When she was 10 years old, Kunthea was working on a rubbish dump in Cambodia and eating rotten food from the trash to survive.
Today at 26, she’s a law graduate and studying for a Master’s on the way to realizing her dream of becoming a lawyer.
She’s also one of three CCF girls helping to protect the vulnerable children of Cambodia by working with our Child Protection Unit (CPU), a groundbreaking initiative set up to investigate all cases of child abuse with local police and provide support to victims and their families.
All are combining their jobs at the CPU with university studies and are proud to give back, contributing in their own unique ways.
We caught up with Kunthea, another Kunthea - known as Kunthea A and Kunthea B by the CPU team to differentiate them - and Sreyneang in the CPU office in Phnom Penh.
Our first Kunthea is busy at her computer, concentrating on the information on the screen.
We ate food we found in the trash
She started with the CPU as an intern before moving to a paralegal role utilizing her law degree, guiding child victims and their families though the legal process and accompanying them to court.
She’s now working full-time with the CPU’s Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) team fighting the new threat of online child abuse in Cambodia and the region. In the evenings, she attends classes for her Master’s in Business & International Law.
Self-assured and articulate, she talks of the impact of the CPU’s work and her early life before CCF.
It’s an incredible turnaround for the girl who aged 10 spent her days working on the notorious Steung Meanchey rubbish dump in Phnom Penh, desperately trying to earn money to buy food.
Kunthea’s family had moved to the city from the province and straight into poverty.
“My parents didn’t have a job and we didn’t have anything to eat, so me, my sister and brother decided to go to the dumpsite to earn money. We worked there on our own collecting cans and trash to sell,” she says.
“We worked there from morning to evening, a full day. It was really disgusting on the dumpsite but I had no choice because we were starving. We ate food we found in the trash.”
It was here she was found by Scott Neeson, CCF founder.
“Scott asked me one question ‘Do I want to go to school?’ And I replied without any hesitation ‘yes’. My life completely changed when I joined CCF,” says Kunthea.
The first time Kunthea had ever been to school was when she walked into a CCF classroom.
“I never wanted to work on the dumpsite again, so I worked really hard. I got a good grade and won outstanding student in the class,” she says.
In 2019, she graduated from university with a law degree and recently started her Master’s.
Her job with the CPU is giving her new challenges and skills. She’s been trained to downland suspect activity on the internet, attends conferences and represents the CPU at meetings.
On top of this, she looks after her young niece aged 6, taking on the role of mum after the parents split up.
A remarkable young woman, she’s an inspiration to current CCF students that beginnings don’t need to define our futures.
“Being a lawyer has been my dream from a young age and I still have that ambition,” says Kunthea. “If I become a lawyer, I could represent all the children here [CPU cases] who have been hurt.”
At CCF, she was friends with the other Kunthea, who joined CCF when she was five. She’s now with the CPU helping tell the stories of cases and spread awareness of its work using the power of social media. She’s using the skills she’s learning in her Media & Communications degree and gaining valuable experience in a workplace.
“I enjoy working with the CPU, I like to read about the investigations and the cases that have been solved,” says Kunthea, 20.
Kunthea is in the third year of her degree on a scholarship with the Royal University of Phnom Penh.
Her older sister, Sokkhum, 22, is on the same course at the same university and in the same year. But the siblings are in different classes - with Kunthea attending afternoon lectures and Sokkhum, who works for CCF in our corporate office, studying in the evening after work.
The sisters live together in CCF’s Girls to Grannies Village and receive living support.
I feel that I am helping these children
Also hard at work on a computer is Sreyneang, 23, who is in charge of the CPU database, uploading and collating case information. It’s her first job.
“When I first started reading the cases, I was upset at the bad things the children had experienced. I feel that I am helping these children,” she says.
CCF is funding Sreyneang’s four year Management degree with a scholarship. She attends night classes after her shift at the CPU.
All three are super girls in their own ways and shining examples of what can be achieved given the opportunity.
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