More than just a mother
Nhoem Vanniet is an incredible young man who has grown from an unassuming and soft-spoken boy to a bright and ambitious student and leader. He counts his mother Sor Aun as his biggest supporter and inspiration to work hard to achieve all that he can. Sor Aun’s journey hasn’t been easy, but her perseverance to give her children the best life possible is a true testament to a mother’s unconditional love.
Vanniet’s dedication to his studies and leadership role in the community is truly admirable. He gets involved in any and every community activity that he can, from helping the grannies and volunteering for the evening food program to diligently studying English and perfecting his public speaking skills.
In October, Vanniet attended a film workshop hosted by PNN-TV Cambodia, where students were tasked with creating a short animation project using a new media platform. The film he created was so well done that he was chosen to solely represent Cambodia at the Southeast Asia Prix Jeunesse Video Festival for Children in the Philippines in November.
He is constantly striving to become more knowledgeable about the world and he credits this to his mother’s love and encouragement over the years.
I had a chance to sit down with Vanniet and Sor Aun to talk about the challenges she’s overcome as a single mother and why she has fought so hard to get her son and daughter the education they deserve.
Tell me about your early life Sor Aun?
I was born in 1967 in the Southeast Cambodian province of Svay Rieng. One of eight siblings, it was always hard for my parents to make ends meet, as farming work was seasonal and there was never enough money to go around.
How did the Khmer Rouge era affect your family life?
I was seven when the regime took over so I was not old enough to understand exactly what was happening, but I knew it was bad as I saw many of those around me suffering. When I was nine, the Khmer Rouge soldiers came for my father and killed him. They also killed six of my siblings. In the end it was only myself, my elder sister and my mother who survived.
After the fall of the Khmer Rouge era, how did your family cope?
We did our best to continue to manage the farm on our own but the work was too much for just the three of us. My childhood and adolescence was a blur and I lived day-to-day with the sole goal of finding enough food to survive. When I was 18, I met my husband and we started a family. For a brief time, I was happy and had hope for the future.
Why did you leave the province to move to Phnom Penh?
In 2010, my husband passed away as a result of complications from liver disease. I sold our house in an attempt to pay for the treatment he required, but unfortunately, it was too late and he passed. Watching him suffer such a painful death scarred me and forever changed me, but I had no time to mourn because I had children to care for. My husband’s relatives lived in Phnom Penh, making a living working on the Steung Meanchey garbage dump. They encouraged me to relocate to Phnom Penh, so I packed up my children and we made the move.
What was life like on the garbage dump in Steung Meanchey?
It was awful. There were so many people living in deplorable conditions—all struggling to eke out a living. The competition for scraps of garbage was always fierce and you had to try to stay awake all hours to get dibs on the best garbage when it was dumped. I managed to get a job in Phnom Penh, but it took me one-and-a-half hours to walk there and I didn’t have anyone to care for the children so I wasn’t able to stay.
When did you first hear about CCF?
I had heard about Scott and how he was helping children in the community go to school. When he came walking through the dump one day, I approached him and explained my situation. He smiled at me and without hesitation, arranged to get my children into school. This was one of the most important moments of my life. It was like a weight lifted off my shoulders, and I felt like just maybe, life would be different for my children.
Your son Vanniet has grown into one of CCF’s most successful students. Are you proud of him?
Vanniet is an incredible boy who has a heart of gold. I am not surprised that he is such a strong leader as he’s a caring and compassionate child who works very hard to make sure everyone around him is doing okay. Every day, without fail, he comes home and kisses me on the cheek and asks if I’m eating enough and how I am feeling. He supports me by cooking and cleaning and taking care of the household, while at the same time maintaining his grades and community activities.
Vanniet, you recently traveled to the Philippines to represent Cambodia at the Southeast Asia Prix Jeunesse Video Festival for Children. Tell me about the film that you created and what it was like presenting it to other students around Asia.
For my short film, I settled on the theme of “inspiring others” because I have been inspired by my mother’s love over the years and dedication to our future and wanted to pass that along to others. I believe that when children inspire and encourage their peers, they can help each other break through personal barriers.
Representing Cambodia at the festival was such an incredible experience. I met kids from all over Asia and collaborated with them to better understand the process of filmmaking as well as their experiences as students in their cultures.
Sor Aun, how has CCF changed your life?
In the past six years, I have seen positive changes, both in my children and myself. CCF is giving my children access to a world-class education as well as supporting me by employing me as a cleaner at the NCA. Not only does this provide us with financial stability, it gives me a sense of purpose and nobility, knowing that I am supporting them and enabling them to focus on their studies. There are days when I have a lot of pain and sadness from the past, but when I see what my children have achieved, it humbles me and gives me a sense of achievement.
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