More Important Than “What”

Dreams For a Better Tomorrow


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Gift Policy:
You may send small, flat paper-based items that can fit into a standard #10 size envelope, have a value of less than $5 dollars and weigh less than 4 ounces. We ask that you send small, flat items of this size because shipping is expensive and even small gift items can cause issues clearing customs.
You can send postcards or photographs, however, we ask that you visit here for more details about culturally appropriate guidelines for photos and other images. Please write the child’s ID # on the back of each item that you enclose with your letter to ensure that it reaches him/her.
Best gifts to send your sponsored child:
  • Paper dolls
  • Postcards
  • Pictures of yourself or family
  • Sports cards, individual cards (baseball, soccer, football)
  • Stickers (flat, paper-based, only a few at a time)
  • Paper-based simple bookmarks, stationery, drawing, or writing paper (single sheets)
  • Coloring pages (single sheets, not books)
  • Please do NOT send:
  • Monetary gifts
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Please note, all items should be compliant with airline transport and safety regulations. Gifts that don’t meet the gift policy will be donated to a local Christian non-profit organization in Phoenix, Arizona, that works with low-income families. We will not be able to return them.