26-year-old Tola went from scavenging for recyclables to being front of house at Scott’s Cafe, a new venture in the heart of CCF’s community

If you were to meet Tola, you would come away from the conversation smiling. Her friendly manner and warm smile are just some of the traits that make her the perfect candidate for a job in customer service.

Which is why she was an ideal choice to work in Scott’s Cafe, funded by CCF founder Scott Neeson, when it opened earlier this year to provide a safe and social space for families to gather in Steung Meanchey, Phnom Penh, where CCF works.

Working at the cafe, Tola’s vibrant personality shines through. Serving coffee and beverages to community members and CCF’s staff, Tola is key to the smooth day-to-day running of the cafe.

But less than a year ago Tola earned her living trawling the city streets for rubbish to sell.

“I worked as a scavenger for two years before I came here. My mother and father would look after my son whilst I worked,” explains Tola, mum of two young children.

“When I came back from work, my parents would leave to work as scavengers as well.”

Tola got a taste for hospitality work at STAR restaurant, a CCF owned restaurant that trained young adults in cooking and service, which shut two years ago.
Before then, Tola had worked as a scavenger from a young age.

“I stopped studying at grade 9 because my mother is so poor. We had no money to pay for the house or food. I stopped so that I could start working and help her,” says Tola.

Tola’s story is not uncommon in Steung Meanchey. Children are forced to sacrifice their education in order to help provide for their family. It is a desperate cycle, one that CCF works to end through it’s six core programs (Education, Leadership, Community Outreach, Childcare, Healthcare and Career and Life Skills).

Through CCF, Tola’s two children are experiencing a different start in life.
Her four-year-old son is in CCF’s Education Program and thriving, while her daughter, 10 months old, receives assistance from a different NGO.

“I have lived my whole life here (Steung Meanchey) because I am poor, I need money to buy food for my children because I am alone…my husband died when my daughter was just three days old,” Tola explains.

Tola’s husband worked alongside her mother as a scavenger, but he sadly passed away in an accident.

The opportunity to work at Scott’s Cafe as provided Tola with regular income and safe way to support her young family.

“Before, working was so hard and I was always sick. Now I am not sick. I enjoy working here and I love doing service,” says Tola, whose chatty personality is a hit with customers and fits in well with the cafe’s moto of ‘Love All. Serve All’.

“Before my life was hard, but now working here it is not so hard…it makes me have a good life,” says Tola.

Life got even better for them recently when a CCF supporter and sponsor of Tola’s younger sister gifted the entire family-of-five a new house.

“I felt very very happy [when offered the job at Scott’s cafe], I am so thankful to him [Scott Neeson], she says.

“And now I have a new house, everyday I think about how Scott has helped me a lot,” adds Tola, whose former home, a cramped and rundown shack, did little to shelter the family from the elements.

With a new home and job, Tola is now is able to focus on the future and wants to give her children a better chance in life than she received as a child.

“I hope for my children that they can be teachers or work in a restaurant. It would be so good for them,” she says.

Alice Brown/CCF

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