Sakhoun once lived on the streets with her young daughter, struggling to earn enough money to get by. 10 years on, their lives have been transformed thanks to CCF.
With her malnourished daughter in her arms, Seak Sakhoun sits on the dusty ground taking a break from the gruelling scavenging work that saw her trawling the streets of Phnom Penh night and day looking for recyclables to sell, earning as little as $2 a day.
Sakhoun did not earn enough money to afford to rent even a room. Homeless, they lived on the streets and at night would sleep in the dirty cart Sakhoun used to collect rubbish.
Trapped in the cycle of poverty and with nowhere to turn for support, the situation seemed hopeless.
But 10 year on from this photo, thanks to CCF, their lives have been transformed and what was once a bleak outlook has been replaced by stability, safety and a future filled with promise.
Sakhoun 38, no longer has to work on the streets and is employed in CCF’s nursery, the family has a place to call home, and daughter Punthea, now 13, is healthy and in full-time education with CCF and at public school.
My life has changed, even myself, as you can see from the picture.
“Now I am able to rent a house to stay with my family and my daughter is able to access proper education. I never expected my life would be like this.”
Sakhoun can recall the first photo being taken a decade ago, when her life was a desperate fight every day to earn money to feed her daughter and survive on the streets as best they could.
“I remember this photo, this was when I was feeding my daughter where I did the scavenging. That was a very hard time for us, during that time my daughter was in very bad condition.”
There seemed little chance of escaping the daily grind of their existence.
“Before I joined CCF, my life was very difficult,” says Sakhoun. “ As I am a scavenger, I only have a junk cart to live on the street. When it rained at night, we moved to the front [of shophouses to shelter] and at 4am or 5am when they started their business, we had to move to another place.”
Fate intervened when Sakhoun met CCF Founder and Executive Director, Scott Neeson, by chance one day on the street in Steung Meanchey, the area around the former city dumpsite where CCF works.
“Scott explained that he wanted my daughter to study and provide nutrition [for her] because she was very skinny,” says Sakhoun.
With access to education and regular nourishment, Punthea thrived and is now in Grade 6 at CCF’s Rice Academy satellite school.
The skinny, malnourished girl clinging on to her mum, has long gone and today, Punthea is a healthy teenager, bright and engaged with the world around her, and the opportunity to realise her potential. The hope is that Punthea’s children will never experience the impoverished life that she and her mother one did, a generation’s destiny will have been changed.
While Sakhoun is still the sole breadwinner of the family - her husband is disabled and unable to work - she now has the reassurance of a regular income and the support of an entire community around her.
“I work in the [CCF] Nursery, I look after children and take them to school and when they get sick I take them to our [CCF] medical clinic,” she says. “I am very happy that I am able to take care of children who face problems like we did, especially here [the Nursery].”
Sakhoun’s family has also grown: she is fostering one of the young boys from the nursery, Arun (pictured together below,) opening her home to a youngster who needs a safe place and care, as her daughter once did.
No one can know for certain what might have happened to Sakhoun and Punthea had they never encountered CCF, but it’s not hard to imagine, given the circumstances they were in.
I just thought I would live on the street and earn to live for a day, and with no hope.
“But now it is different. I can depend on myself and have a better life, I am able to support my family and also relatives when they need [help]. It is not only my family that has improved, but my siblings also.
“We used to be scavengers but Scott raised us up and provided us job opportunities to work. Now everyone has a better life and our children are able to access proper education. I am grateful to Pa Scott and CCF staff that work hard, for my life, and for my family, which has got better because of them.
“I never expected that I could be who I am today.”