We knew early on that Sophy was a special little girl—a girl that was destined to do great things. Ten years after she was found scavenging for garbage in the Steung Meanchey district of Phnom Penh, she is off to Trinity College at the University of Melbourne on a full scholarship.

I sat down with Sophy to talk about her journey and how she got to where she is today.

I was born in the Kampong Cham province of Cambodia to a very poor family. My siblings and I grew up near a rubber tree field—scavenging and stealing rubber for money to get by. Each day was a lesson in survival. Could we make enough money to eat and find somewhere to sleep that night?

When I was ten, my family’s situation really declined. We were breaking onto people’s properties every night to find shelter and were periodically chased by angry farmers, left to sleep on the side of the road. With little choice but to leave, my parents brought us to Phnom Penh, hearing that they could make a living off the garbage dump in Steung Meanchey.

I thought my situation in the province was bad, but nothing could have prepared me for what life would be like living on the garbage dump. My siblings and I were up at the crack of dawn every day, along with hundreds of others, picking through garbage for very little money. The work was exhausting and it was so hot that it felt like my feet were burning.

One day, I was scavenging and heard a commotion. Before I could see what was happening, a large garbage truck was coming straight for me. Moments before I was run over, a woman threw me out of the way and saved me from being crushed. This was one of the scariest moments of my life and I truly felt broken and alone.

It was around this time that I met Scott. He came through the dump one day and approached me, asking if I wanted to study in school. At this point in my life, I didn’t quite understand what was involved in going to school and although I was excited, I was also apprehensive.

Before I knew it, I went from the dump to the classroom—a surreal experience, never having been in a classroom, let alone opened a book. I felt overwhelmed and had doubts that I belonged there. This new world was intimidating and I retreated into myself, lacking the self-esteem to interact with others, something that quickly reflected in my grades and behavior.

As chance should have it, a CCF teaching volunteer saw that I was struggling and took me under her wing—taking the time to guide and mentor me and in turn, building up my confidence. She made it clear that I couldn’t change my circumstances and what life had dealt me, but I did have the power to make a change for myself and my family.

Studying became my primary focus and I immersed myself in as many activities as I could. I volunteered for the food program; I mentored young children; I helped with community cleanups and went on camping trips. Any and every opportunity that came my way, I took. As my confidence improved, I took on public speaking tasks at Youth Talks and Tedx.

School became like an escape for me, an opportunity to learn about a world beyond my own borders. Seeing the broken community around me, and children who struggled like I did, drove me to want to help in any way I could. CCF opened doors for me and made me see that I had so much to offer others.

The Trinity College scholarship was brought to my attention by one of my teachers. At first I shrugged it off, not even considering the possibility that I was a viable candidate. The process to apply was daunting and it seemed too far out of reach for someone like me. Despite my apprehension, my teachers and sponsor encouraged me to apply, saying that I was smart and capable of anything I set my mind to.

So I went for it. The whole process was rigorous, with a requirement to pass the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), countless tests in math and language capabilities—not to mention a full schedule of interviews with representatives from the university. All in all, the application process took one year and in the end all I could do was sit back and hope for the best.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be chosen as a scholarship student at a prestigious college, especially in another country. There are times that I have to pinch myself to remember that this is real. This is my life.

I leave for Australia in four months and am steadily preparing myself for this great adventure that awaits me. University will no doubt be a challenge like I’ve never experienced before, but I have the confidence to take on anything that comes my way and after experiencing much self-doubt in my life, I’m confident that this is the path I’m meant to be on.

After university, I want to come back to Cambodia and start a business. What that business will be is an unknown, but what I do know is that there is great opportunity for growth and development in my country, in my community and in myself.

Not only did CCF give me the opportunity to study, they saw something special in me and helped me to see it too. I will never forget where I came from and how my CCF family was there with me every step of the way.

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