Like many children in the impoverished villages of rural Cambodia, where fewer than half of pupils completed primary school, Vongsa Phean had a dream that looked to be out of her reach.
Steeped in grinding poverty, Vongsa Phean's family of six lived a hand-to-mouth subsistence from aid, or whatever their fields could yield in central Cambodia's Baribour district. Domestic violence was common, but all the stellar student wanted was to have a good education, go to university and become a teacher.
"I had the dream, but I had no hope," she said. "I wanted to teach people, to share my knowledge with them so they can have the knowledge, too."
Life took a turn for Vongsa Phean five years ago. She started receiving the much-needed support for her living and educational needs, and now, at just 12½ years old, she is a volunteer teacher at a community learning centre run by World Vision.
From 1pm to 3pm daily, after school, the young girl teaches fellow pupils her age everything from mathematics to Khmer.
Vongsa Phean owes the change to Hongkonger Wong Yim-kan, who has been funding her via World Vision's child sponsorship programme since 2009.
The programme dovetailed with the NGO's area development plan for Baribour, which aimed to introduce sustainable development. This involved restructuring the village as an agricultural co-operative. Vongsa Phean's parents and others were taught farming techniques and the use of natural fertilisers.
Yields improved and the family made a modest income selling produce. "The violence stopped. We were finally able to support ourselves," she said.
Ratana Lay, of World Vision in Cambodia, said the idea was to mobilise villagers to take charge of their communities. One way was to equip bright, future leaders of Cambodia such as Vongsa Phean with leadership skills.
"Previously, aid was all about relief, but now we think long-term development is more important," she said. "Not all children are lucky enough to be sponsored, but Vongsa Phean's case shows even one child helped can have a positive impact on others. She is a role model."
Yesterday, the little teacher finally met her benefactor for the first time. "Regardless of her progress and change, I am very proud of her," Wong said.