The world at her feet
Sovanndara was among CCF’s first children to graduate from university in December 2017. Read this incredible young woman’s uplifting story about overcoming hardships and remaining dedicated to your dreams.
I was born in Cambodia’s Kompong Speu province to a poor family who struggled to make ends meet. When I wasn’t working, I would try to attend school, but without transportation, the journey was long—especially during the rainy season. When I did make it to school, the teacher would often not bother showing up, so I eventually gave up school altogether. It broke my heart because all I wanted to do was learn, but I also understood my situation and made peace with it.
My father worked in the province as a driver and my mother would go along to help him, leaving us with my grandmother. When money became too scarce, my grandmother moved the three of us children to Phnom Penh where we found work on the Steung Meanchey garbage dump.
My job was to collect wood to sell. Along with my siblings, we scavenged all day and into the night, sometimes finding just enough wood to sell so we could eat. “The smell on the dump was something I’d never experienced before. I can’t even find the words to describe the stench.
Life in the province was a challenge, but life on the garbage dump was worse than anything I could have imagined. “It was such hard work and I was sick all the time with headaches, nosebleeds and dehydration. I would also regularly get burns on my legs from the garbage that was on fire, but I would try not to notice—my only focus was finding wood so we could eat.
The work was competitive and my siblings and I would band together to fight off other kids when a garbage truck would dump new trash. I hated fighting, but it wasn’t a choice, it was a matter of survival. “I saw so many kids get hurt from fighting or because their parents beat them for not gathering enough garbage. Time began to numb my emotions and I pretended not to see the things I saw.
At age 11, Scott found my siblings and I on the dump and enrolled us in CCF classes, English intensive classes and public school. We were severely malnourished and sick, so Scott ensured we had full access to CCF healthcare services and were provided with three meals daily through the food program. “It all happened so quickly and almost immediately, my life changed.” Scott also helped bring my parents to Phnom Penh and start a business so we could be reunited. It meant so much to have my parents close so we could be a family again.
My brother is studying engineering at university with CCF’s assistance and my sister is also in school, so having them experience rigorous programs simultaneously has really helped—we have such a strong bond and lean on each other during hard times.
CCF supported me through university by covering living expenses, food and additional English training, without which I wouldn’t have been able to keep up with the demanding program. They also assisted my parents in running a small confectionary business in the community so I didn’t have to worry about them and could focus solely on my studies.
After an intense four years studying business management, I’m so excited to get out into the world and put my skills to use. I’m currently working as an HR supervisor at an international organization and have a side-project running my own online business—selling clothes, shoes and materials for students. I’d like to save money for a year and then go back to university to get my Masters in International Relations. Learning about new cultures is my passion and I want to travel to new countries in the future.
It is surreal that I’ve achieved what I have—knowing where I’ve come from. CCF came into my life at a time when I was in desperate need and pulled me and my family out of a never-ending cycle of poverty. Knowing what I now know about the world, I recognize that this was no small feat and it took many people banding together to make this happen. I’m not sure I can ever repay CCF and all of the people that have supported me along the way.
All I can do is continue to work hard for my community and my family and ensure that I never take the life I have for granted.
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